Divestment is another historic junction in the story of Niger Deltans as a people, building on a long stretch of historic injustice which is finally exposing the guilty (represented by the international oil corporations, IOCs), now trying to escape the long arm of justice.
This was the view posed by a respected legal practitioner and environmentalist, Hon. Iniro Wills at a roundtable organized by Environmental Rights Action ERA and Friends of the Earth in Port Harcourt for Civil Society Organizations and the media to understand the deceit behind the ongoing pulling out of multinational oil companies from onshore exploration in the Niger Delta.
Wills said the clandestine mode of withdrawal from oil and gas communities by the multinationals after plundering and polluting the region without recourse to correcting the damage done, goes in line with failure of transitional justice in the move for slave trade to colonialism and subsequently, military rule to civilian rule without any form of transitional justice.
Noting that the brunt of slavery is still being borne and that colonialism laid the foundation for the loss of Niger Deltans ownership of their natural resources and that military rule further entrenched colonial injustice which was not addressed before movement to civilian transition, he stated that Niger Deltans have to take responsibility to bring about justice and decide the terms of events around their environment.
Said he: “You have responsibility to yourself to demand justice and dictate the terms and at a point there will be negotiation.”
He likened the ‘pummeling of the Niger Delta to the Russia/Ukraine war, pointing out that the IOCs have succeeded in making Niger Delta the most polluted environment in the world. According to him, oil communities are stranded and neglected.
The former Bayelsa State environment commissioner blamed the poor state of affairs in the Niger Delta on sons and daughter of the region.
“Eighty (80) percent of ministers of petroleum are from the Niger Delta but they have been pursuing personal and political interests and getting no pressures from the people.”
He charged Niger Deltans to wake up to the responsibility of demanding justice by speaking up, asking questions and taking actions to defend the communities.
Wills said the IOCs should be declared environmental terrorists and the federal government should recognize its duty to protect the people rather then help provide exit route from the years of environmental destruction and huge human right abuses on IOC terms.
“Nigeria is suffering from a case of gross national stupidity and the federal government needs to fundamentally rethink its relationship with its communities and develop policies on that line. The ruling elite is using class interest to develop policies. You cannot talk of a national economy where the communities are in tartars; these are the bedrock of the problems we face,” he asked.
Welcoming participants, executive director ERA/FoE, Chima Williams said there was need for CSOs and the media to learn, understand, relearn about the issues at stake in order to speak and act from a position of knowledge.
He debunked claims by IOCs that they are moving operations offshore to avoid militancy and community pressure.
According to him, following a new trend of unfavourable rulings in courts in their home countries with the understanding that the impunities of the past in which they destroyed both livelihoods and environment as well as absurd human rights unchallenged without being brought to book are over, the IOCs are seeking the easy way out. They are thus pulling out of communities to the deep waters where they can damage undetected and challenged easily.
“The IOCs are lying. Pollution offshore is more than 100 times worse than what we see; our waters are most polluted in the world.
January 29, 2001, ERA – supported court in the Hague judgment held Shell liable, followed by a Supreme Court judgment in the UK, Exon Mobil defeated in Nigeria by Akwa Ibom Communities, ENI (Agip Energy) defeated in Italy and forced to redo what was done 40 years ago using the legal process, has pushed IOCs to understand that it is no longer business as usual and not claims of over taxation and militancy,” Chima said.
In his presentation, Prof. Sofiri Peterside said the future of the Nigeria state has been mortgaged to oil multinationals who are trying to divest without offsetting huge sums of indebtedness to the federal government from loans, royalty and other taxes.
In the spirit of neo liberalism, policies are put in place to protect the interest of the investors while little is done about the communities that bear the huge burdens of oil extraction, activities, the poor are forced to fend for themselves, he added.
Ken Henshaw on his presentation, stressed that the Nigerian government treats oil communities as exhibited in the PIA which has no real role for community participation while Emem Okon noted a systemic exclusion of communities and the people to shift the voice of the people.