Shell Funded Killings, Clashes in Niger Delta, says Report

THISDAY Newspaper- Chika Amanze-Nwachuku

Barely one month after a United Nations Environ-ment Programme (UNEP) report on oil spills in Ogoniland, Rivers State, accused Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) of being responsible for environmental damage in the area, a new report by a London-based oil and gas industry watchdog, Platform, has revealed that the oil giant was fuelling armed conflicts that resulted in the killing of about 60 persons in the Niger Delta region.

The report released last night by Platform, a non-government organisation, revealed that the oil major paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to feuding militant groups as well as government forces that attacked, tortured and killed Nigerians living in the creeks and swamplands in the region.

A UK-based newspaper, The Guardian, reported last night that the industry watchdog, in a 75-page report implicated the Anglo-Dutch oil company in a decade of human rights abuses in the Niger Delta, adding that Shell’s “routine payments exacerbated local violence, in one case leading to the deaths of 60 people and the destruction of an entire town”.

Platform’s investigation, which includes testimony from Shell’s own managers, also alleges that government forces hired by Shell perpetrated atrocities against local civilians, including unlawful killings and systematic torture.

Shell, according to the report, disputed the allegation, defending its human rights record and questioning the accuracy of the evidence, but has pledged to study the recommendations.

But the London-based oil and gas watchdog maintained that it had seen testimony and contracts that implicated Shell in the regular awarding of lucrative contracts to militants. In one case last year, Shell was alleged to have transferred more than $159,000 (£102,000) to a group credibly linked to militia violence.

Platform quoted one gang member, Chukwu Azikwe, to have revealed that the gangs use the money they were paid to purchase their weapons.
“We were given money and that is the money we were using to buy ammunition, to buy this bullet, and every other thing to eat and to sustain the war,” Azikwe said. He said his gang and its leader, SK Agala, had vandalised Shell pipelines.

“They will pay ransom. Some of them in the management will bring out money; dole out money into this place, in cash,” he added.

The report further alleged that the payments made the gang become locked in competition with rival groups over access to oil money, with payments to one faction provoking a violent reaction from the other.

“The (rival gang) will come and fight, some will die, just to enable them to also get [a] share. So the place now becomes a contest ground for warring factions. Who takes over the community has the attention of the company,” it said.

It also alleged that it was highly likely that Shell knew that thousands of dollars paid per month to militants in the town of Rumuekpe were used to sustain a bitter conflict.
“Armed gangs waged pitched battles over access to oil money, which Shell distributed to whichever gang controlled access to its infrastructure,” the report added.

Rumuekpe is “the main artery of Shell’s eastern operations in Rivers state”, with around about 100,000 barrels of oil flowing per day, approximately10 per cent of Shell’s daily production in the country.

Shell distributed “community development” funds and contracts via Friday Edu, a youth leader and Shell community liaison officer, the report said, an exclusive arrangement that magnified the risk of communal tension and conflict.

The report added: “By 2005, Edu’s monopoly over the resources of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) had sparked a leadership tussle with Agala’s group. The latter was reportedly forced out of the community and a number of people killed. Dozens of gang members and residents reportedly died in counter raids by Agala.

“The inter-communal violence killed an estimated 60 people, including women and children, from 2005-08. Thousands more were displaced by fighting that left homes, schools and churches in ruins. Many still suffer severe malnutrition, poverty and homelessness.”

According to the organisation, “the local conflicts created regional instability. Displaced villagers were hunted down in the regional capital, Port Harcourt, and killed in their homes, schools and workplaces. Gangs active in Rumuekpe collaborated with prominent criminal networks in Rivers State and doubled as Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) militants.”

“MEND’s activity in Rumuekpe seriously disrupted Shell’s operations and sent shockwaves through world markets,” the report noted, yet Shell paid little heed. One of the corporation’s managers was alarmingly candid: “One good thing about their crisis was that they never, for one day, stopped us from production.”

In 2006, Shell was alleged to have awarded maintenance contracts relating to its oil wells, the Trans-Niger pipeline, its booster station and flow station to Edu’s gang. But after Agala’s counter-raid left Rumuekpe “littered” with corpses, Shell apparently switched sides and started paying Agala. It paid whoever controlled access, even if they were known criminal gangs, Platform claimed.

The allegations of ex-gang members were largely substantiated by the testimony of a Shell official, it claimed. A manager confirmed that in 2006, one of the most violent years, Shell awarded six types of contracts in Rumuekpe. Thousands of dollars flowed from Shell to the armed gangs each month.

The company eventually terminated some, though not all of the contracts. But by then, the violence had reached the Shell flow station.

A Shell manager, whose name has been withheld, was quoted as saying: “Somebody came in [to the flow station] and cut off somebody’s hand. We had to vacate the place. We stopped the contract entirely.”

Other contracts to “maintain the pipeline right of way” continued throughout the entire conflict, as did one-off contracts created in response to specific threats, the report said.

A local youth leader said: “(Shell) were going to their job, doing their operation, servicing their manifold. They never cared that people were dying. They never did anything to call the crisis to order. Rather they were using military to intimidate the community.”

Platform’s report offers a damning assessment: “Shell was highly likely to be aware that it was helping to fuel the conflict in Rumuekpe, since company workers visited the community on a regular basis. Even if Shell was somehow unaware of the violence, media reports were publicly available.

“Members of the community reportedly wrote to Shell to request that the company stop awarding contracts to gang leaders such as Friday Edu. Through Shell’s routine practices and responses to threats, the company became complicit in the cycle of violence.”

It adds: “The Rumuekpe crisis was entirely avoidable… Shell operated for decades without an MoU, polluted the community and distributed ‘community development’ funds through an individual who had lost the confidence of the community. Once conflict erupted, Shell paid the perpetrators of gross human rights abuses as long as they controlled access to oil infrastructure. The cumulative impact of Shell’s mistakes was devastating.”

Rumuekpe is just one of several case studies examined by the report which alleged that in 2009 and 2010, security personnel guarding Shell facilities were responsible for extra-judicial killings and torture in Ogoniland. The organisation calls on the corporation to break ties with government forces and other armed groups responsible for abuses, and to clean up environmental damage.

In a response last night, Manager, Media and Communi-cation, Shell Nigeria Exploration & Production Company Limited, Mr. Tony Okonedo, said: “Shell respects human rights wherever in the world we have operations. Our code of conduct describes the high ethical standards that all our staff are expected to uphold, and we support the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, which help extractive companies ensure their security operations are consistent with upholding human rights.

“We are committed to working with the people and government of Nigeria to ensure that everyone benefits from the country’s natural resources. But working in the Niger Delta presents significant challenges.
“We have long acknowledged that the legitimate payments we make to assist many communities cause friction with others who don’t receive help, and we are working to improve this situation through a number of initiatives.

“The presence of the Nigerian military in the Delta is essential to protect people and assets; after all, the Nigerian government owns a 55 per cent share in SPDC. However, suggestions in the report that SPDC has any control over military activities are completely untrue.

“It is unfortunate that Platform has repeated several old cases, some of which are unsubstantiated and some proven inaccurate, because doing so obscures the good work which has been going on for many years. However, we will examine its recommendations carefully and we look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue with the Nigerian government and others on these issues.”


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