On the 16th of January 2024, Shell announced on its website and social media platform X that it had reached an agreement to sell its Nigerian onshore subsidiary SPDC to a consortium of domestic and international oil companies for a total net fee of $2.8 billion. However, the finalization of the transaction is dependent on the approval of the Nigerian Federal Government.
As civil society organizations in Nigeria who have worked in the Niger Delta in the context of oil and gas extraction and its attendant ecological, economic, social, and health impacts, we have keenly observed the scheming by Shell to sell off its onshore assets in Nigeria despite clear protestations by communities and civil society organizations. This transaction follows similar moves by Chevron, Total-Energies, and ExxonMobil to sell off “oil assets” in the Niger Delta.
While we acknowledge that businesses have the right to dispose of their assets as they see fit, we are concerned about the manner in which this transaction is carried out, as well as the immediate and long-term implications for communities and the cause of ecological justice. We are particularly concerned with the following issues:
- The communities which Shell often refers to as its ‘hosts’ and have endured the impacts and inconvenience of oil extraction for over 6 decades, have not been consulted or informed of this planned sale. Several of these communities only learned from the news that oil assets situated in their ancestral lands and rivers are on sale.
- Shell has persistently engaged in irresponsible and reckless hydrocarbon extraction practices resulting in severe ecological, health and economic consequences. Multiple inquiries have determined that the corporation and its associates are responsible for causing environmental destruction that has devastated people’s means of living, contaminated communities, and facilitated situations that violate human rights.
- Up until now, the Nigerian government and its regulatory agencies have failed to come up with a guide, policy, or blueprint establishing the conditions and modalities for oil company divestments. Divestments, including the latest by Shell, have happened haphazardly and in manners solely determined by oil companies, paying little or no attention to the broader ecological, economic, and social impacts that their activities have bequeathed to communities.
While Shell continues to downplay its role in the ecological damage of the Niger Delta, assessments by reputable organizations have indicted the company over environmental pollution. In 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP released its findings on the impacts of hydrocarbon pollution in Ogoniland, an area operated by Shell. The assessment revealed severe contamination of drinking water sources and exposure of communities to health risks. Drinking water was found to contain cancer-causing benzene 900 times above permitted levels. Another environmental and social impact assessment conducted in Bayelsa state showed that between 2006-2020, SPDC (Shell) accounted for 75% of oil spill incidents in the Niger Delta, which cause massive health damages, environmental pollution, loss of livelihoods, and displacements. The findings of the assessment reveal that there is 1.5 crude oil barrels per capita pollution in the state besides some heavy metal pollution that are up to 1 million times above safe limits. The Bayelsa State Environment and Oil Commission in a report titled “An Environmental Genocide – the Human and Environmental Costs of Big Oil in Bayelsa State” showed a 1.5 barrels per capita pollution in that state.
Given the well-established social, health, economic, and ecological impacts of Shell’s operation, it is inconceivable that the company intends to merely sell its holdings and go. The selling of assets by Shell and other oil multinationals, is easily an effort to evade accountability for the long-standing damages caused by oil extraction in the Niger Delta.
It is pertinent that Shell owns up to its responsibility for the ecocidal damage of territories they have exploited. This means full payment for the remediation and restoration of the polluted areas as well as reparations to the host communities. They cannot walk away from the grave and irreparable harm they have caused.
In accordance with the foregoing, we strongly condemn the attempt to sell off onshore oil assets by Shell. We demand that before selling any such assets, the company must address many cases and concerns about the ecological, health, economic, and social consequences of its operations in the Niger Delta.
Our demands and recommendations are as follows:
- The federal government should immediately place a moratorium on all oil company divestment (or sale of assets) in the Niger Delta, pending the ascertaining of issues of community concern.
- The federal government to immediately produce a framework and guide for how oil companies disengage from areas where they have operated. This guide should be developed by a multi-stakeholder group including communities and civil society organizations. The divestment (or sale) framework must contain the following requirements for oil companies and the Nigeria authorities:
- A scientifically developed post-hydrocarbon impact assessment report that establishes the exact ecological and livelihood impacts of oil extraction.
- A health audit of people located near extraction sites, and others exposed to oil contamination and gas flaring. This audit will aim at unravelling the negative health impacts of exposure to hydrocarbons.
- A detailed plan and costing for remediating the ecological, livelihood and health impacts of extraction.
- The establishment of independent frameworks for remediating all identified impacts and compensation to the impacted individuals and communities.
- Posting of funds in a designated account commensurate for the cleanup of impacted ecosystems and restoration of livelihoods.
This statement is endorsed by the following:
- Nnimmo Bassey, Health or Mother Earth Foundation
- Ken Henshaw, We The People
- Akinbode Oluwafemi, Corporate Accountability & Public Participation Africa
- Emem Okon- Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre
- Tijah Bolton- Akpan, Policy Alert
- Stephen Oduware- Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence