Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil with two million barrels being pumped out every day. The discovery of oil in the formerly rich Niger Delta has seen the country become Africa’s largest economy, but Nigerians could hardly call oil a blessing today. The industry which has expanded to offshore drilling is an environmental and economic disaster in the areas where oil is drilled and transported.
While most of the operations are done by Eni and Shell which are some of the largest oil companies in the world, for some reason, their environmental and human safety policies in Nigeria are inexistent. The Niger Delta’s population which can no longer farm nor fish in their blackened-out lands, rivers and canals makes some of the poorest people in the world. The Nigeria oil industry is by far the worst man-made disaster ever seen on the African continent.
The Industry Has Made Nigeria One of the Most Polluted Countries in the World
Many people assume that China and India are the most polluted countries in the world because of their carbon emission records but that is not the case. The pollution levels caused by oil spills in poor and middle-income oil-producing countries are way worse than what you find in India and China. Nigeria suffered more inland oil spills than any country in the region at 6,600 with an average of 100 major spills being recorded in the country every year. That leaves an average of 240,000 barrels of oil being spilt into the land, rivers and canals in Nigeria every year. When combined with the hazardous metals and gas released when the oil is drilled and waste gasses burned, it becomes a nightmare for the country.
The Industry Has Orchestrated an Environmental Disaster in Niger Delta
In 2011, Shell reported that 17.5 million litres of oil had spilt in the Niger Delta. In 2014, they reported that 4.1 million had spilt signifying an improvement. An investigation into Shell’s records showed that they had lied about the extent of spills from their pipes since they started operations in the country leading to a fine of over $100 million in August 2021. They have been fined over $500 million over their years of operation in payments to local communities which have totally been devastated by the oil industry. Their counterparts Eni reported 820 oil spills between 2014 and 2022 with thousands more going unreported in previous years. The region is virtually swimming in oil with no agricultural activities happening as a result of these spills.
Oil Companies Bribe Government Officials to Keep Drilling
Considering their poor human rights record and extensive pollution, Eni and Shell would have been forced to close their operations in Nigeria years ago. However, with every election year approaching, the companies manage to get new drilling licenses and their operations continue. In 2011, email records of shell employees presented in an Italian court showed that they intentionally paid $1.1 billion to their Nigerian subsidiary knowing that the money would be used to bribe the local energy minister and other government officials. The bribes earned Shell the license to explore oil in Nigeria’s offshore wells which is now the company’s most lucrative operation in the region. The employees said that election years were the best time to fund “war chests” as the politicians needed money to campaign.
Illegal Oil Refineries Kill at Least 1,000 Every Year
While the oil drilling companies are to blame for most of the industry’s disasters, illegal oil refineries cause a huge chunk of pollution and deaths. On April 23rd 2022, an explosion in an illegal refinery in River State killed 110 people with 100 being burned beyond recognition on-site and the rest succumbing to injuries. The illegal refineries are the only source of living for many unemployed youths in the oil-rich region where the industry hasn’t brought any reliable employment. The illegal refineries have little to no safety measures in place killing at least 1000 people every year. The refineries also expand the pollution because the sabotage pipes cause spills and also refine on arable land.
The Industry Has Caused an Astronomical Infant Mortality in the Country
The UN environment program released a report saying the effects of oil spilt in Ogoniland, Niger Delta would take at least 30 years to be reversed. It only took three years before another report noted that the number of oil spills in the region had in fact increased. A UN led research by Prof. Roland Hodler of the university of St. Gallen, Switzerland concluded infant deaths doubled in every part of the Delta that had oil spills going as far back five years. The death rate in the Niger Delta increased to 78 from 36 for every 1000 births and was even higher for the unborn. Deformities and development problems were also rampant due to the extensive pollution which encroached into the water and food.
The Ogoni 9
These nine people are real ghosts that will haunt the Nigerian oil industry forever. The activists were fighting for the Nigerian government to revoke licenses for Shell and others which had rendered the land of the Ogoni ethnic community in Nigeria useless as a source of livelihood. The writer Ken Saro-Wiwa was one of the leaders of the 1990s who were arrested by the government and executed in 1995.
Shell was accused of having bribed witnesses to fabricate statements that led to their arrests. The company settled with the family if Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists for $15.5 million in a case in the US because all the avenues for justice in Nigeria were exhausted. Another case against shell by the widows of the nine men in the Netherlands was judged in favour of shell as the court said there wasn’t sufficient evidence.
Oil Wealth Never Trickles Down to the Local Communities
Unlike Saudi Arabia and the UAE where the local communities are the greatest beneficiaries of the oil wealth, in Nigeria, oil companies and government officials are the beneficiaries. The unemployment levels in the states where oil is drilled in Nigeria are among the worst in the country. Most youth, even university graduates, are forced to lend a hand in the illegal refineries to make ends meet. Poverty levels in River State and Imo States in which the oil-rich region lies are some of the highest in the world and the pollution with the diseases that come with it has not helped. It is a total disaster that led Amnesty international to label oil from Nigeria as the “oil from hell“.
Eni and Shell Are Extremely Negligent to the Plight of the Niger Delta
As said earlier, Royal Dutch’s shell is the biggest oil drill operator in Nigeria with over 1000 operating oil wells and 6000 plus kilometres of pipeline. The company got a license to drill in offshore wells as well making them the largest earner from that doomed industry. The second position goes to Eni energy which has hundreds of wells on land with most of its operations now being offshore natural gas wells.
The two companies are jointly responsible for spilling an estimated 240,000 barrels of oil every year. They have been found guilty in Africa, North America and Europe of covering up the side effects of their operations on the environment and livelihoods in communities where their wells are located. Extensive corruption has allowed the companies to continue operating with impunity and there is no sign of change on the horizon.
Oil Companies Spend More on Security Than They Do on Safety and Maintenance
In August 2021, shell reported that it had spent $383 million on security in Nigeria. That astronomical budget which is way higher than what the company spends anywhere in the world is actually used to fund corruption more than anything else. The Niger Delta is a volatile region where the so-called joint forces of the military commit human rights abuses and use excessive force just to maintain order. The records showed that Shell went as far as acquiring patrol boats, walkie-talkies, helicopters and other equipment for the Nigerian military. All the armed groups in the region as for is less pollution and a better share of the profits which would cost a lot less than what these companies spend on security.
Blaming Sabotage Helps the Companies Avoid Responsibility
When cases were brought against the oil companies in court in 2011, Shell and Eni blamed all the spills on sabotage by local armed groups and illegal refineries. Research by Amnesty international discovered that old pipes were the biggest cause of the leakages. Shell also breaks international regulations by burning natural gas from wells which leaves heavy metals such as lead and mercury in the air. However, as long as illegal refining still happens in the region, the companies have an excuse to continue messing up the environment.