Shell doesn't take responsibility for oil spills

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Shell doesn’t take responsibility for oil spills

By Sarah Shoraka


Oil polluting the waters of the Niger Delta. © Sarah Shoraka

The Nigerian community of Bodo was in the news this week. The community forced Shell to pay £55m ($83 million) because of two oil spills that destroyed their homes and lives.

This is an important victory for social movements, but it’s not the end of the story. It’s part of a bigger fight for justice in the Niger Delta. This year is very important.

The money is great for the people who lost their income, but there has not been justice yet. We have to look at the whole story: this is a big oil company taking the resources and making a lot of money from the suffering of communities; and the Nigerian elite work with them and use military power for control.

Bodo is a small part of the story. There are hundreds of oil spills every year in the Niger Delta. So it is one of the most polluted places in the world. Shell has tried to say communities are responsible for the problem. But research by Amnesty International and Nigerian organization CEHRD has shown this is not true.

Shell lied about the numbers of barrels spilled at Bodo. They said it was less than 1 per cent of the real number – just like BP did in the Gulf of Mexico. This means we cannot trust what it says about oil spills.

The law says that oil companies must do something to stop pollution, even with small oil spills, and even if they are not responsible. But this is not happening.

My research in Ogoniland shows that three years after a UN report talked about decades of Shell’s pollution, almost nothing has happened. I saw rivers and land smelling strongly of oil, in areas that Shell says they have improved.

Communities say there are layers of oil on their land, the food they grow is destroyed, and the fish are dead. There have been no emergency water supplies so local residents had to drink water polluted by oil. Because Shell has not done anything, people are getting sick, cannot feed themselves, and are dying.

Shell says that it will now clean up the pollution in Bodo – six years after the first spill. Can we believe them? We know that Shell knew there were problems with the pipeline and there was a risk it would spill. And they did nothing.

Communities in the area now say they do not trust Shell. In November last year, I heard reports about a new oil spill at Bonny, in the Niger Delta.

Shell says that people stealing oil caused the spill. But Social Action, an organisation from the Niger Delta, shows that Shell’s excavation work caused it. The community says that the spill is much bigger than Shell says it is.

The Bonny community feel encouraged because the Bodo won money, so they are getting legal advice. A lot of people will try to get money from Shell if they do not do something soon.

In 2014, Shell and the Nigerian government promised to give money and start to clean up Ogoniland. This was because of a campaign by Nigerian people supported by organizations like Platform.

This is good progress. But it is still too early to know if it will lead to real change. And the help has not started yet.

November 2015 is the 20th anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni people. They were killed because they campaigned against Shell - after Shell destroyed their home. (see:

Social movements in Nigeria are preparing for that November anniversary. They are using protests, events, gatherings and public interventions. They want to use the memory of Ken’s to create change and clean up the Niger Delta. We must support their movement for justice.

Sarah Shoraka is an activist and campaigner at Platform.

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