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Protests over Shell’s exit from Nigeria

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By Abraham Adekunle

Protesters demand justice over cleaning up environmental damage.

On Tuesday, May 21, 2024, a coalition of Civil Society organizations staged a Protest at the Lagos headquarters of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to condemn the company’s plan to exit Nigeria without addressing the environmental devastation it has caused. The protest coincided with Shell’s annual general shareholders meeting in London, where executives were touting the company’s profits and growth projections. For decades, Shell has operated in the Niger Delta region, extracting oil and gas while leaving behind a trail of environmental destruction and social injustice.

The company’s operations have contaminated farmlands and water bodies, destroyed livelihoods, and wreaked havoc on the health of local communities. Despite this, Shell is now attempting to sell off its Nigerian operations to a local company, Renaissance, without taking responsibility for its liabilities. The protesters, including environmental activists and community leaders, displayed placards that read “Stop Shell Fire,” “Shell Has Shown Us Hell,” and “Yes to Reparatory Justice.” They denounced Shell’s plan to offload its toxic assets to a company with limited capacity to manage the liabilities, and demanded that the Nigerian government hold Shell accountable for its actions.

Government should prioritize human dignity over profits.

According to Zikora Ibeh, Research Lead at Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), “Shell’s plan to sell its onshore assets is a further act of mischief, especially considering that the new buyers are companies with shadowy backgrounds and limited capacity to manage the corporation’s extensive liabilities.” Ogunlade Olamide Martins, CAPPA’s Programme Officer on Climate Change, added, “Shell’s so-called energy transition plan is just a corporate strategy designed to delay meaningful action and deny justice to those who suffer the most from its operations.”

Also, the protest shows the urgent need for governments to prioritize human and environmental dignity over corporate profits, which have long been prioritized at the expense of the most Vulnerable Populations. The Niger Delta region has been ravaged by oil extraction, leaving communities to suffer from Poverty, Pollution, and Human Rights abuses, including contaminated water sources, destroyed livelihoods, and devastating health impacts. The protesters demanded that the Nigerian government take immediate action to address the environmental and social impacts of Shell’s operations. This includes conducting independent assessments, providing adequate compensation, and ensuring that the company is held accountable for its actions through criminal investigations and prosecutions, to restore justice and dignity to the affected communities.

90% of pollution from plants of five oil giants.

In a joint statement, Rev. Nnimmo Bassey, executive director at Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), and Akinbode Oluwafemi, executive director at CAPPA, said, “Shell’s divestment from Nigeria does not absolve it of responsibility. The company must address the environmental destruction, human rights abuses, and social injustices it perpetrated.” They said that before its departure, it must commit to implementing the reclamation measures recommended by independent Environmental Audits and pay adequate compensation to those who have borne the brunt of its profit-driven operations. The protest drew attention to the complicity of other oil majors, including Chevron, Eni, Total, and ExxonMobil, which have also been responsible for environmental devastation and human rights abuses in the Niger Delta.

A 2023 report commissioned by the Bayelsa State government revealed that over 90% of toxin pollution in the Niger Delta originated from the facilities of these five international oil giants. The protesters called for an independent and comprehensive assessment of the environment of the entire Niger Delta, an open and comprehensive health audit of the people living in extractive communities, and a clean-up, remediation, and restoration of all polluted and contaminated areas linked to Shell’s extractivism. They also demanded that Shell and Chevron be held accountable for the destruction of communities in the Niger Delta, and that divestment and/or expansion plans follow due process of decommissioning.

Related Article: Refuse Shell’s oil divestment plan — Activist

Over all, the protest at Shell’s Lagos office highlighted the need for governments and corporations to prioritize human and environmental dignity over profits. Shell’s exit from Nigeria without addressing its environmental liabilities is a stark reminder of the need for accountability and justice in the extractive industry. The protesters’ demands for an independent assessment, health audit, and clean-up of polluted areas are a call to action for the Nigerian government to take responsibility for the environmental and social impacts of oil extraction in the Niger Delta.


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