Norwegian Oil Fund, Time To Be Accountable To Nigerians

by David Ugolor
niger delta

In its Responsible Investment report issued this February, Norway’s Oil Fund presented its 10-year dialogue with Shell about Nigeria as a success story. It stated that: “Shell PLC and its partners in Nigeria have implemented various measures, including maintenance, better protection of wellheads and closer collaboration with local communities. The clean-up of affected areas is progressing, and the backlog has been significantly reduced. The company is working with the Nigerian authorities to clean up legacy pollution in Ogoniland and is continuing to pay its share of the clean-up costs.”

When we and other groups on the ground in Nigeria saw this, we were shocked. This is absolutely not the reality observed by people living in the Niger Delta, or by reports such as the Independent Monitoring of the Ogoniland Clean-up or a recent investigation by the Nigerian Tribune and many others reports that have highlighted the impact of shell activities.

In May, 31 Nigerian groups and networks – representing a range of faiths, indigenous groups, women and youth came together to write an open letter to Nicolai Tangen, head of the Oil Fund. Our letter calls on Mr Tangen and his colleagues “to undertake a fact-finding mission to the Niger Delta in collaboration with civil society organisations, to ascertain the true state of affairs”. It also calls on the fund “to vote against Shell’s Chair and Directors and the transition plan update during the company’s 2023 annual general meeting” and “ to re-direct significant investment to support the development of new technology that will advance a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources”. Here at ANEEJ, we were sad to see that the Oil Fund in fact voted to back Shell’s management on all points at the company’s 2023 AGM, sending us a clear message that Shell is in fact not out of line with the Fund’s values.

Our letter also stated the following: “As a top 3 investor in Shell, the Norwegian Fund bears a weighty responsibility for what Shell has done in the Niger Delta, and for its broader role in accelerating climate change. And you have continued profiting handsomely from Shell – we estimate that the Norwegian Oil Fund has made around US$400 million in dividends from Shell over just the last 12 months.

While claiming to engage, to change Shell, Norway’s Oil Fund has in fact long provided powerful financial and moral support for the company. We hope and trust that you will now be prepared to acknowledge that your engagement has failed to change Shell’s approach to the Niger Delta. And that you will take real responsibility to use your power on behalf of the communities in the Niger Delta who have long suffered at the hands of Shell, Eni, Chevron and other companies.”

“We encourage the Council on Ethics to recommend full divestment and exclusion of all holdings of the Norway Government Pension Fund in Royal Dutch Shell, Plc. and its subsidiaries.” This is to directly follow the example set by the Church of England Pension Board which has now decided to exclude all remaining oil and gas majors from its portfolio, and will exclude all other companies primarily engaged in the exploration, production and refining of oil or gas, unless they are in genuine alignment with a 1.5°C pathway, by the end of 2023.

We have yet to receive an answer, but will not let the matter rest until we do.

As our letter concluded: “Communities in the Niger Delta and other parts of Nigeria do not have 10 more years to wait. It is long past time for the world to compensate communities affected by oil and gas extraction, and to embark on a rapid and just transition to a world powered by more sustainable and equitable technologies.”

The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) is a non-government organisation whose goal is to amplify the voice of the weak, the less privileged and the marginalized groups. For the last few years we have worked with many other groups across Nigeria to challenge international investors in Shell and other oil companies that operate here. In May 2023 we and 30 other Nigerian civil society groups made an urgent appeal to Norway’s Oil Fund, calling for support in holding fossil fuel companies accountable for the damages caused by Shell projects operating in Ogoni Land in the Niger Delta, Nigeria.

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