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Academic Report reveals true extent of pollution in Niger Delta following Shell oil spills

Academic Report reveals true extent of pollution in Niger Delta following Shell oil spills

The lawyer representing over 30,000 Nigerians following two devastating oil spills in the Niger Delta has expressed his grave concern following the publication of an academic paper which found that the environmental damage around the site of the two spills has worsened significantly after delays to clean up the region.

The Bodo community was devastated by two large oil spills in October and December 2008 from Shell’s pipelines in the Niger Delta which caused the largest destruction of mangrove habitat in the history of oil spills.

In 2015, following litigation in the UK Courts by law firm Leigh day on behalf of the community, Shell settled the claims for £55m and Bodo became the only community in the entire Niger Delta, out of hundreds of polluted communities, which is subject to an internationally recognised clean-up operation, the Bodo Mediation Initiative (BMI).

The academic paper, which was only made public last month, follows analysis undertaken in 2015 and commissioned by the BMI.

The research was led by Mr Kay Holtzmann, who was previously employed by the BMI to lead the clean-up of the Bodo community and Dr David Little, a former independent advisor to the BMI who represented the United Nations Environment Programme, whose 2011 report found extensive damage in the region.

Mr Holtzmann claims that Shell denied him permission to publish the study’s results in a scientific journal previously, the results have only now been made public.

The research concludes:

“Independent health officials should evaluate the chemistry data as soon as possible to determine the best course of action to protect the local people from any ongoing exposure to toxins of unknown but potentially significant magnitude.  This recommendation is made because of the very high sediment concentrations of aromatics (EC5–EC44) and other hydrocarbons, especially PAHs…”

“To the extent that anyone still relies on potentially-contaminated water for drinking and household use, they should be provided with clean water until remediation is complete, as recommended by UNEP (2011)…”

“A properly designed confidential medical screening programme and epidemiological investigation might also be among the appropriate responses to contamination in Bodo, and similar recommendations were made for Ogoniland by UNEP (2011).”

Last week a High Court judge ruled that the Bodo community should be allowed to continue their legal action against Shell in the UK Courts to force Shell to clean up the pollution.

This follows a decision by the community to put on hold an ongoing legal challenge in the London High Court to force Shell to clean up their environment. This decision was made in response to the clean-up initiative but the Community want to be able to take further legal action as they believe it is the only reason that Shell finally engaged to clean up its oil.

Dan Leader from the international team at Leigh day said:

“We continue to have grave concerns over the levels of pollution in the Niger Delta from these oil spills and the effect this pollution has on our clients. This research confirms our worst fears and we cannot understand why Shell has refused to allow it to be made public before now.

“We have been writing to Shell for 12 months to ask them what public health measures they will be taking to protect the population, at this point they have refused to put any measures in place.”


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One Comment

  1. Zik Gbemre says:


    Without a doubt, the growing fake news trend in Nigeria might not only jeopardize the electorate system, undermine individuals’ right to truth and increases social polarization, but it might also threaten the foundations of the country’s democracy, foster distrust in institutions, exacerbates various social and political religious divides and loss of trust by external parties, unless urgent actions are taken to check the trend. Considering the fact that it takes less effort, time and money to spread and use fake news to actualize any mischievous objective through the weakness of an unregulated social media platforms, perhaps we can say that this is why it is easier today to create a serious confusion/misinformation via social media platforms than it was some years ago.

    Let us also not forget that falsehoods spread like wildfire on social media, getting quicker and longer-lasting pickup than the truth. And this is because, according to a recent research written in Journal Science of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that “It took the ‘truth’ about six times, as long as falsehood, to reach 1,500 people.” And that this might be because “false statements sound more surprising, and false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information,” they wrote.

    There are countless examples of confusion, half-truths and outright misinformation that abounded and were spread like wildfires via different social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram, YouTube, etc. in fact, chaos and misstatement have become the mainstay of public authorities, media organizations, mischief-makers and greedy-bloggers in Nigeria: It is sometimes difficult to separate fact from fiction in the digital, “fake news” age. Though, the word ‘fake news’ became more popular in 2016 with US President Donald Trump controversy during and after the US Presidential elections that brought him in, but Nigeria has taken this trend to the extreme. Here, we would find an army of partisan, gullible people ready to defend or discredit every action of those in and out of the political space with photoshopped images, fake tweets and an imprecise, very basic understanding of the issues. Ignorance in Nigeria has been allowed to fester, to solidify into becoming something of a badge of honour: the less one knows about anything, the louder one seems to speak to the sound of deafening applause.

    Countless WhatsApp videos of morally dubious characters circulate; they pontificate about what they would do differently, and Nigerians forward these illogical, staged performances forgetting these people, for instance, are all former governors, ministers, senators, associates of people in power, or simply mischief makers, rumour peddlers and greedy bloggers trying to move traffic to their blogs as the case may be. We have become a ‘reality TV nation’ where anything can be said or done so long as it captures the imagination and seems dramatic enough to keep people talking and distracted. Misinformation, duplicity and blatant attempts at hiding the truth are common in Nigeria now, and this has made the country become a haven for racial bias, ethnic propaganda, hype and misinformation. This fragmentation has killed nation building. It has also destroyed our capacity to think, we prefer comic spectacle to serious discourse. When this atmosphere is allowed to thrive, then ‘the truth’ is whatever anyone with a microphone or an electronic device says it is. We are happy to be lied to, content to be taken for granted. After corruption, Nigeria is in danger of making ‘fake news’ and ‘outright lies’ its great sport and pastime.

    From what we can deduce, we can conclusively say that about 85% of social media news/information spread can be said to be fake. Just recently, an old video that first appeared on YouTube in March 2010, of a white man who was speaking in an obviously stage-managed gathering where Shell supposedly apologized for causing environmental damage through their operations in Nigeria, resurfaced online and was spreading practically every day via WhatsApp and Facebook. The suspected video with a title “Shell: We are sorry”, showed the man, one Bradford Houppe from a supposed Ethical Affairs Committee at Royal Dutch Shell, gave a four-minute long apology to the people of the Niger Delta for ruining their land, water and communities. While we are not hear to defend Shell (SPDC) and their operations in Nigeria, even though they still remain the best Multinational Oil firm in the region with high ethical corporate standard far better than others in the industry, however, I doubted the said video because there were a lot of things that did not add up. Aside the fact that there was no official notice of such an apology coming from Shell (SPDC) in their official website, I also contacted some top persons in Shell and they told me there is nobody like that with such a name in Shell (SPDC) or Royal Dutch Shell in The Hague. That means the said man is a fake staff. Shell Nigeria (SPDC) has even officially denied the said resurfaced social media news in a disclaimer notification.

    A Political Scientist and a Journalist, Osayimwen Osahon George, recently noted how in mid-October 2017, Brazil felt the intense heat of the odd side of WhatsApp when a false report about popular drag queen Pabllo Vittar getting public funding to host a kids’ TV show on Globo, the Brazilian TV network emerged. Although, the story was later confirmed to be untrue and debunked, it was shared over 110,000 times on Facebook alone after it emerged on WhatsApp. Tapping into Brazilian culture wars over gender and politics, the report stirred outrage, claiming that Globo stood to lose 50 million viewers because of Vittar’s hire which would have been catastrophic. On two major occasions back in Nigeria, WhatsApp has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the instant messaging application which has 1.5 billion active subscribers per month across the world could be used to cause sedition especially in a polarized country. WhatsApp has become a potent medium of organizing political protests in the world that about 11 African countries (Cameroon (Anglophone), Ethiopia, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Togo, The Gambia, Niger, Burundi, Algeria, Uganda) blocked the internet in 2016 to hamper the organization of anti-government protests. This unwarranted measure of internet interruptions in these countries led to deficits of at least over $235 million, but economic advantage does not matter here so far political interests are secured.
    Let us recall the WhatsApp message which spread like wildfire about health workers purposely spreading the Monkeypox virus to reduce the population of the Southern part of Nigeria as a ridiculous means of depleting the region numerically ahead of the 2019 general elections. Some of us laughed it off and affirmed that it was fabricated but to our greatest shock, the Fake News held sway as panic spread from the Niger Delta region where Bayelsa recorded the first case of the Monkeypox disease to the South-east, South-west and then even the North-east as 37 primary schools closed down in Maiduguri, Borno State. Fortunately for the mischief makers, the news coincided with when the Nigerian Military was organizing a medical outreach programme targeted at communities where residents under normal circumstances might not be able to afford basic healthcare. Several press statements and interviews conducted for government officials to debunk the news proved abortive until soldiers were urged to end the medical outreach for tension to subside. Although, rate of illiteracy in Nigeria stands at 65 to 75 million people out of a population of over 180 million, nobody will ever envisage that Fake News about a planned holocaust by the Federal Government by administering poisonous substance under the guise of vaccination will sell. But it did fantastically well. That tells the power behind social media fake news.

    Before the advent of social media, there was a strong limit to the spread of rumours which were laboriously done mouth to mouth. The market places, schools, hair dressing/ barbing salons business centres, religious grounds and others places of interest were fertile grounds for the dissemination of unfounded claims. Most malicious news died natural deaths in the course of proliferation as it took maybe too much time to travel. Significant platforms like radios, TVs and newspapers were reserved for consequential issues and most sensational news about public interests that never made it to these platforms were regarded as false to a large extent. News tips that were not verifiable were suppressed by journalists in order not to misinform the society and cause unrest but today, journalism has changed due to advancement in technology, introduction of social media and instant messaging applications. As social media encouraged digital journalism which made information dissemination faster and cheaper, so also did it open grounds for easy manipulation of the media space. In this 21st century, every individual with a Smartphone connected to the internet is a journalist. Citizen journalism encourages the participation of all citizens in journalistic processes thereby leading to the abuse of ethics as participants are untrained and crude in reporting events of public interests on their page.

    Many cases of WhatsApp being used to exaggerate Boko Haram attacks as well as the Fulani herdsmen crisis across the geopolitical zones in Nigeria have been recorded. Investigations have shown that the propagators of these falsehoods majorly sympathizers of secessionist groups download gory pictures of war victims in Africa and present it as if it took place in Nigeria with the aim of spreading panic and denting the popularity of the present administration. This brings to mind the viral news of a Fulani herdsmen attack on a mass transit vehicle at the Lagos-Ibadan expressway leading to the death of several people. It took series of disclaimers issued by a concerned transport company, God Is Good Motors, and the Edo State government, before this fake news tide was cooled down. We can see how a heterogeneous society like Nigeria, where all the major tribes’ fake unity, could be thrown into tribal wars towards a state of instability and total collapse before the veracity of such news could be ascertained.

    Most of these malicious WhatsApp messages are believed to be composed by young folks majorly teenagers who follow political events emotionally with no in-depth knowledge of events. I mean the calibre of people who initiate arguments from the knowledge derived from reading headlines of news reports and ignoring the body of the report. Their top consumers are the elderly people from age 50 and above who are not fully accustomed to how the digital media works. Most young people have uncles and aunts constantly and unrepentantly sending them unsolicited broadcast messages on WhatsApp which they hardly read. This shows that there are vulnerable users that need protection and guidance to save their minds from pollution by unscrupulous people.

    Even some well-educated and well-travelled Nigerians/elites could be swayed by such messages as they usually fell for it. Some of these persons are best known as ‘certificated illiterates’ because they believe this fake stories/news and they spread it on social media without actually looking at such news/stories with open mind to ascertain their authenticity. Even some trained journalists also fall for such fake stories by helping to spread such news/stories on their media websites without any sort of investigation. We used to have what we call “investigative journalism” in Nigeria’s media industry, but today, the new crop of media practitioners have become of ‘copy and paste’ journalists that spread news without any verification. They just copy from one source and paste in another, without any thorough investigation.

    A study of those messages has proven that they are not only unhealthy for a fragile country like Nigeria but they are also divisive. There is a need for the Federal Government to look into the menace of Fake News dissemination through WhatsApp and Facebook to safeguard the already faltering health of the country as it portends a real disaster. Countries in Europe as well as the United States of America are already finding ways to block the spread of Fake News even though progress has been limited. In the wake of the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential election in the US, pressure is being mounted on Google, Twitter and Facebook to tackle Fake News. This accounts for one of the reasons why Facebook announced a major move to limit the appearance of news articles on timelines to focus on activities of your friends which was the initial trend before the page advertisement craze which raked in a lot of money for the company.

    On the part of people, there is need for Nigerians to always investigate carefully any news/broadcast they receive online via any social media platforms before they escalate/share same. In cases where one is not sure of such news post, do not even bother to spread/broadcast it until a thorough investigation is carried out to ascertain the authenticity of such news feed on social media. There are several ways to identify fake and real news received via social media platforms. Some of these include: Start by first assuming that not all the news on your feed or that you receive are true; Question the ‘source’ – identify where the story emanated from by searching Google, the website of the organization or government body concerned, the website of reputable news media, etc.; Look for confirmation – check to see the said news/story is on mainstream media and if not, it is most likely false; Check the facts about the news/story with third-party sites -the only limitation with this is that, by the time a claim is researched and proven false, it may have already reached millions of accounts; Read More than the headline; Check to see if the website that carries the news/story has an odd/strange domain name; and other measures we can think of.

    With these, we hope Nigerians will be guided on how to identify fake/false news so as not to become tools through which such misinformation can be spread to others to create confusion and cause serious problems for us all.

    Zik Gbemre, JP

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