In 1995, when the Nigerian dictatorship murdered
Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists for their opposition to Shell
and other oil companies, there was widespread global outrage. Thousands of
people held vigils and protests outside Shell facilities, the media gave
widespread coverage, and the public was aware of, and concerned about, the
human rights abuses and environmental devastation.
Almost eight years later, Nigeria and the impacts of the oil industry
are no longer news. This is ironic given the current global debate on the
potential of war in Iraq and its underlying causes, which include access
to and control over oil reserves.
Infrastructure that was old then - often leaking or exploding - is even
worse now. New investment in the oil industry continues, often against the
wishes of local communities. Those who oppose Big Oil continue to be
In an attempt to help put Nigeria back on the map Friends of the Earth
Australia (FoEA) is organising an international mission to the
oil-producing regions of Nigeria. This is at the specific request of
Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria, and will
be hosted by them. In his initial request, Nnimmo Bassey, director of ERA,
asked us to organise a "pollution tour of the Niger Delta: to see the
whole mess, hear the cries of the people and then speak out both here and
back in Australia. Document what you see and show the whole world the
meaning of corporate (ir)responsibility!".
The struggles against oil companies in the Niger delta are often
literally of a life-or-death nature. There are widespread human rights
abuses. One recent example occurred on November 31, 2002. A major oil
company (Shell) was involved in a significant spill at Maroko community in
Delta state due to a rupture in Shell's 24-inch pipelines, used to convey
crude oil and gas from Forcados to Warri Refinery. Even more troubling
than the spill is the fact that when Shell investigated the situation it
claimed that villagers near the spill were living on land that belonged to
the company. On 3 February 2003, a contingent of armed soldiers from the
7th Battalion stormed the community with military trucks and a bulldozer
and subsequently destroyed houses and shops in the area. According to ERA,
some residents who tried to protest or resist the demolition of their
homes and property were brutalised by the soldiers. Many had to flee,
leaving their property and possessions behind.
The eviction/demolition exercise lasted eight days and resulted in the
destruction of more than 150 houses and shops. More than 5,000 people were
displaced and made homeless.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon event. ERA sends field investigation
teams to collect testimony from affected people and then report back to
the national and global community through their Environmental Testimonial
Reports. It is for this reason FoEA is sending an international team.
FoEA wants to help bring these human rights and environmental abuses to a
wider international audience.
Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil producer. The oil from the
Niger Delta generates huge profits for transnational oil companies and the
Nigerian government, yet the region where the oil comes from is
poverty-stricken and in many places environmentally devastated.
The Niger Delta is more than 12,000 square kilometres of freshwater
swamp forests, lowland rainforests, mangroves, rivers and coastal barrier
islands - the second largest river delta in the world. It has the largest
mangrove forest in Africa and is an important regional site for
The oil companies active in the Niger River delta have been dumping
drilling mud, cuttings and sludge directly into local ecosystems for more
than five decades. The pipelines, which take oil to the coast for export,
have long histories of frequent (and dangerous) leaks. Many of these
pipelines are old, well over their estimated safe lifespan of ten to
fifteen years, with corrosion a significant problem. They pass through
local communities, along rivers and farmlands, frequently leaking,
polluting land and water. The official figures from the Nigerian National
Petroleum Company (NNPC), which are based on reports from the operating
companies, estimate that around 2,300 cubic meters of oil are spilled
annually in an estimated 300 incidents. The real figure however, would be
far higher, up to ten times this amount. Spills often lead to explosions.
Many hundreds of people have died as a result of these incidents and
farmland and rivers are contaminated, ruining livelihoods.
We live in a time when many resource companies are claiming to be both
sustainable and responsible. However, in places like Nigeria, effectively
operating out of sight of shareholders, they continue to operate in a way,
which would not be acceptable in countries like Australia.
Friends of the Earth International is involved in a campaign to ensure
the creation of an internationally binding code of conduct, which would
control the behaviour
of transnational corporations (TNCs). Although the outcome from last
year's World Summit on
Sustainable Development (or Earth Summit) held in South Africa was a
bitter disappointment on most environmental issues, one of the more
positive outcomes was the fact that the final wording of the agreement
from the Summit included the possibility of negotiating codes of conduct
at a later date. The information collected by the exposure team will be
used to help build a case for binding international controls on TNCs.
FoE has carried out exposure tours, in Australia to monitor existing
and proposed uranium mines, a mission to the Persian Gulf region to
collect information on the impacts of the first Gulf War, and an
investigation into the impacts of the oil industry in Venezuela. This tour
to Nigeria is planned for the next few months and will see a small team of
representatives from FoEA, a journalist and other members of civil society
in Australia visiting communities in the Niger Delta, collecting testimony
from affected people, then attempting to raise the profile of these
impacts back here in Australia.
We hope, in some small way, to provide some practical and useful
solidarity to the people of the Niger Delta, to remind people in Australia
about the real costs of oil production, in human and environmental terms,
and to highlight those companies who need to improve their operations.
We need help to organise this significant event. If you would like
further information, please contact Cam