Why is Shell divesting?

The Shell divestment plans have made topical headlines in recent times with the arguments for and against the plan depending on the divide the protagonist belongs.

However, except we understand the real motives or reasons behind the divestment mantra, we may not be able to make a conclusion that will be beneficial to majority stakeholders especially the victims of many years of negative extractive operations of Shell and the rest extractive companies in general.

It is no longer news that Royal Dutch Shell has launched a major divestment of its Nigerian assets, especially those in the shallow water and onshore while still retaining her offshore assets.

It is also no longer news that the company has hired Standard Chartered Bank to sell its Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) subsidiary in a deal that is touted as one of the biggest ever in the oil and gas industry in Africa.

Shell’s position as declared by the Chief Executive Officer of Shell Ben van Beurden during their Annual General Meeting in May, 2021 for the divestment is that Shell no longer views its activities in the Niger Delta as core to its ongoing strategy, which is driven by the pressure from its investors and that Shell could no longer afford to be exposed to the risk of theft and sabotage.

The above position of Shell we can only describe as escapist or as giving a dog a bad name to hang it!

For us, the real reasons behind the divestment race are embedded in two key realities that the company feels very uncomfortable with since it’s no longer business as usual in the sector. These are:

1. The decaying facilities of the company leading to constant spillages and environmental pollution: whereas Shell wants the world to believe that they face sabotage and oil theft hence their decision to divest, the reality is that Shell has bad facilities maintenance culture and practices. Events in recent times have shown that many of Shell’s facilities are in bad and dilapidated states hence they easily cave in under pressure thereby causing massive oil spills with their attendant pollution footprints. It has been also discovered that where in some cases where claims of sabotage are made, such incidents are induced by Shell staff to attract clean-up and other service contracts from the company in respect to such. 

2. Where they claim to have cleaned up spills, the reality is that most of them are not really cleaned up and these lead to continuing pollution. The vigilance and coordination of their operational victims using the law courts: the proactiveness of the judiciary across the three specters of actions in relation to the Royal Dutch Shell which are their two home countries and their host country have left the company gasping for breath as they never expected that the poor four fishermen/farmers from the Niger Delta could defeat them in a court case in the Hague, the Netherlands, as happened with the Court of Appeal Judgment of 29th January, 2021, nor did they expect that the U.K Supreme Court will rule against them in favour of the small and poor communities of Ogale and Bille on 12thFebruary, 2021. They also never expected that they would be boxed into a corner that they would beg to settle the Ejama Ebubu community with NGN45.7billion to end the community’s litigation that has gone to Supreme Court and to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) for arbitration as happened on the 11thAugust, 2021 before a Nigerian Federal High Court. Further heightening their judicial nightmare is the recent decision of the Nigerian Court of Appeal delivered on 16th August, 2021, that overruled an earlier decision of the lower court that granted SPDC the right to renew its operating license for the Oil Mineral Lease 11 (OML 11) field in 2019. The Court of Appeal transferred the operational rights to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

With their aging facilities and related problems coupled with the pro-people decisions of the various courts within the same year and their far-reaching consequences, it will amount to wishful thinking to expect an impatient organization like Shell not to seek for the easiest way out as they may not fathom what more litigations will be coming their way! 

Should Shell divest leaving their mess?

Shell having messed up our environment, destroying our citizens’ sources of livelihood, should we allow them to go leaving their mess? It is very evident that Shell is only trying to run away from the prying eyes of the citizens hence their divestment from onshore and moving to offshore operations – where the people hardly take note of the level of pollution/degradation that goes on. If it were to be for the reasons adduced by shell, they may not have considered going deep offshore and even at the time of divestment making history by appointing Mrs. Elohor Aiboni as its first female Managing Director of SNEPCo a Shell’s 100% business! SNEPCo is also reputed to be centred on OML 118 which has been acclaimed to be successful since the coming on stream of their Bonga oil platform in 2005. 

While it is the prerogative of every investor to determine what happens with his/her investment, they must only leave after cleaning up their mess and restituting their victims. Their decision does not end with consideration of company profits and concerns of their investors, their victims must have a say.

As it is, because the baggage to be left behind is so huge that our local investors may not be able to carry, even while serving the caveat emptor (buyer beware) as he who buys assets also buys the liabilities, we call on would-be investors in the Shell divestment plans to be prepared to tackle first the environmental problems left behind by Shell before beginning any form of operations!

This statement is signed and endorsed by;

1. Chima Williams – Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria

2. Nnimmo Bassey – Executive Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation 

3. Ken Henshaw – Executive Director, We the People

4. Celestine AkpoBari – Executive Director, Peoples’ Advancement Centre

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