International firms exit Nigeria leaving oil communities worse off

INTERNATIONAL firms are announcing exits and selling their assets in Nigeria, but they are leaving oil communities where they carried out explorations in the Niger Delta worse off, Economy Post has found.

Several oil communities in the Niger Delta have been polluted by Shell, a British multinational oil and gas company headquartered in London.

One of such communities is Ogoni, whose people occupy four local government areas in Rivers State, South-South Nigeria. From Eleme to Gokana, down to Tai and Khana, 1.5 million people of Ogoni occupy 1,050 kilometre square of land.

Shell, France-based Total, Italy-based Agip (now ENI), and indigenous Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) have caused hundreds of oil spills in Ogoni.

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Friends of the Earth International, a network of grassroots environmental organisations in 73 countries, estimates that over 2 million barrels of oil polluted Ogoni in 2,976 separate oil spills from 1976 to 1991 – mostly from Shell.

A United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) 2011 report said that Ogoniland was exposed to petroleum “hydrocarbons in outdoor air and drinking water, sometimes at elevated concentrations.”

However, these international firms are announcing exits, defunding or assets sales in Africa’s largest economy, leaving oil communities worse off, or at least, not better off. While some say the exits or offloading of onshore activities is part of their efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, others attribute them to high cost of doing business and oil theft.

In April 2022, Total Energies announced plans to sell its minority shares in Nigeria’s onshore activities. Bloomberg monitored a conference call where Total Energies’ Chief Executive Officer, Mr Patrick Pouyanne, said the firm would sell its 10 percent stake in a firm that holds 20 onshore and shallow water licenses in Nigeria. The firm has been in Nigeria for over 60 years.

In September 2023, ENI also announced plans to exit Nigeria’s onshore activities and said it would offload Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited (NAOC Ltd) to Oando Plc after 60 years of operations in the West African nation.

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Shell is the latest to announce plans to offload Nigeria’s onshore stake, selling its subsidiary to a consortium of 5 local companies for almost $2.4 billion. Shell has been in Nigeria for almost a century.

Remediation work

In order to remediate Ogoniland, Shell and the three other companies (earlier mentioned) set up the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) Joint Venture Limited, with a view to contributing $1 billion to the project.

Shell told Economy Post that the venture had contributed a total of $572 million to the project. The money is managed by Ogoni Trust Fund (OTF), but the contract execution is handled by a Nigerian government-established Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (Hyprep).

Community residents say Hyprep has failed to properly remediate the environment. Economy Post found that though SPDC Joint Venture Limited is contributing money for the project, it has failed to monitor the remediation project in which it has invested so heavily. Shell, the lead financier of the remediation work in Ogoni, did not respond to an email asking it to explain whether it was monitoring the Ogoni cleanup/remediation project or not.

The purpose of the remediation is to restore the environment to its natural state, experts say. However, the reporter found that some of the areas remediated by Hyprep are barren.

They can neither grow crops nor can they be used for other agricultural purposes. Four landlords who spoke with the reporter when he visited in May and November 2023 said the same thing.

Debon Moghan Lot 12 in Gokana Local Government Area

At Lot 12, Debon Mogha, in Gokana Local Government Area, the land did not appear fertile despite Hyprep’s claim of remediation completion. One of the family members, Mr Nunaa Elbabariripini, who said he was the landlord of Lot 12, explained that he had tried to plant some crops but they did not grow.

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“Yes, I tried to plant crops but none of them grew. It means my land cannot grow any crop now,” he said.

This was the same complaint at Nkeleoken in Alode, Eleme Local Government. Areas named Lots 3, 4, and 5, which were said to have been remediated, are facing the same challenge.

Portions of land in Alode

A community member, Mr Rasheed Alale Ejoor, said: “The landlord of Lot 4 planted plantain after the Hyprep cleanup, but it did not germinate.”

The reporter found that most of the areas in Tai Local Government Area had not been remediated as at the time of the visits. This was confirmed by a member of the council of chiefs, Mr Hyacinth Dike, who noted that several sites had been shut down due to contamination.

Hyprep spokesman, Mr Kpobari Mafo, however, denied that the remedial project had been poorly handled, stating that several oil communities had been cleaned.

He said “it is not true that the clean-up is substandard,” saying that “people who have not visited the sites have a right to speculate.” He further said that work was going on smoothly and there was no time to listen to rumours.

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Fish, yams expensive

Several farms in oil communities in Ogoni have been polluted by the international companies. As a result, only few farms are able to produce food for the people. Mid-sized yams cost as high as N2,000 in Gokana, Eleme and Tai. This is higher than the cost of the same product at Rumokoro (N1,700) and Ahaoda (N1,500) local governments.

Fish sellers at Bere, Gokana Local Government Area

A medium-sized piece of fish costs N2,000 to N4,000 at Bere in Gokana Local Government and Bori in Khana Local Government.

One of the fish sellers at Bere, Ms Rosemary Ibi, attributed the high cost of fish in the area (despite the availability of rivers) to “destruction of fish due to oil spillage.”

She noted that several rivers and ponds had been polluted by oil, which had increasingly reduced fish production in oil communities, particularly Ogoni.

Communities drink dirty water

Communities have also been drinking dirty water. The reporter took a water sample from Bodo Jetty, one of the major water sources in Gokana Local Government Area, into a laboratory. This was meant to test the type of water used by the oil communities in Ogoni.

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The laboratory test  was led by a senior lecturer at the Department of Microbiology and Brewing, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, South-East Nigeria, Dr Onyekachi Udemezue. The test was carried out at the government-accredited Springboard Research Laboratories, Awka, Anambra State. A physiochemical analysis was carried out to assess the identity defects of the water.

However, the water failed chloride, nitrite, hardness, lead, mercury, arsenic, and aluminum tests. Experts say the failures have disqualified water from Bodo Jetty from being used or drunken.

Dr Udemezue explained that the water was turbid (cloudy or muddy) and harmful to fish and aquatic life. He flagged it, saying that its trend towards acidity meant it could aggravate ulcer and hurt body functions.

“The level of nitrite in the water makes it carcinogenic (cancer-causing), and it is ‘poison’. Even those swimming in it are not safe. The level of chloride in the water could damage the liver and the kidney.”

He further said that high mercury in the water could lead to liver and kidney diseases, stressing that lead in the water might lead to heart problems, including liver and kidney problems.

An Lagos-based medical practitioner, Dr Debby Adama, said the water could inflict cancer on consumers and damage vital organs of the body.

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Paramount ruler of one of the oil communities in Gokana Local Government, Geken, Chief Torbari Michael Gbeanvee, said his wife and children had no safe water to drink, and the rainfall was usually acidic.

:Due to the contamination and impurities in the water, my community members suffer from diarrhoea, typhoid, hepatitis, scabies, and worm infections,” he said.

Failed water promises

The reporter also found that water projects promised to oil communities in Ogoni by Hyprep were not kept as at the time of the reporter’s visits. Mogho, Bodo, B-Dere, K-Dere, Deken, Korokoro, Bera, Lewe, Kpor, Gbe, and Wiyaakara, and Aleto Ngofa did not have water as promised by Hyprep.

Non-functioning water tap at Lewe, one of the communities

The traditional ruler of Lewe in Gokana Local Government, Chief Lebaton Sibe, said Hyprep had been in his community four times with the promise of providing potable water to his people, but the government agency was yet to fulfil its pledge.

“We are till waiting for them,” he said, with little sense of hope.

The traditional ruler of Kpor, another community in Gokana Local Government, Chief Mene Avalobavi, said his community had no water and he was yet to see the fulfillment of Hyprep’s promise of delivering water in the community.

Other Niger Delta communities

Ogoni is not the only area in Niger Delta region where oil spills have done huge damage.

Nembe in Bayelsa State has suffered a number of oil spillages, including the 2012 spills which emanated from pipelines owned by Shell.

A 2012 statement by a committee, then led by Chief Nengi James, said oil wells and crude trunk lines of Shell and Agip Nigeria Plc had led to “no fewer than 10 devastating cases of spills recorded in the last 12 months,” Vanguard reported.

Oil spillage has affected Yenegoa and Perembari, Southern Ijaw, in Bayelsa State. In fact, practically all oil communities have been directly or indirectly affected by spillage, experts say.

Pollution is underreported in oil communities of the Niger Delta. The National Oil Spill Detection And Response Agency (NOSDRA), the oil spill monitor, said there were around 913 publicly available oil spill records in the Niger Delta 2023. While 36 of the oil spill sites were not visited by a Joint Investigation Team set up to inspect polluted sites, 439 had no estimated quantity of oil spilled provided by the company.

“Based on reports available  12,400.657 barrels of oil ( 1,959,303.876 litres) were spilled. That’s around  62 oil tanker trucks full,” it added.

Gas is flared

Gas flaring is also common in the Niger Delta region. Gas flaring means “burning of the natural gas associated with oil extraction,” according to the World Bank.

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The World Bank notes that gas is flared because “it is a relatively safe, though wasteful and polluting, method of disposing of the associated gas that comes from oil production.”

The bank adds that “the amount of gas currently flared each year – about 139 billion cubic meters – could power the whole of sub-Saharan Africa,” stressing that the practice had been enabled by weak regulations.

A global advisory firm, PwC, estimates that Nigeria lost N233 billion to gas flaring, translating to 3.8 percent of the global total costs, in 2018.

There is a punishment for gas flaring in Nigeria, which is $2 per 1,000 standard cubic foot (scf) of gas flared. This payment relates to firms producing over 10,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd). On the other hand, firms producing less than 10,000bpd pay a fine of $0.5 per 1,000 scf.

This however has not stopped gas flaring in oil communities. Environmentalists consider the fine as infinitesimal, saying that this is why oil companies have failed to stop it.

The reporter found from the NNPCL’s financial statement that gas flaring cost the national oil company N103 billion in 2022.

Clean Niger Delta environment
Environmentalists say the international oil companies are escaping the Niger Delta environment after creating environmental, social, economic and political problems in the region. They urge them to properly clean the polluted environment before leaving.

“These oil companies have to clean our environment properly before leaving,” said an environmental activist in the Niger Delta, Mr Deko Kaabari.

“They are running away after inflicting disaster on the Niger Delta. Even the Ogoni clean up is just a waste of time due to the shoddy work that is being done there. The oil companies themselves are not even supervising it. So, the Federal Government must initiate a new remediation exercise and ensure that these exiting oil companies pay for it and also compensate oil communities for several injustices meted to them,” he noted.

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President of Ogoni Peoples Assembly, Pastor William Probel, said “99 percent of Ogoni people believe that the clean-up was a scam,” noting that the manner in which the work was bring done was suspect.

“Hyprep and the Federal Government have not been able to gain the confidence of the people because of the way they are handling the project. They should do better,” he added.

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