WHAT LESSONS HAVE OIL COMPANIES LEARNT FROM KEN SARO WIWA, OGONI CRISES? by Zik Gbemre

Without a doubt, oil and gas exploration and production activities in Nigeria, particularly in the Niger Delta region carried out by International Oil Companies (IOCs) and Indigenous Oil Companies have brought with their operations more socio-economic, political and environmental woes on the psychic, physical/emotional and health wellbeing of the inhabitants of the region than words can actually explain or one can imagine. With over 50 years of oil and gas exploration in the region, one unfortunate event that had always stood out, as a result of operations of IOCs and Indigenous Oil Companies in Nigeria, was the painful and sad murder of human rights activist Ken Saro-wiwa and eight others (popularly reported as the ‘Ogoni Nine’), occasioned by the gross environmental neglect and issues that culminated to the ‘Ogoni crises,’ which both international and national stakeholders in the oil and gas industry are still battling to resolve after two decades. In fact, the monumental and large-scale environmental pollution evidently recorded in Ogoni, which was wrought upon it by the activities of multinational oil companies operating in the region, was captured in the United Nations report titled “UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland” and submitted to the Federal Government in August 2016. Despite UNEP’s recommendations for the immediate clean-up of Ogoniland with a takeoff fund termed “Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland,’ with an initial sum of $1billion to be contributed by Shell Petroleum Development Company, the Nigerian Government, and other oil companies operating in Ogoniland, the UN report also noted that it will take at least 30 years for the environment/ecosystem of Ogoniland to be restored to its natural state. But in spite of this rather unfortunate tale, it appears the Multinational and Indigenous Oil Companies presently operating in the region have not learnt any lesson from the said Ogoni crises and the murder of Ken Saro-wiwa and eight others, as they are exhibiting some of the attributes that caused the Ogoni crises, within their areas of operations. For a brief summary of the Ogoni crises, Ken Saro-Wiwa, was an Ogoni leader, writer, and activist, who was born on October 10, 1941, but whose life was cut short by the late Gen. Sani Abacha junta that accused him and eight others of allegedly killing four Ogoni Chiefs who were on the opposing side of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). Mr. Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues were subsequently arrested, accused of the killings and tried by a Special Military Tribunal. Though they denied the charges against them, they were imprisoned for over a year before being supposedly found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. They were hanged on November 10, 1995 by the Abacha regime for what many believe was largely because of Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s strong stance in pursuit of the rights of the Ogoni people. Their execution led to Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations, which lasted for over three years, and even the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK), and the European Union (EU), all implemented various sanctions against Nigeria. The Royal Dutch Shell and , Head of its Nigeria Operations back then, were believed to have connived with the then Nigerian Military Government on Mr. Saro-Wiwa’s trial and execution. The company denied the allegations, despite testimonies stating otherwise, and it agreed a $15.5 million out-of-court settlement in favour of the families of the victims in 2009, saying however that the payment was not a concession of guilt, but a gesture for peace. Though, Shell claimed to have asked the Nigerian Military Government to show clemency towards those supposedly found guilty, but said its request was refused. However, a 2001 Greenpeace report found that "two witnesses that accused them [Saro-Wiwa and the other activists] later admitted that Shell and the military had bribed them with promises of money and jobs at Shell. Shell admitted having given money to the Nigerian military, who brutally tried to silence the voices which claimed justice." It is also worthy to note that Amnesty International characterized the policy (which was the then military repression and occupation of Ogoniland areas), as deliberate terrorism. And by mid-June 1994, the said security forces led by one Major Paul Okuntimo of Rivers State Internal Security, had reportedly razed 30 villages, detained 600 people and killed at least 40. This figure eventually rose to 2,000 civilian deaths and the displacement of around 100,000 internal refugees. The stated cases were brought under the Alien Tort Statute, a statute giving non-U.S. citizens the right to file suits in U.S. courts for international human rights violations; and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows individuals to seek damages in the U.S. for torture or extrajudicial killing, regardless of where the violations take place.

With this sad tale of the Ogoni crises, which have led to many recorded deaths of oil and gas host communities’ locals, plus the destruction of their natural habitat/environment, one would have thought that Multinational and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies still operating in the region, particularly those that bought over the divested interests of IOCs, should have learnt some lessons from the Ogoni crises – and what not to do or how not to operate – so as to prevent a repeat of something similar to the Ogoni incident. Sadly, that has not been the case, as these Multinational and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies are still operating as they see please, with utmost disregard, disrespect and indifference to what adversely affects the inhabitants of their places of operations. All around the region presently are evidences of similar factors and attributes that had actually caused the Ogoni crises back then, which were instigated by the operational activities of Multinational and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies. From their usual ‘divide-and-rule’ tactics to always have their ways amongst host communities’ locals and stakeholders to their complete neglect/disregard and disrespect. The worst part is, even when crises-instigating issues and serious environmental-risk issues attributed to oil spills are brought to the attention of the relevant authorities of these Multinational and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies to act on, they treat such flashpoints with such indifference and lack of urgency that one begins to wonder if these people really know what they are doing here. Some few months back, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo issue a directive that all Oil and Gas Companies (be it Indigenous or International), operating in the Niger Delta should relocate their Headquarters to the Niger Delta areas, which is where their exploration and production activities are predominantly located. But that ‘Presidential Directive’ is yet to be seen implemented. When we consider the fact that the entire oil and gas core business (exploration and production) are carried out/done within the Niger Delta region with the export of crude oil done in Forcados – Delta State, and Bonny – Rivers State, then it would be justifiable to insist that the IOCs and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies should have their Head Offices in the region. We really do not see any reason why these IOCs and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies should have their Headquarters outside the region. Even the NNPC and its Subsidiaries like the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), etc., should remain in Abuja and Lagos. If the NNPC, the IOCs and the Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies have actually learnt from the Ogoni crises, by now we believe they should have ‘come closer’ to the areas where the core business operations/activities are taking place. Let us reiterate the fact that the Headquarters/Corporate Offices of all the Oil and Gas Companies in the United States of America (USA) are located in Houston, Texas (which is the rallying point area of the US oil exploration and production activities), and not in New York or Washington DC, not even in Austin city in the Texas State capital. Another example is Amsterdam, which is the Constitutional Capital of the Netherlands but all their Government Offices are located in The Hague, which is outside the Capital - Amsterdam. Even at home, former President Olusegun Obasanjo during his time in Office, had relocated the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Head Office from Abuja to Lagos and donated the Abuja NPA building known as the Ship House, to the Nigerian Defence because he believes that the NPA had no business being in Abuja since it has no sea ports there, unlike Lagos. So, if the present Federal Government really meant well for the Niger Delta people; why can’t they back the ‘Presidential Directive’ with action regarding the relocation of IOCs/Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies Headquarters/Corporate to the Niger Delta region? Why is the Federal Government pretending and being indifferent about this issue? Why can’t they correct this anomaly? Sincerely, the Federal Government of Nigeria has failed to relocate NNPC Corporate/Headquarters to the Niger Delta because of ‘’hidden interests.’’ We really do not know what the IOCs, NNPC and the Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies are doing in Abuja and Lagos. What is the NNPC Head Office doing in Abuja for God’s sake? There are a lot of ‘’wrong practices and policies’’ evident in the nation’s oil and gas sector, which have continued to fuel agitations of different dimensions. These burning issues cannot be resolved with wishful thinking, mere “pretence and bunkum talks.” Often times, stakeholders are confronted with these questions: Are the Multinational and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies carrying out their operations in line with global standard practices? Or are they simply doing whatever they like, since the Nigerian Government and relevant Authorities in the industry have not really held them accountable for their past ill-actions? And from what it seems, that might never happen. Are they operating with consideration for the natural environment and the inhabitants of their operational areas? If we were to juxtapose the evident operational practices of some of the IOCs in Nigeria (and the Indigenous Oil Companies with branches/operations abroad), with what is obtainable by the same companies and their counterparts overseas, will it be the same thing? Or, can we say that what is obtainable in the oil industry overseas is the exact opposite of what we find here in the Niger Delta region? Truth be told, the corporations otherwise called Multinational Corporations (MNCs) in the oil and gas industry have been found to “employ discriminatory operational standards” in countries of their operation as against what obtains in their countries of origin, particularly, where such are developing countries, lacking in requisite technology to tap their own resources. If we are to examines some of the ‘environmentally destructive methods’ of oil exploration adopted by the oil MNCs in developing countries, like Nigeria which may not be acceptable in developed countries where these companies are based, we would see that while the oil MNCs freely pollute and degrade the environment in the developing countries with little or no attention paid to the local inhabitants and the eco-system, the reverse is always the case in developed countries, as well as their home countries where they operate. Sadly, even the Indigenous Oil Companies that are taking over the divested interests/assets from MNCs in the region are demonstrating far worse operational practices that one begins to wonder if there is anybody out there that will come to the rescue of the helpless inhabitants and locals of oil and gas bearing communities. But they should be mindful of the fact that when a people are pushed to the wall, those responsible for such a push should be prepared to face whatever consequences their actions/non-actions will create. This was how Ken Saro-wiwa was crying out in the mid-90s but nobody paid attention to him until things escalated out of proportion. It was only in 2011 that the report by the United Nations environment programme confirmed what Saro-Wiwa had been saying two decades ago – that his homeland had become hell on Earth. The report stressed the severity of the environmental impact of oil exploration, pointing to the alarming presence of benzene in wells in the Nisisioken Ogale area at a level more than 900% higher than World Health Organisation guidelines. But the report was never acted upon, despite the then-President Goodluck Jonathan hailing from the Niger Delta region. It was only in July 2017 that, his successor President Muhammadu Buhari finally ordered the implementation of the UN recommendations, including a thorough cleanup of the area. But despite these positive overtures, respite from pollution remains a long way off. The UN study predicts it will take 30 years to clean up the spills. A late friend of mine, Hon. Justice Takpor, once rightly put that if one owns a dog, and the dog bites people as he likes, the owner of the said dog will be held responsible for every injury his dog has inflicted on anyone. Same way, if the Multinational and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies are the ones who laid the pipelines and owns the oil and gas assets in the region, which they put in place to carry out their exploration and production activities, then they should be held liable for every ill-outcome from their operations, including leakages from their pipelines. In other words, they ought to have known the consequences and burdens that come with their oil and gas exploration and production business before going into it in the first place, hence, they should always be prepared to face the music and embrace their responsibilities, which includes ensuring the integrity of their pipelines and assets to avoid leakages/equipment failures. The Multinational and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies should ensure not to repeat the Ogoni crises story by taking a critical look at their current-style of operations to see that the factors/attributes that led to the Ogoni crises are not repeating themselves before their nose. Will the new Indigenous Oil Companies that took over the divested oil and gas assets in the region understand the detail story of the Ogoni crises that led to the murder/hanging of Ken Saro-wiwa and eight others? Will they know how to prevent such similar crises if the need arises? A stitch in time saves nine. As the owners and Operators of the oil and gas assets/facilities in the region, the Multinational and Indigenous Oil and Gas Companies should not shy away from their responsibilities.

Zik Gbemre, JP.

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