Nigerian bishop raises alarm over Shell

Human rights groups have filed an official complaint against oil giant Shell for breaches of basic business standards, after a Nigerian bishop protested about the company's activities.

The organisations claim that Shell’s use of discredited and misleading information to blame the majority of oil pollution on saboteurs in its Niger Delta operations has breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The complaint was filed with UK and Netherlands governments.

Last month, Archbishop John Olorinfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, warned that:  "Shell should not do in the Niger Delta what it would not do in the North Sea."

He urged the Nigerian Government to make the oil company act in "an environmentally sustainable way."

In the mid 1990s, Shell accepted that much of the oil pollution in the Niger Delta was due to the company’s own failures. However, the company now blames sabotage by communities and criminals for most of the problem, citing misleading figures that purport to show as much as 98 per cent of oil spills being caused by sabotage.

While sabotage is a problem in the Niger Delta, Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International have repeatedly challenged Shell’s use of such figures, which have been strongly criticised by environmental groups and local communities. Under Nigerian law, when spills are classified as being the result of sabotage, Shell has no liability with respect to compensation for damage done to people or their livelihoods.

"We monitor spills regularly and our observations often contradict information produced by Shell. Several studies have placed the bulk of the blame for oil spills in the Niger Delta on the doorsteps of the oil companies; particularly Shell. It should take its responsibility and clean up the mess it made in our country,” said Nnimmo Bassey, director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA) and chair of Friends of the Earth International.  

Despite repeated requests, Shell has so far failed to make clear the basis for the figures they have published and how the data was gathered. Furthermore, Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International have documented cases where Shell claimed the cause of a spill was sabotage, but the claim was subsequently questioned by other investigations or the courts.

In over half a century of Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta,  thousands of oil spills have left an appalling legacy of environmental harm. Water that people use for fishing and drinking is polluted with oil, while farm land and crops have been destroyed.

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