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Shell: Clean-up goes on for Niger Delta – and oil company’s reputation home

Shell’s image is still mired by claims over oil spills, Ken Saro-Wiwa’s hanging and WikiLeak’s revelations of infiltration

John Vidal, Environment editor

Thursday 3 February 2011 19.07 GMT

Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged by the Nigerian military regime after organising opposition to Shell’s activities in the Delta. Photograph: Greenpeace/AFP

Despite today’s soaring profit figures, Shell remains a company under siege for its lucrative activities in Africa.

At a parliamentary hearing in the Netherlands last week, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Nigerian and British activists, Dutch MPs and others accused the company of breaches of safety, human rights abuses, destroying lives and the environment, hiding information, gas flaring and blaming locals for oil pollution in Nigeria.

Shell Holland’s president, Peter de Wit, denied all the charges and insisted that the company applied “global standards” to its operations around the world. He argued that Shell had provided thousands of well-paid jobs, brought know-how, education and technology and had launched numerous community projects in the west African nation.

“We consider that Shell is doing a good job often under difficult circumstances,” he said.

He was backed by Ian Craig, Shell’s head of exploration for sub-Saharan African, who argued that the company could not be held solely responsible for damage to the environment caused by oil extraction in the oil-rich region. “We do bear some responsibility, but we cannot bear it entirely,” Craig told the Dutch parliamentDutch MPs.

But Shell’s operations in Nigeria will come under fire again in the coming weeks. The UN Environment Programme, using money from Shell, has spent four years investigating and assessing thousands of oil spills in Ogoniland, the small oil-rich region of the Niger Delta where the company was active until forced out over pollution by Ogoni leaders including Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hanged by the Nigerian military regime in 1995.

The UN report will not say who caused the spills but will confirm that large areas of land remain polluted, drinking water wells are still highly toxic and many of the fishing creeks are unproductive.

Shell Nigeria argues that 90% of the pollution is caused by sabotage by local people but this will further inflame Nigerian and foreign environmentalists who accuse the company of being in league with the Nigerian government, falsifying records of spills and acting as an unaccountable parallel state.

This was, in part, confirmed in December by WikiLeaks cables showing that Shell had inserted staff into all the main ministries of the Nigerian government, regularly swapped intelligence with the US government and informed on militants and activists. The company boasted that it knew local politicians’ every move in the Delta.

Last year in New York the families of the nine Ogoni activists who were hanged by the Nigerian military government in 1995 alleged that Shell had conspired with the government to capture and hang the men, and had worked with the army to bring about killings and torture of Ogoni protesters. The company denied the charges but settled out of court and agreed to pay £15m as a humanitarian gesture.


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