By KORNEBARI NWIKE
President Goodluck Jonathan constituted a special committee on oil pollution in Ogoniland recently, according to him; to perform a “holistic review of the UNEP report.” The committee is chaired by Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, Minister of Petroleum Resources and former Shell Oil Company employee. The committee also has Mr. Austen Oniwon, Group Managing Director of Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) as a member. Technically, this committee is a consortium of oil conglomerate. NNPC and Shell Oil Company are partners in the operation of oil business in Nigeria. A child of circumstance, the ad hoc committee was born as an aftermath of the recent shocking revelation in the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) report that almost all the Ogoni environment is contaminated by oil pollutants.
Public policy analysts expected the Nigerian Senate to invite Shell Oil Company and NNPC executives for questioning in respect to their firm’s role in the environmental tragedy in Ogoniland; instead the firm’s representatives were invited as part of the government talk shop. With this initial flaw and ethical conflict of interest, one wonders how government works in Nigeria. The presence of these two oil giants on the committee is like the presence of two eight hundred pound gorillas that kill and suddenly empowered to decide what to do with the corpses. The presence of this duo on such a committee is testament to the fact that Nigeria has long ago lost her independence to corporate multi-national oil corporations. Will the committee give a fair assessment of the UNEP report? It is yet to be determined.
Although Ogonis are very patient people, it can be felt that their patience is running thin and limited time exists to kid glove with Shell Oil Company over the contamination on their land. The Ogoni people has cause to be angry because they have stomached so much from Shell even before the era of General Abacha. In whatever the Federal government may consider as compensation to the Ogoni people for plundering their environment; such consideration should be comprehensive to include demands in the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR), creation of Bori state, and a Trust foundation. On the other hand, MOSOP should be ready to play hardball because Shell Oil crimes against Ogoni must not be swept under the carpet. The case may eventually end-up in international court of adjudication. It is necessary that MOSOP retain the services of reputable international real estate and environmental law firms such as Slagle, Bernard, and Gorman or Wyrsch Hobbs and Mirakian, P.C. in preparation for the coming environmental and social justice that may follow.
If Alaskan residents in the United States can enjoy yearly dividends from oil through the Alaska permanent fund; if Germans slave laborers continue to receive payments through a foundation established with $5 billion by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2000; and if British Petroleum was able to sacrifice $20 billion as a result of the deepwater horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, then Ogonis should not succumb to crumbs. The $5 billion settlement of Adolf Hitler’s slave laborers by the German government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2000 was intensely negotiated by representatives of United States, Israel, four European countries and their lawyers. While German government transferred $2.5 billion to the foundation the other half was borne by companies that were involved. The augment is that the Ogoni people should be ready for negotiation when duty calls with reputable attorneys.
As part of his Oath of office, President Goodluck Jonathan swore to defend Nigerians and the constitution in case of aggression. Shell Oil Company has shown aggression toward Ogoni as presented in the UNEP report. Mr. President, this is an opportunity to show leadership more so as an indigene of the Niger Delta. He should seek justice for the Ogoni people by directing the Ministry of Justice to commence felony proceedings against Shell Oil Company. Grounds for criminal suits are environmental degradation, ecological poisoning and oil spills, neglect, deception about oil reserves, murder and supply of arms to the Nigerian military.
Other grounds for criminal indictment can be found in the Shell report titled “SPDC in the Niger Delta 1996/97. The firm admitted arming Nigeria’s military against Ogoni. Secondly, for 55 years, Ogoni people have seen terrifying new twist in their lives and environment. The fish, birds, and animals in the wild are disappearing because of oil exploration, gas flaring, and spills. The trees, fruits, flowers, and grasses, etc.that gave Ogoniland a unique landscape and from which the region earned the accolade “food basket of south- eastern Nigeria” have unfortunately disappeared. Sadly, birds that orchestrate melodious songs that bring Ogonis closer to nature have migrated to Northern and Western Nigeria where there is no oil pollution. The rich savannah mangrove forests habitats for seafood and aquatic creatures are either dead, replaced by Nipa palm, or are submerged in crude oil.
Nigerians and the world should rally around Ogoni at this time of sadness as they mourn the extinction of their heritage. Together let us seek recompense and justice for Ogoni. The demand for justice should include a seat behind bars for Shell oil executives as long as it takes to clean the Ogoni environment. This is necessary because no nation on earth has ever been manipulated, cheated and duped by oil firms like Nigeria. Shell Oil Company manipulates Nigerian laws, lies to Nigerian governments, and commits atrocities against Nigerians for five decades and counting and no crime supersede these acts of aggression.
A felony charge is unavoidable considering that Shell Oil Company has world class engineers, operational, technical, and administrative crews that has full knowledge of the presence of benzene and other pollutants in Ogoniland but conceal and fail to disclose this information to the government as required by law. According to research, benzene is a class A carcinogenic chemical whose link was traced to leukemia in 1897. It is predominantly found in the petroleum industry as well as cigarette smoke. The impact include ailments, such as “fatigue, malaise, abdominal bleeding, excessive bruising, weakness, weight loss, bone or joint pain, infection and fever, abdominal pains and discomfort, enlarged spleen, lymph nodes, and liver.” The precarious health hazards these chemicals pose to the Ogoni people make some walking corpses and the result is that they are dying slowly. Shell oil would rather play games by engaging in cover-ups, deceptions, corrupting locales, states, and federal officials to protect her business to the detriment of the generality of the population, than keeping to the tenet of Nigerian laws.
President Jonathan should demonstrate that he could lead Nigeria by engaging the United Nations, United States, Britain, and others to assist Ogoni through technical expertise and funds to address the tragedy. His comment, “if the United Nations can intervene in places where there are civil wars, then environmental pollution calls for its attention” should be echoed beyond Aso rock. He should go above and beyond, should not retreat but join forces with Niger deltans and Ogoni to champion their cause. Record of World leaders who sided with citizens to synchronize matters exists and he should be remembered as one. For instance, in 2005 former President Nestor Korchner of Argentina called for a national boycott of Royal Dutch Shell Plc for raising fuel prices forcing the company to back down. In Nigeria late President Musa Yar-Adua took extra-ordinary steps by telling Shell Oil Company, that it was no longer wanted in Ogoniland.
Mr. President, procrastination could result in a mass health epidemic but decisive and bold initiatives could overturn a catastrophe in Ogoni and the Niger delta. History will judge your legacy as a Nigerian president of Southern extraction by the vigor and decisive steps you took to solving the Ogoni environmental dilemma. The UNEP environmental report has provided a window of opportunity for you to set a record for yourself and Nigeria.
In summary, as the world awaits the report from the special presidential committee, President Godluck Ebele Jonathan should slam a criminal lawsuit against Shell Oil Company, establish compensation funds for Ogoni, push through Ogoni demand for Bori State, begin immediate clean-up of Ogoniland as recommended by UNEP, abrogate decree No. 6 of 1978 otherwise known as Land Use Acts, and Petroleum Acts of 1969 (both of which drove Nigeria into the fox hole she finds herself today). These acts should be done in harmony with the establishment of Ogoni Restoration Authority, Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Center, and Center of Excellence in Environmental Restoration as recommended by UNEP. The world is ready to rally around Nigeria but compelling leadership is desired.
KorneBari Nwike: An Accountant, consultant, and Public Policy Analyst reside in the United States.