Oil operators in the Niger Delta are guilty of human rights abuses. Prof. Sofri Peterside gave the verdict at a Host Communities mock Court he presided over as chief judge organized by Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center at Watsbridge Hotel, in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capita, June 26, 2022.
Prof. Peterside who is a renowned social scientist and a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Port Harcourt stated that the multinational oil companies in the Niger Delta grossly degraded the environment in their areas of operation.
The Environmental Tribunal which had as co-judges Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental laureate, Chief Constance Meju, a veteran journalist and publisher, Comrade Celestine Akpobari a frontline Ogoni activist, and Ken Henshaw, another strong activist, after listening to testimonies of environmental impact of oil activities in their areas without remediation by the companies by community members from Egita, Obelle, Aminigboko and Otuobagi, found the oil companies Shell, Agip, guilty as charged.
However, the oil companies were not represented at the mock court when the judgement was delivered against them but witnesses were called up for each of the complainant community to . The University Don charged the multinational oil companies to pay adequate compensation where necessary and clean up the many decades of oil spill and gas flares in the various oil producing communities.
Presenting the first case before the tribunal, Mrs. Precious Ibegura narrated how in Egita community in ONELGA, Rivers State the people suffered from oil spill from the facilities of Total Elf Ltd which destroyed their farm land but after investigation, compensation was paid to only men, a fact confirmed by Chief Meju. Comrade Celestine Akpoobari noted that the oil company was guilty hence the payment of compensation.
Also, Hon. Henry Eferebo testified that in 1998 in Obelle community in Emuoha Local Government Area, gas fire raged for months, burnt down farm lands and destroyed the peoples livelihood. To put out the fire, Shell Petroleum Development Company injected some chemical into the farmland, and has refused to disclose the nature of the chemical. No compensation was paid and instead the company through its dealings has caused crisis resulting into communal wrangling and loss of lives in that community. Comrade Ken. Henshaw and Emem Okon both confirmed the incident with Henshaw drawing attention to the fact that with communities at war as in Rumuekpe years back, the operators under military cover, drill oil even as communities are deserted due to divide and rule system.
Presenting the case of Ibaa Community, Eferebo told the court the Chief Chukwuru family one morning went to fetch water from the well in their compound and rather than fetch water, what the family fetched was crude oil in 2016 and same thing happened in 2018. The community lodged a complaint to that effect with Shell but it was not until May 2021 that the company accepted that there was a spillage which it claimed was caused by sabotage. Repeated complaints even to regulatory bodies resulted in a survey to access the impact of the spillwhich result is still being awaited but Shell has sealed up the well with cement without addressing the challenges created. The company even sealed the well supplying water to a secondary school in the community where crude oil was also dictated.
Eferebo called for justice.
Another report that came before the tribunal was the case of the first oil well in the Niger Delta which Shell named Oloibiri whereas the real owner of the oil well is Otuabagi in Bayelsa State. This report was from Mrs. Esther Orubor, who said the community suffered from this omission and Pius Dukor indicated as similar to Bomu oil field named by Shell erroneously.
The story of what is happening in Aminigboko community in Abua/Odual LGA in Rivers State highlighted the negative effect of Shell’s divide and rule tactics in the region. Bringing their case to the court, Prince Kwame Ansalem Okezie narrated the oil spill in 2010 from SPDC facility and how drilling waste was discharged in their water and stream, while no remediation has taken place.
Taking a stand for Okwuzi Community in ONELGA, Rivers State Pastor Dandy Birthwell, a former community development chairman explained that Agip pipeline caused a fire explosion at Ibocha oil center, and oil spill at River Nkisa, but due to the contractors spy policy operated by the company, Agip delayed investigation and no clean-up was carried out even after investigation. He stated that the oil and gas facilities are heavily protected by military security and so there are no rooms for the sabotage that the company cries about. He said most of the oil facilities have been there since the 1950s but in the event of any spill, community members are blamed.
Community houses suffer cracks, roofs bear the brunt of the excess heat from gas flare while the people suffer the intense heat and related health challenges.
Collaborating Birthwell’s story, Celestine Akpobari said a helicopter ride with then Environment minister AminaI Abubakarto the area showed evidence of his complaint while Ken Henshaw pointed out that one of the effects of the environmental abuses is the coastal flooding being experienced annually since 2012. Mrs Peace Mgbemena from Okwuzi also confirmed that oil spills and gas flaring has made life difficult for the community and when the youth and women came out to protest, they were tear-gassed by the military.
The horrible Umuchem case in Rivers State where youths were killed for protesting against oil activities also received mention. Other cases concerning Akwa Ibom State where Mobil Oil Company and others have polluted the environment were also mentioned.
After listening to the submissions and contributions from others at the tribunal, Prof Peterside concluded, “All cases were properly presented and confirm that all the oil companies are guilty as charged”.
Earlier, the executive director of Kebetkache Women Development Resources, Emem Okon stressed that her organization in collaboration with Both ENDS and Obelle Concerned Citizens put up the mock court to bring to the fore, series of human rights abuses perpetrated by oil companies so they can be addressed through informed advocacy and cause action to be taken in the form of commensurate compensation and clean up to enable community members carry on with their traditional l