By Emmanuel Onwubiko

The Dutch owned multi-national crude oil conglomerate recently issued a media release in which it claimed that it spends huge sums of money to protect and safeguard the lives and property of the company and their staff in the oil rich but criminally neglected and marginalized Niger Delta communities in Southern Nigeria.

Media reports both internationally and locally which was published on Tuesday August 21st 2012 showed that Shell, which has very notorious image among residents of oil bearing but devastated communities in the Nigeria Delta spends princely sums of hard currency in payments to armed security operatives for the purposes of protect their commercial crude oil drilling operations.

It is also a notorious fact that the majority of the armed security operatives that work in the crude oil producing facilities in the once volatile Niger Delta Communities are drawn largely from the officers and men of the Nigerian Armed forces who work under an official designation as joint military task force. It is uncertain if these huge payments were made directly to official coffers of the Nigerian Armed forces for the purposes of securing the facilities of Shell and the lives and property of the staff or if the payments were made to the armed security operatives on that the huge fund simply disappeared into the pockets of the commanders.

According to media reports, Shell may have spent over $383 million (N61.3 billion) to secure its facilities and personnel in the Niger Delta between 2007 and 2009, going by a disclosure recently from a London-based industry watchdog platform.

The expenditure profile arose during the period when militant insurgency in the oil rich region was grave. This period must have been before the then Umaru Musa Yar?adua-led Federal Government introduced a general amnesty program for repentant militants who surrendered their arms and ammunitions voluntarily.

Specifically, in 2009 alone, $65 million (N10.4 billion) was reportedly expended on security issues by the oil giant on state official operatives and $75 million on ?other? security costs to private companies and individuals.

Also, an estimated $127 million was spent on unexplained category marked ?other?, the documents showed. It is alleged that the fund classified as ?other? may have been used to bribe Government officials and other members of the ruling elite.

Contacted by local media, a spokesperson at Shell?s Nigeria subsidiary did not comment on Platform?s figures, saying only that protecting company staff and assets is ?Shell?s highest priority?.

?Shell?s total support for government forces in Nigeria reached an estimated $65 million. This is staggering transfer of company funds and resources into the hands of soldiers and police known for routine rights abuses,? Platform alleged.

The group?s Nigeria researcher, Ben Amunwa told AFP those payments were ?a stunning failure of due diligence,? as Shell was well aware that Nigeria?s security forces had long been accused of brutality by international and domestic rights groups.

Amunwa said the report was based on documents given to platform by a source closely familiar with Shell?s security budget, who approached the watchdog independently.

There is evidence that indicates Shell used this ?other? budget for a variety of questionable purposes,? the report said. United States diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks disclosed exclusively that some of the company?s funds were channeled to militant groups in the Delta, according to Platform?s report.

My take on this report that Shell spends a lot of money for the purpose of security of their operational staff and facilities is that the huge security expenses come about because the Dutch crude oil multi-national company is known for not keeping clean records when it comes to corporate social responsibility.

It is a hard fact that when business transactions are conducted in fairness and the host communities carried along, it therefore follows that even the members of the communities where such commercial activities take place would automatically takes up ownership of the protection of the operational staff and facilities.

Shell particularly is notorious for violating human rights provisions which should guide their commercial operations in their host communities in the Niger Delta region. There are several respected reports that have indicted the company for these violations.

The company has recently been fingered as a serious violator of the environmental rights of the people of their host communities.

On April 25th 2012, report filtered out from the London based global human rights body-Amnesty international that a major oil spill in the Niger Delta was far worse than Shell previously admitted.

Amnesty international alongside center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), had secured the information based on an independent assessment they jointly conducted reportedly.

To underline the grave nature of the environmental devastation caused by the oil spills as reported by the global human rights watchdog, it was discovered that the spill in 2008, was caused by a fault in a Shell pipeline which resulted in tens of thousands of barrels of oil polluting the land and creek surrounding Bodo, a Niger Delta town of some 69,000 people.

The previously unpublished assessment, carried out by US firm Accufacts Inc. found that between 1,440 and 4,320 barrels of oil were flooding the Bodo area each day following the leak. The Nigerian regulators have confirmed that the spill lasted for 72 days.

Shell?s official investigation report claims only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilt in total. But based on the independent assessment the total amount of oil spilt over the 72 day period is between 103,000 barrels and 311,000 barrels.

?The difference is staggering: even using the lower end of the Accurfacts estimate, the volume of oil spilt at Bodo was more than 60 times the volume Shell has repeatedly claimed leaked,? said Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International.

As usual, shell disputed these well considered findings of these internationally respected non-governmental institutions that uncovered these grave crimes against the environmental rights of the people of the oil producing communities that are the host communities of shell commercial activities.

In that light, Shell?s Corporate Media Relations Manager, Mr. Tony Okonedo, in his response, said: ?Under Nigerian regulations, oil spill incidents are investigated by a joint team of operators, communities, security agencies and regulators. A similar team investigated the spills in Bodo, and we stand by their findings. ?The spill volume was ascertained on the ground by experts at the time and agreed by all parties ? who signed off on the joint investigation report. As has been stated previously, SPDC admitted liability for two spills of about 4,000 barrels in Bodo caused by operational failures, as soon as their cause had been verified in late 2008 and early 2009.

?We do not agree with Amnesty International?s assessment of the spill investigation process. We have recently had the investigation process, which is common to all operators in the Niger Delta, independently verified by Bureau Veritas.

The question that readily comes to mind whenever reports emerge of the monumental environmental devastation caused by oil exploration activities of these multi-national crude oil companies that are joint venture partners with the Nigerian government owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is whether they are aware of their human rights obligations?

It is noteworthy to refer Shell, as well as other multinational oil companies who spend a lot on security because they are not doing the right thing in their host communities, to study the United Nations framework on what business executives need to know about human rights.

In a scholarly report carried on the website of www.ethical corp.com authored by Anthony Ewing on February 17th, 2011, I am able to adduce that business executives such as shell petroleum company in their operations in Nigeria must observe international best practices and strive to refrain from wanton destruction of aquatic lives and the beautiful environment of the oil bearing communities as a way of winning the confidence, trust and friendship of the people.

Accordingly, the UN framework, welcomed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008, has three pillars:

?        The state duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication;

?        The corporate responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts that occur; and

?        Provide greater access for victims to effective remedy, judicial and non-judicial.

Learned legal minds are of the knowledgeable opinion that the corporate responsibility to respect human rights is more than just a legal responsibility. According to these scholars, respecting human rights means not violating them, but also means addressing any ?adverse human rights impacts? companies may generate or to which they contribute.

Shell petroleum should clean up the devastated environment of the oil producing areas that they reportedly destroyed, compensate the rural populations whose sources of livelihood such as farming and fishing were destroyed and be sure to spend less on security.

Government of Nigeria has a constitutional obligation to ensure that crude oil companies operating in Nigeria comply with extant fundamental human rights provisions as encompassed in Chapter four of the Constitution of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended).

It is also bad that armed security operatives belonging to the Nigerian Armed Forces who ought to discharge the constitutional duty of protecting the territorial integrity of the Nigerian State and people from terror gangs are now paid heavily by foreign crude oil firms operating in Nigeria to provide cover for them while they (oil companies) embark on the unprecedented devastation of Nigeria?s natural environment for their selfish commercial benefits which are taken away to foreign economies.

President Jonathan should direct the officials of the ministry of petroleum and the very vibrant National oil Spill Detection and Regulatory Agency (NOSDRA) to compel oil companies to comply with human rights Standards. Section 20 of the Constitution provides that; ?the State shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wild life of Nigeria?. This environmental objective constitutionally guaranteed must be respected if Nigeria is not to suffer monumental effects of the rapidly emerging climate change.

* Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS? ASSOCIATION OF Nigeria, [email protected]

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