Shell, Nigeria and Ogoni

Chris Burford cburford at
Fri Nov 10 17:06:18 MST 1995

In order to do something constructive about Ken Saro-Wiwa's
death I thought it might be useful to shed light on Shell's
position. That in turn might he*lp to explain the position of
Western governments.

Shell has been extremely keen to distance itself from the actions of
the Nigerian government.

In the spring of this year as I mentioned on this list, the London
based forum for Marxism, Philosophy and Science helped to organise a
seminar on the transnationals with the Green Socialist Movement and
the Ecumenical Campaign for Corporate Responsibility. Despite the fact
that there were only about 30 people, Shell sent two representatives!

Although the meeting was not specifically about Shell or Nigeria,
they arrived with copies of a twelve sided illustrated booklet on
"The Ogoni Issue". This emphasised in the introduction:

"Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) is concerned
about many of the grievances felt by the people of the oil-
producing Niger Delta, including the Ogonis, who believe they do not
receive a reasonable share of oil revenues. We support a future
of development and progress for them and our aim is to work
alongside all communities in harmony."

The document appears to be very factual, very detailed and very liberal.
Without a specialist counterbriefing it was effectively impossible
to knock holes in it, but it was interesting to show how much
effort a giant international company would invest to try to manage
public opinion.  It conceded that the Ogoni campaign had "attracted
world wide attention and the support of a number of international

It appears to confirm that oil revenues provide about 90% of
Nigeria's foreign exchange and some 80% of the Federal Government's
total revenue. It says that "A government fund was set up in 1982
comprising 1.5 per cent of oil revenues to develop the oil producing areas
but little of the money appeared to reach the target communities."

The pamphlet emphasises by contrast all the projects and communities
that Shell has assisted. This is similar to its strategy during the years
it stayed in apartheid South Africa. It claims substantial sabotage and
says that Shell withdrew all its staff from Ogoni in January 1993 and that
production ceased in mid 1993. It is strangely unclear about whether
production resumed there as well as the rest of the Delta.

On environmental degradation, it claims all sorts of population pressures
are the real problem, but has this remarkable admission:

"When most of our facilities were built there was no significant
market for Nigerian gas nationally or internationally and no system
was built to collect associated gas produced along with the oil, as
a byproduct. Today, we flare almost all our associated gas - more than
1,100 million standard cubic feet a day. There is still
limited demand in Nigeria because of limited industrial activity ...
By the end of the decade we will have reduced flaring by 20% and
reach 35% in the year 2004." [! 65% not reduced ]

"One local impact of flaring is occasional carry-over of oil along the
gas flare line which then ignites causing thick smoke that deposits
soot on villages.... An independent survey from the University of
Calabar has found that acid rain occurs in the Delta during only one month
of the year."

I suggest the overall picture is of the largest company in the world
trying to be proactive in managing public opinion and being somewhat
afraid of public opinion. It will do window dressing to attempt to
show it is caring and liberal but in fact it lays the responsibility
entirely on the state structure for the maintenance of the economic social
and environmental infrastructure of the society. The fact that the
Nigerian government is too weak to be able to do this democratically
because Nigeria is a third world country, is regarded as quite detached
from the post imperialist world economic system that allows major
transnational corporations like Shell to prosper unfettered.

Chris Burford, London.

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