Oil pollution and corporate accountability in the Niger Delta

Visit to Bodo Community, Ogoniland, South East Nigeria, January 2015 

“ On 28 August 2008 a fault in the Trans-Niger pipeline caused a significant oil spill into Bodo Creek in Ogoniland. The pipeline is the responsibility of Shell. The spill, which was due to equipment failure, resulted in tens of thousands of barrels of oil polluting the land and creek surrounding Bodo, killing the fish that people depend on for food and livelihood. “ 

(from p45 Bad Information, Amnesty International 2013)

Ogoniland is in South East Nigeria. It is an economically poor area of Nigeria and the livelihoods of the Ognoi people who live there are heavily dependent on fish caught from the creeks and mangroves around their homes. In 2008 there were two major oil spills reported that came from pipelines near the Bodo Creek community. The pipelines are owned and managed by the Nigerian subsidiary of the international oil company Royal Dutch Shell. The extent of the environmental damage that resulted from the spills has been described as being as large as the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska that was estimated to be 10 million gallons of oil. 

A range of factors cause oil spills in the Niger Delta including poor practice and inadequate maintenance of infrastructure by oil companies and sabotage of facilities by some of people living there. Shell and other oil companies operating in the Delta tend to exaggerate the extent to which sabotage rather than their own poor practices is the cause of spills and the resulting environmental damage.  Research commissioned by the Nigerian NGO CERHD and Amnesty International and presented in the report Bad Information provides clear evidence of the real causes of the spills. 

In 2011 after battling Shell with no success to gain fair compensation and proper clean up of their waterways, the Bodo community took legal action against Shell in the High Court in London. Finally after a long 4 year legal battle in January 2015 a settlement was reached between Shell and the Bodo community. Shell has finally agreed to pay compensation to individuals claimants affected by the spills; to the community; and to clean up the spill.  Throughout the long fight for fair compensation the Bodo community have been supported by the Nigerian NGO CERHD Amnesty International.  

As part of an evaluation that I am currently completing for Amnesty International about their program of work on oil pollution and corporate accountability in the Niger Delta, I had the opportunity to visit Ogoniland where I met with some of the members of the Bodo community who have been victims of the oil spills and now finally 6 years later will receive compensation. What this means for most of the people that I spoke is that they now have a chance to set up new alternative livelihood and small businesses and to try and get on with their lives. The compensation will also help their children by paying for education and health care, and it is hoped that the compensation paid to the community will be used to improve infrastructure and local services. 

The main concern expressed by the community members is about when the clean up of their waterways and land will commence and whether it will be done properly to international standards. Until today there has been no clean up. People live surrounded by the environmental devastation from the spills of 6 years ago – unable to fish and unable to access clean and safe drinking water. It is a shocking site. Even though I had read about it and seen pictures, it is impossible to describe the extent of the damage and the impact it has had on the people, their culture and lifestyle. I felt real disgust and disbelief when I saw the damage that the oil spill has caused. It was a privilege to meet and talk with some community members.  I was truly humbled by the strength and resilience of the women, men and children who have endured the loss of their homelands and traditional way of life yet remain positive and committed to a better future.  

The hope of the community is that once the proper clean up is done there will be a chance that in the future they can resume fishing in their waters. At present though this is a distant dream as it will take years if not decades after a proper clean up is completed for the habitat and marine life to return.