The Niger delta is one of the world’s most important wetland and marine ecosystems and is home to over 30 million people. The area also has the location of massive oil and gas deposits. Oil has been extracted in the region by the national oil Company-Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), multinational oil companies and some indigenous companies since 1958. The oil industry in the Niger Delta comprises both government of Nigeria and subsidiaries of multinational oil companies such as Shell, Eni, Chevron, Total and ExxonMobil, as well as some Nigerian companies. Unfortunately, the exploitation of oil and gas in the region has brought impoverishment, conflict, human rights abuse and despair to majority of the inhabitants, rather than development and wealth as expected.
Oil operators in the Niger Delta are guilty of human rights abuses. Prof. Sofri Peterside gave the verdict at a Host Communities mock Court (The Niger Delta Environmental Tribunal) he presided over as Chief Judge, as organized by Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre at Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, June 26, 2022.
Prof. Peterside who is a renowned social scientist and a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Port Harcourt stated that the multinational oil companies in the Niger Delta grossly degraded the environment in their areas of operation. The Environmental Tribunal which had as co-judges Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental laureate, Chief Constance Meju, a veteran journalist and publisher, Comrade Celestine Akpobari a frontline Ogoni activist, and Ken Henshaw, a strong environmental activist, after listening to testimonies of environmental impact of oil activities in their areas without remediation by the companies by community members from Egita, Obelle, Aminigboko and Otuabagi, found the oil companies Shell, Agip, guilty as charged.
The very low level of industrial development and the attendant unemployment and under-employment in the region is alarming. Development is also stifled by the absence of basic infrastructure- transportation, telecommunication, electricity, water, skill acquisition centres and vocational schools, social restiveness, conflict, and shortage of land for development. The list however represents symptoms of a political process that is disenfranchising and produces a government that is unaccountable and shielded from its constitutional responsibility, credibility deficit of government and public administrators, a long history of institutional weakness and absence of effective checks and balances at federal, state and local government councils, fiscal indiscipline and weak capacity in service delivery agencies and institutions, absence of the rule of law and discredited judicial process that protects the ‘strong’ rich and frustrates the weak poor. They are symptomatic of an underlying tension between an oppressed and frustrated majority that wants to be heard and taken seriously in decisions to manage the collective wealth and an elite class that is power-drunk and rides on the frustrations of the majority to keep them subservient and hold onto power as guarantee for controlling the rent machine.
However, the oil companies were not represented at the mock court when the judgement was delivered, but witnesses were called up for each of the complainant community to. The University Don charged the multinational oil companies to pay adequate compensation where necessary and clean up the many decades of oil spill and gas flares in the various oil producing communities.
Presenting the first case before the tribunal, Mrs. Precious Ibegura narrated how in Egita community in ONELGA, Rivers State the people suffered from oil spill from the facilities of Total Elf Ltd which destroyed their farm land but after investigation, compensation was paid to only men, a fact confirmed by Chief Meju. Comrade Celestine Akpoobari noted that the oil company was guilty hence the payment of compensation.
The deeper frustrations are unaddressed and unchecked manifesting as a long history of bad leadership, neglect and social exclusion in the region. Environmental degradation from oil spillage and gas flaring, destruction of livelihood and human dignity attributable to the contentious land decree, contestations for resource control, an overbearing federal government and the complex web of corruption, rent seeking, bureaucratese and unaccountable political class buoyed by the patronage from oil companies.
Kebetkache in collaboration with Both ENDS and Obelle Concerned Citizens put up the mock court to bring to the fore, series of human rights abuses perpetrated by oil companies so they can be addressed through informed advocacy and cause action to be taken in the form of commensurate compensation and clean up to enable community members carry on with their traditional.
Download the full tribunal report.