On the 20th of August 2021, following an Appeal Court ruling denying Shell ownership and access to OML 11 mostly located around the area of the Ogoni ethnic nationality, and handing same over to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, a statement from the NNPC has instructed the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC to immediately take over assets and operations in the area and commence full extraction of oil. According to the Corporation, the Federal Government had endorsed this plan.
As Civil Society Organizations in Nigeria, we have keenly observed the scheming and unhindered contestations over the resumption of extraction of oil in the disputed oilfields of Ogoniland. While Shell on the one hand has been in court trying to revalidate its mandate to drill for crude oil with its attendant environmental, social and security recklessness, the NNPC is celebrating what it considers its court-given mandate to extract in the area.
It is important to recall that this is only the latest episode in a long-drawn battle over the resumption of oil extraction in Ogoniland. These efforts have seen an ugly contestation between the Rivers state government, Shell and NNPC. In March 2019, a memo signed by Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari and addressed to the Group Manging Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, dated March 1, 2019 with reference number SH/COS/24/A/8540, asked the NNPC and NPDC “to take over the operatorship, from Shell Petroleum Development Company, of the entire OML 11 not later than 30 April 2019 and ensure smooth re-entry given the delicate situation in Ogoni Land”. This action necessitated a court action by Shell seeking an affirmation of their right to operate in the area. In a related development, on the 30th of September 2019, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, announced that the Rivers State Government has fully acquired Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) 45% interest in Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11 situated in Ejama Ebubu community in Eleme Local Government Area and the adjoining Ogoni and other communities of the State. It is unfortunate that this prolonged and desperate controversy over resuming the extraction of oil in Ogoniland is happening without consultation with the Ogoni people or consideration for their hard fought battle for environmental justice.
It is pertinent to recollect that in 1993, Shell was forced to abandon its OML 11 operations located in Ogoni and pull out of the area. This was the direct outcome of passionate but peaceful campaigns by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by environmental rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. MOSOP had called the attention of the world to the poverty, neglect and environmental destruction which decades of oil exploitation had bequeathed on the Ogoni people. MOSOP demanded fairer benefits to the Ogoni people from oil wealth, as well as remediation and compensation for the ecological damage caused by the reckless activities of oil companies.
Rather than address the genuine and legitimate concerns of the Ogoni people, the duo of the Nigerian government and its oil company partners responded with terror and horror. MOSOP was brutally repressed by the Nigerian armed forces. The mass killings and widespread carnage which the military visited on the Ogonis remain largely undocumented. Thousands of Ogonis lost their lives, and many others went into forced exile around the world. In May 1994, capitalizing on the unfortunate killing of 4 prominent Ogoni leaders by a mob of yet to be identified persons in Gokana local government area, Ken Saro-Wiwa and other leaders of MOSOP were arrested and detained. After a few months of predetermined trial by a special military tribunal, a sentence of death was pronounced on Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 others on October 31, 1995. 10 days after, within the period the accused persons could appeal against the judgement, the nine were immediately executed on November 10, 1995, against a backdrop of outrage, global condemnation and eventually, international sanctions on Nigeria.
Again, it is important to note that 31 years after the Ogonis made their demands, contained in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, for which they were so brutally suppressed, none of their concerns and prayers have been conclusively addressed. It is disappointing and demonstrates insensitivity for the government to imagine that those concerns have simply withered away with time. Those of us who remain connected to the communities know for a fact that the Ogoni people remain resolute in their resistance to any renewed hydrocarbon extraction in their domains.
It is disheartening to note in particular that in the wrangling over the ownership of OML 11 and the resumption of oil extraction in Ogoniland, there has been no reference or consideration for obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of the Ogoni people. It is not clear whether any consultation has been initiated with the affected communities, or that their rights to a safe environment and interests has been taken into consideration. We consider these latest attempts insensitive, ill-advised and capable of inflaming suspicions and conflict in an area that is already very tense and prone to conflicts.
It is gravely disconcerting that in the ongoing frenzy, the concerns raised by the Ogoni people 31 years ago which led to the termination of oil extraction have not been raised or addressed. Similarly, there has been no attempt to secure justice for the countless families that lost lives, livelihoods and properties in what is still the worst attack on a peaceful indigenous population by Nigerian forces. Persons who committed acts of genocide and abuses against unarmed populations, and boasted publicly about it, have still not been brought to justice. For the majority of Ogonis, the events of the 1990s remains an open and sour wound, begging for the healing of truth and justice.
It is also pertinent to observe that the move to resume the extraction of oil in Ogoniland, happening against the backdrop of the contentious clean-up of polluted sites in Ogoni, raises fears and fuels cynicism. It is worrying that the government would think of resuming oil extraction in Ogoniland when the pollution of the last decades is yet to be cleaned, decrepit installations are yet to be decommissioned and the many recommendations of UNEP are yet to be fully complied with. How can it explained that a site supposedly being cleaned up will resume oil extraction activities with all the pollution that comes with it? Before any conversation on resuming the extraction of crude oil in the area, it is the demand of the Ogoni people and other stakeholders that the clean-up process be fully and urgently completed in compliance with the recommendations of UNEP.
We are deeply concerned about the neglect of key issues around ecological and social justice in Ogoniland. The world recognizes that the people of Ogoni have suffered unprecedented pains and loses on account of oil extraction. No apology has been rendered for the destruction of their environment, the killing of their people, the loss of their livelihoods, the destruction of their villages, the forced exile of their people and the murder of their leaders. To assume that the extraction of oil can commence whilst these issues remain on the front burner, is to be naïve at best and cruel at worse. It is the demand of the Ogoni people that a first step towards demonstrating goodwill is to exonerate the Ogoni 9 who were murdered by the Nigerian government for peacefully protesting the destruction of their environment. Maintaining the obvious and insulting cover-up that these leaders were tried and convicted for murder is a great disservice to their memory, their selfless service and an insult to the Ogoni people.
Flowing from the forgoing, it is our recommendation that the government puts a stop to any planned attempt to resume oil activities in Ogoniland. It should rather concentrate on redeeming the ecological disaster in the area, decommissioning aged oil infrastructure, replacing the lost livelihood of the people and securing justice for the countless Ogonis waiting for closure.
This statement is signed and endorsed by;
1. Nnimmo Bassey (Health of Mother Earth Foundation)
2. Ken Henshaw (We the People)
3. Celestine AkpoBari (Peoples’ Advancement Centre)
4. Chima Williams (Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria)