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Dutch MP shocked by devastation in Niger Delta

Published on : 7 January 2011 – 12:04pm | By Hélène Michaud

Dutch (opposition) Labour Party MP Sjoera Dikkers has just spent four days in Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta, in preparation for a parliamentary hearing on Royal Dutch Shell’s activities there.

Complex situation
Ms. Dikkers, a former activist with non-governmental organisations, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that her visit made her realise the complexity of the situation, adding “shades of gray” to her picture of the Delta region. She said she almost longed for her activist days, “when companies were bad and NGO’s were good.”

On January 26, environmental, human rights, and scientific research organisations, along with representatives of Royal Dutch Shell plc, the main petroleum company in the Niger Delta, will be heard and questioned by Dutch parliamentarians. They will try to find out who should be held responsible for the extensive environmental degradation in that region.

“Open mind”
Ms Dikkers intends to take part in the discussions with an “open mind”.

“I’m not biased at all. But I’ve seen that Shell is by far not doing enough, and I’ve seen myself that the government, to say the least, is not helping. They are only making things worse. Most people who bunker(tap) oil illegally get military protection, which is a sign that government officials are very much involved and making huge amounts of money out of it.”

“There’s no very reliable data available and everybody’s telling you a different part of their story. So I have to digest all of this to get the whole picture and draw my own conclusions,” she adds.

Ms Dikkers, who mentioned that she had paid herself for her trip, was preceded in the Niger Delta by another member of the opposition, Sharon Gesthuizen (Socialist Party). Both lawmakers say they were shocked after flying above polluted parts of the Ogoni region and speaking with farmers who can no longer cultivate their land because of oil spills.

Can the Dutch parliament make a difference?
“I wish I could say yes, but I can only be a tiny, tiny part of the solution. If we could help get rid of the devastation in the Niger Delta by putting pressure on Shell and the local government, that would be great,” she says.

What kind of pressure?
“I don’t know right now. It would be fantastic if the outcome of the hearing would be that our parliament would end up investigating the activities of Shell in Nigeria, if a commission could come up with an independent view of the situation,” says Ms. Dikkers.

During her brief visit, Ms. Dikkers says she became aware that Nigerians in the Delta were more concerned about their livelihoods than environmental degradation.

“And that’s something that we have to bear in mind as well when we come up with solutions for the people here. It’s not up to me to dictate what should be happening on the ground. If cleaning up is not their primary concern and they have other concerns, then it would be good to look into that instead of pushing my own western agenda.”

Ms. Dikkers is grabbed with emotion when she answers our last question: Why should the Dutch parliament care about the Niger Delta?

“Shell is a Dutch company. If I didn’t care I wouldn’t have gone into politics… The oil that they get from there is put in my car. And I want to see that what I put in my car is not destroying somebody’s livelihood. That’s something I don’t want to accept. I’m very very upset about that, I’m very angry.”

“The world is watching,” a Nigerian newspaper wrote about what actions Ms. Dikkers and her fellow MP’s will take.

What is it about?

A 2009 report by Amnesty International on the impact of oil extraction in Nigeria concluded that “the people of the Niger Delta have seen their human rights undermined by oil companies that their government cannot or will not hold to account.”

The organisation called on governments of the home states of oil multinationals “to regulate how extractive companies operate at home and abroad.”


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