Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A case study of the allegation of Shell Nigeria's complicity in human rights violations.


This paper will discuss the allegation that oil companies have often been accused of complicity in human rights violations. The paper will include a case study of the multinational Royal Dutch/Shell Petroleum company’s activities in Ogoni in the Niger Delta and their involvement in the torture and murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists with the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), who opposed oil drilling on their lands, and accused Shell in Nigeria of complicity in what it alleged was the genocide of the Ogoni people (Manby, 1999). The paper will briefly examine the history of the multinational oil company’s involvement in the Niger Delta and the devastation it caused to the local Ogoni peoples, outlining the destruction caused to the Niger Delta natural environment as a tragic abuse of human rights. The paper will also cover the formation of MOSOP and their legitimate protests against Shell Nigeria, and the allegations that Shell Nigeria was involved with the Nigerian military in efforts to stop protests in situations were civilians where killed. The paper will conclude with a look at the changing worldview of Nigeria since the Ogoni crisis, and question the ethical implications of Western consumption of Nigerian oil in the face of human rights violations inflicted in the oil’s production.


Royal Dutch Shell made the first discoveries of commercial quantities of oil in Nigeria in 1956 in Oloibiri in the Niger Delta region and over the following years they set up oil terminals and connecting pipelines so that large-scale production could begin in earnest by 1965 (Frynas, Beck, and Mellahi, 2000). Today, the petroleum sector comprises more than 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), continuing to provide more than 95 percent of exports (IMF Staff Country Report, 1998).

Estimates of Nigeria’s proven oil reserves are currently at 35.2 billion barrels (EIA, 2005), but unlike the majority of large oil fields around the world situated in the arid expanses of the Middle East or Texas, or under the waters of the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, the oil patches in the Niger Delta were situated under fragile waterways that sustained the livelihoods of thousands of people, primarily through pristine farmlands and fisheries (Shah, 2004). Whether it would have been possible to develop these fields without massive disruption is unclear, however such issues were not formally considered. It was the Nigerian military authorities that signed the deals with the oil multinationals to develop more then two hundred oilfields in the delta’s villages (EIA, 2005).

Environmental damage

Communities of the Niger Delta first began to seriously feel the effects of the oil companies with the dredging of waterways and the construction of dams, roads and pipelines through the fragile Delta flood plains. These projects, built to save the oil companies time and money, often destroyed buildings, plantations and ancestral graves and holy ground during construction. (Okonta and Douglas, 2001).

In an interview with a senior male elder of an Oloma village, Fentiman (1996) highlights the ways in which the oil companies have disrupted the lives of the Delta’s villagers, vividly described by the village elder:

“It wasn't until Shell started dredging the creek that everything started to go badly. For example, erosion of land. Before, there was a beautiful sandy beach; but look, it no longer exists. In the back of my house there was a big playground called ogbo-ngelege, but that land has eroded, and now our houses are eroding. Our traditional livelihood is fishing, but there are no more fish. We now buy tinned fish or stock fish. The chemicals from oil spillage have ruined the fish as well as the esem (periwinkles) and mgbe (mangrove oysters). We receive nothing from Shell. For example, no electricity, no piped water, no health facilities, nothing to make us happy. They were supposed to build a fish pond, but look around you, there is nothing. They destroyed our land and dredged our creek.”

According to a study by Human Rights Watch (1999), the environmental problems identified in the Niger Delta include flooding and coastal erosion, sedimentation and siltation, degradation and depletion of water and coastal resources, land degradation, oil pollution, air pollution, land subsidence, biodiversity depletion, noise and light pollution, health problems, and low agricultural production, as well as socio-economic problems, lack of community participation, and weak or non-existent laws and regulations.

Environmental damage as a violation of human rights

It should be noted that massive environmental damage impacts different communities around the world in different ways. While the destruction of an old growth rainforest in a developed nation such as Australia for example, will raise protests from environmentalists as a travesty, such environmental damage does not strongly impact on the lives of the people living in that country. These citizens may miss their rainforest, but its destruction will not result in poorer living conditions or economic disaster for the countries citizens. This kind of environmental damage is not necessarily a violation of human rights.

However the same cannot be said for village communities living in developing nations, such as the Ogoni people. As these communities have their local environment destroyed, they also have their livelihoods destroyed. There is a direct relationship between the standard of living for these kinds of communities and the condition of the environment. As environmental damage increases, standard of living decreases.

The United Nations also see the important connection between human rights and the environment. The 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment declared that "man's environment, the natural and the man-made, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights--even the right to life itself." (OHCHR, 1972). And the African Charter 1981, article 24 proclaimed that the right to a satisfactory environment for development is a human right. The court also recognised that environmental degradation can give rise to a violation of human rights. (African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, 1981).

Movements against the oil multinationals

The Niger Delta’s Ken Saro-Wiwa was a successful author and businessman, who became a central activist for the rights of the Ogoni. Saro-Wiwa wrote that since the first well was drilled in 1958, the oil companies Shell and Chevron extracted an estimated $30 billion worth of oil from the Niger Delta, where 500,000 Ogoni people live on 404 square miles of land (Mohindar, 2005).

"Yet, the Ogoni have received no royalty for the oil, nor do they have any electricity, pipe water, telephones, education or health facilities. Instead, 30,000 Ogoni have been displaced, 1,000 Ogoni massacred and eight villages razed." (Saro-Wiwa, 1990).

To combat the damage of the oil companies on the environment and livelihoods of the Ogoni people, in 1990 activists set up the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), with Ken Saro-Wiwa as one of the movements key leaders and founding figures. MOSOP’s demands were directed at the Nirgirian government for their collaboration with the oil multinationals at the expense of the Ogoni people, and at the Shell Corporation, seeking compensation for the devastation done to their lands and people. These demands were set out in 1990 in the “Ogoni Bill of Rights”, which expressed Ogoni determination to secure their political, economic and environmental rights. MOSOP’s first act was to present the Ogoni Bill of Rights to the Nigerian government in 1990 (Humans Rights Watch, 1999).

Initially the Nigerian government largely ignored MOSOP’s demands, so Saro-Wiwa began to use his international connections as a well known author to bring the bill to the attention of the UN, the African Human Rights Commission, and several international environmental and human rights NGOs (Osaghae, 1995). Throughout the following two years MOSOP continued to seek international support to pressure the Nigerian government and Shell to recognize Ogoni rights.

MOSOP’s efforts were given very little attention, even from the environmental groups in London that Saro-Wiwa approached for support (Shah, 2004). As Saro-Wiwa’s son Ken Wiwa remembers, the groups Saro-Wiwa approached for support ushered him out the door, “with a polite but condescending look that suggested he come back when a few more people had been killed” (Wiwa, 2000).

During 1991 and 1992 Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP continued to seek support and raise awareness of the plight of the Ogoni people, though their efforts were largely unsuccessful, having received no reply from the Nigerian administration. So in 1992 MOSOP decided to deliver their demands directly to the oil multinationals Shell, NNPC and Chevron. They demanded the companies pay U.S. $10 billion in royalties and compensation for environmental damage, put an end to environmental destruction, and negotiate for further oil production on acceptable terms with an effective environmental protection program (Cayford, 1996).

The initial MOSOP demands were ignored, and so two months later on the 4th of January 1993, Saro-Wiwa led an estimated 300,000 Ogoni, a significant percentage of the Ogoni population, on a peaceful protest march against oil exploitation. This initial rally was met with no immediate conflict with police, however subsequent mass demonstrations continuing over the following months and encountered increasing arrests and police harassment. At the end of April a protest against a Shell pipeline by 10,000 Ogoni was met by the Nigerian military, brought by Shell contractors, and the troops opened fire on the unarmed crowd killing one young man and wounding eleven people. (Cayford, 1996).

The violence escalated and in July 1993 the Nigerian military unleashed devastating violence on the people of the Delta. 132 unarmed Ogoni men, women, and children were massacred, and then again in August 247 more were killed, and in September over 1000 people were murdered (Shah, 2004. 97).

At first it appeared that this violence was the result of ethnic conflict in the region. However experts brought in to bring peace found no evidence of this claim. Human Rights Watch/Africa (1999) has since acquired evidence that the soldiers were led to believe that they were repelling an armed invasion from Cameroon. One soldier interviewed stated: "When we arrived they told us to shoot everyone who crossed our path. I followed my orders until I realized that the approaching civilians were Nigerians."

In 1994 Saro-Wiwa and several other key MOSOP members were arrested in connection with the murder of four traditional leaders, despite a lack of evidence. On 10 November 1995 the military government hanged Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP activists after a trial that violated international standards of due process and produced no credible evidence that he or the others were involved in the killings. Manby (1999) argues that it was clear that Saro-Wiwa and his co-defendants were being silenced as a result of their success in mobilizing Ogoni anger at oil production and the threat that this mobilization posed to the military and civilian elite who benefit from the oil wealth.

Shell, because of its economic power in the country, could have stopped the executions, say MOSOP and international activists. A Human Rights Watch study (1999) implicated Shell in planned “wasting operations” by the Security Task Force, with evidence stating that the oil companies should pay the costs of these operations. The head of the Task Force several times publicly claimed to be acting so that Shell’s oil production could resume. Alligations against Shell also include several claims that Shell police deliberately created conflict, intimidated and harassed MOSOP protestors, and participated in brutality against detainees. Activists also allege that Shell continue paying field allowances to soldiers deployed to it’s facilities.

The international view of Shell Nigeria
Shell's role in human rights abuse in Ogoni has been the cause of increasing international concern since Saro-Wiwa's murder. In 1997, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights voted to appoint a special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Nigeria. As stated by Sierra Club (2001), the United Nations Special Rapporteur's report claims:
·Shell is responsible for environmental devastation of the Niger Delta;
·'Issues relating to environmental degradation in the River Delta region alleged to be caused by the operations of SPDC have received insufficient attention' [Shell Petroleum Development Corporation is Shell's Nigerian subsidiary];
·Shell is colluding with the military in suppressing non-violent protests;
·'The Nigerian authorities have put at SPDC's disposal a mobile police force to suppress protest';
·Shell is directly guilty of human rights abuses;
·'[Shell has] a well armed security force which is intermittently employed against [protesters]';
·And the Special Rapporteur supports MOSOP's call for an independent agency to 'determine all aspects of environmental damage due to oil exploration and other operations'.
After several years of activist attempts to make Shell answer to charges of human rights violations, in 2002 the U.S. federal court decided to allow a lawsuit to proceed, accusing Shell of complicity in human rights abuses in Nigeria. The allegation is of Shell Nigeria’s involvement in the torture and murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists with MOSOP. Plaintiffs against Shell argued the company gave money and weapons to the Nigerian government to crush the protest movement. They further accused the military regime of bribing witnesses to give false testimony against Saro-Wiwa and other activists (Knight, 2002).

This lawsuit brings Shell’s actions in Nigeria to international attention, and plaintiffs against Shell stated they where optimistic that the company would eventually be made to answer for their actions in U.S. courts.

This case study of Shell Nigeria’s activities demonstrates the company’s blatant disregard for the well being of the Ogoni people and the company’s involvement in human rights violations. The destruction of the Niger Delta environment without compensation by the practices of Shell and the other oil multinationals in itself is a massive violation of human rights. However there are also the alligations of Shell’s involvement of more obvious and immediate human rights violations in the accusations of Shell supporting militant groups in the violations and abuses of thousands of Nigerian citizens.

In the face of such human rights violations as those that Shell is involved with, an important issue to consider is the price being paid for oil. Oil is one of the most important commodities to developed nations, and when we think of its cost we generally think in terms of U.S. dollars per barrel. However if large quantities of the oil we consume come from locations as damaged by the oil companies as Nigerian communities are, then we must also consider the price of oil to be related to the suffering of the people in these communities. When considering the ethics of an oil company’s involvement in human rights abuses, it may also be important to consider the ethics in wide scale consumption of the oil company’s product. By purchasing oil which is produced cheaply at the expense of countless lives and the living conditions of these nation’s citizens, then perhaps the developed nations consuming this oil are also at least partly responsible for the violations of human rights that the oil multinationals are accused of.



African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 1981. African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. (accessed September 23, 2005).

Cayford, S. 1996. The Ogoni uprising: oil, human rights, and a democratic alternative in Nigeria. Africa Today, June 1996. 43 (2): 183. (accessed October 12, 2005, from EBSCOhost: Academic Search Elite).

Edokpayi, E., A. 2005. Shell Oil Company and social justice in the Niger Delta: The case of Shell in Ogoni, Nigeria. Morgan State University, August 2005 (accessed October 6, 2005, from ProQuest: Multiple databases).

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Fentiman, A. 1996. The anthropology of oil: The impact of the oil industry on a fishing community in the Niger Delta. Social Justice, Winter 1996. 23 (4): 87 (accessed October 4, 2005, from EBSCOhost: Multiple databases).

Frynas, J., G., Beck, M., P. and Mellahi, K. 2000. Maintaining corporate dominance after decolonisation: The ‘first mover advantage’ of shell-BP in Nigeria. Review of African Political Economy, September 2000. 27 (85), 407. (Accessed October 10, 2005, from ProQuest: ABI/INFORM Global database).

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Knight, D. 1998. New Accusations of Arrest and Torture. Inter Press Service, January 15 (accessed October 10, 2005, from ProQuest: Multiple database).

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Manby, B. 1999. The Role and Responsibility of Oil Multinationals in Nigeria. Journal of International Affairs, 53 (1): 281. (Accessed October 10, 2005, from EBSCOhost: Academic Search Elite).

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The light at the end of the Peak Oil tunnel

The doomer concept of a permanent powerdown (and mass die-off) is a rather hard sell to the peak oil uninitiated. Regardless of what the different types of peak-oilers think the effects of peak oil will be, we can mostly agree on the need for raising awareness of oil depletion and conservation. Telling people we need to permanently powerdown and eventually die-out is no sensible way to encourage positive steps towards a better future. This approach tends to alienate people, often having the opposite effect then that desired by us all, resulting in people stubbornly ignoring the need for change.

This is why highlighting the light at the end of the tunnel is necessary when raising awareness of peak oil, and why it’s important to keep an open mind about what the future may hold. If people believe that they are working towards a brighter future, they are far more likely to make the positive changes in their lives in order for that future to become a reality. Alternatively doomers would seem to prefer that the masses just give up and die, an attitude that will likely result in complacency, as is evident by many doomer attitudes on sites like

So what exactly is this light at the end of the peak oil tunnel?

The industrialisation of space. The promise of a new, virtually inexhaustible supply of resources free for the taking, offering endless energy, mineral and economic opportunities and an endless expanse in which to expand and to grow far into the future, while simultaneously reducing the damage done to the planet and restoring it’s former beauty.

But why bother with space, how is it even possible, and couldn’t the money be better spent?

The why, is simple. The reason to exploit space is that either we find new locations of resources (off-world), or we deplete all of the Earth’s finite resources and eventually face extinction. It really is that simple. The Earth only has finite resources. Even if we overcome the energy limitations of finite fossil fuels, there are plenty of other finite resources that humanity consumes. Eventually these finite resources will run out, and either we find more resources, or we shrivel up and die. But guess what? Surrounding the Earth and the inner solar system are vast quantities of everything we will ever need. It’s all made from the same stardust that the Earth and everything on it is made from. It’s only logical to use it rather then perish.

The how is more complex and will take several follow up articles to explain various aspects. But the important thing to note is that exploiting space isn’t an unrealistic proposition of building some magical Star Trek like technology and zipping off to distant planets. It’s merely a simple matter of continuing a process that began over 70 years ago with early chemical rocket technology. It’s about deciding that we are going to make it a priority, dedicating the necessary resources, and continuing the process one step at a time. More on how to industrialise space for our long-term benefit later…

The costs of developing space are undoubtedly as astronomical as the dream itself. However considering the long-term payoffs, and especially compared to other endeavours of the modern world, developing space is actually a bargain. As many people know, NASA is far from a cost effective space agency, but even NASA’s operations are cheap compared to other things the developed world wastes money on.

Lets compare some costs:

Costs of space (NASA and European projects, in year 2000 U.S. dollars):
A single shuttle launch is currently estimated at around $300 million, and a European Ariane 5G rocket launch at around $165 million. source
The International Space Station is estimated at around $100 billion, source and the Russian Mir space station cost $4.3 billion. source
The latest NASA Mars rovers cost around $600 million, and the European Beagle 2 Mars probe cost around $50 million. source
The Apollo moon landings cost $135 billion in 2005 dollars.

As we can see, space is considerably expensive. Arguably NASA could do things far more cheaply and is a poor fiscal performer compared to similar projects by other space agencies, but even considering NASA’s tendency for over budgeted projects, the costs of space development are still justifiable for an endeavour as noble as ensuring our collective future.

Now lets consider the costs of a few other aspects of the modern world:
According to a study by the NDIA, in 1992 drug abuse cost the U.S. an estimated $246 billion dollars, and the costs are increasing each year. source
Thanks to fast food culture, overweight and obesity medical expenses in the U.S. accounted for $92.6 billion dollars in 2003, and like drug abuse, is a problem increasing each year. source
And of course lets not forget war, the panicle of wasteful endeavours. According to this source, the Iraq war has currently cost U.S. tax payers over $200 billion. This site also has some interesting cost estimates for previous U.S. conflicts (adjusted to year 2000 dollars):

American Civil War -$62 Billion
Spanish American War -$5 Billion
World War One -$290 Billion
World War Two -$2,300 Billion
Korean Conflict -$111 Billion
Vietnam -$165 Billion

Perhaps we don’t have our priorities right? Surely working towards setting up countless future generations with access to virtually infinite resources should be important to people?

We mourn the deaths of the 18 humans that have died in space in the history of space flight, yet we willingly send millions more to their deaths in pointless things such as road accidents, drug and obesity epidemics, and wars. We gladly spend considerable sums of money on things that offer little long-term benefit to humanity, and many things that don’t offer any benefit at all, and yet many people consider space development to be a waste of money. This is very misguided thinking. The fact is, space development and progress represents the best possible investment humanity can be involved in. The potential benefits are massive, and far outweigh the costs. And above all else, space development is humanities only shot at true long-term sustainability. Space industrialisation is the light at the end of the peak oil tunnel, but only if we adopt the right attitude.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Well, I've finally got a blog. No idea what I'm going to write about, but as the name may imply, I plan to write about anything and everything. Omnitir, the most generalised content in the blogosphere.

And in case your wondering what an omnitir is, here is mine: