By Rob Davies: PUBLISHED: 21:53, 26 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:54, 26 August 2012
Shell paid warlords and militants not to attack its pipelines in the Niger Delta, contributing to armed violence in the troubled region, according to a new report.
According to evidence obtained from leaked US Embassy cables and interviews with local people, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant paid ‘protection’ money to dangerous militant groups.
Shell fights a daily battle against oil theft and the threat to its staff from kidnappers, forcing it to go to great lengths to resolve the security situation.
But campaign group Platform argues that paying local militants fuels instability in the region, at the expense of local communities affected by tribal and criminal violence.
Its report said that ‘from 2005 to 2010, Shell’s routine contracts and payments to armed militants fuelled a range of conflicts’.
In 2003, the managing director of SPDC, Shell’s Nigerian joint venture with the government, said it had ordered staff to make ‘no cash payments to communities other than those specified for legitimate business relations’.
But three months later, US embassy cables say Shell was still offering informal cash payments to local groups that security analysts WAC Global had deemed a ‘prominent trigger’ for conflict.
One diplomatic message, from US ambassador John Campbell, read: ‘The oil companies have poured money into select villages/clans to buy protection or placate local populations.’
‘Over 30 years that money has piled up guns in the hands of Delta villagers.’
As recently as February this year, Mutiu Sunmonu, who heads Shell Nigeria, admitted that the company has struggled to eliminate such payments.
‘You do not know who is a militant and who is a genuine contractor,’ he said at an event in London.
‘So there could be cases in the past where you have thought you were employing, you know, a genuine bona fide contractor, and yet he is probably a militant or a warlord.’
Shell describes some of the payments it makes as ‘surveillance contracts’, rewarding communities for keeping an eye out for oil theft. Platform said such contracts were ‘simply a fig leaf for illegitimate protection payments’.
‘These contracts have fuelled violence between armed youth groups, de-stabilised communities and sparked communal conflicts,’ the group said.
A Shell spokesman said: ‘Protecting our people and our assets is Shell’s highest priority, and we have always acknowledged the difficulties of working in countries like Nigeria. We comply fully with local legislation when making payments to any third party.’
The report comes just a week after it emerged that Shell spent £242m in four years to maintain a 1200-strong private militia to protect its installations.