Sudden and drastic changes to the local environment by oil companies are sometimes accompanied by direct loss of human life. In Eleme, Ogoniland, we saw the site of a pipe blowout and massive oil spill that took place in 1970 and according to Shell has been “cleaned up”. A 6-foot thick crust of carbonized oil material covers the soil, turning the area into a wasteland where only a few plants have been able to survive. Since villagers can’t afford bottled water and often have access to no other water source, they have no option but to drink water that is visibly polluted and slick with oil. In 1984, the community took Shell to court but community members report that no settlement has yet been reached to this date and Shell still has done nothing to clean up water and soil. Even when the oil companies do provide compensation for damage caused by spills and leaks, their system of assessment and payment are often very unsatisfactory. In January 1998, 40,000 barrels of light crude oil (or 1.6 million gallons, according to other estimates) were spilled into the
A visit to several communities where multinational oil companies make claims of community development projects. In many communities, residents related stories of promises made and broken by multinational oil companies. In Iko the delegation witnessed several cases where PR claims made to unsuspecting Western observers appeared misleading. Iko residents told us how Shell’s nearby facility had greatly degraded surrounding mangrove areas on which the community was dependent. In the late 1980s, after community members noticed a decline in fish stocks, which they attributed to Shell’s oil spills, the community started protesting and requested electricity and clean water.33 Years later Shell promised to provide a “fish processing plant,” an ironic measure considering the impact of oil spills on aquatic life. Oil slicks are visible in some water bodies. Though Shell claims on its website that the company-built facility has been operational since 1996, the facility (an impressive and large building, definitely photo-worthy) stands unfinished, and the community says it has never functioned. A generator was never provided to run it.34 Another example of such a fig-leaf project in Iko is a manual cassava grating unit Shell donated (as a large sign in front of it clearly indicates), but which Iko residents said worked for one week. Given the scarcity of roads throughout the Niger Delta, a common request from oil-producing communities is the development of roads. Reading oil company literature leads one to believe that roads are a large part of development plans for oil-producing communities. However, as we discovered throughout our travels, roads primarily lead to the flow stations and oil facilities, not necessarily serving the communities.
Instead of investing in genuine community development projects, oil companies apparently put their money into dividing communities and destroying effective organizing for human rights.
Animosity between neighbouring communities, may also arise or be fueled by the differential treatment towards one community by oil companies in matters of compensation, reparation, development projects, and employment opportunities. When communities organize to protest against the destruction of their land, homes, and livelihood as a result of the operations of the multinational oil companies, or to campaign for their right to control their own resources, they run the risk of becoming the victims of outright repression and violent acts. While this was more common under previous dictatorial regimes, it is still a reality under ex-President Obasanjo.
While the story told to consumers of Nigerian crude in the
It is a sad reality that