On Wednesday Shell admitted liability for two massive oil spills in Nigeria. Ever since oil was discovered in the country in 1956, it has been a source of strife
Adam Vaughan: Thursday 4 August 2011 09.22 BST
Oil was first found in Nigeria in 1956, then a British protectorate, by a joint operation between Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum. The two begun production in 1958, and were soon joined by a host of other foreign oil companies in the 1960s after the country gained independence and, shortly after, fell into civil war.
The rapidly expanding oil industry was dogged in controversy from early on, with criticism that its financial proceeds were being exported or lost in corruption rather than used to help the millions living on $1 a day in the Niger delta or reduce its impact on the local environment.
A major 1970 oil spill in Ogoniland in the south-east of Nigeria led to thousands of gallons being spilt on farmland and rivers, ultimately leading to a £26m fine for Shell in Nigerian courts 30 years later. According to the Nigerian government, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000.
In 1990, the government announced a new round of oil field licensing, the largest since the 1960s. Non-violent opposition to the oil companies by the Ogoni people in the early 1990s over the contamination of their land and lack of financial benefit from the oil revenues attracted international attention. Then, in 1995, Ogoni author and campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa was charged with incitement to murder and executed by Nigeria’s military government. In 2009, Shell agreed to pay £9.6m out of court, in a settlement of a legal action which accused it of collaborating in the execution of Saro-Wiwa and eight other tribal leaders.
In an escalation of opposition to the environmental degradation and underdevelopment, armed groups began sabotaging pipelines and kidnapping oil company staff from 2006, with a ceasefire called in 2009 by one group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. A year later it announced an “all-out oil war” after a crackdown by the Nigerian military.
Hundreds of minor court cases are brought each year in Nigeria over oil spills and pollution. Last year, Shell admitted spilling 14,000 tonnes of crude oil in the creeks of the Niger delta in 2009, double the year before and quadruple that of 2007.