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Shell divestment plans aimed at evading responsibility for cleanup, say groups

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Civil society groups in Nigeria, yesterday, urged the Federal Government to compel Shell to clean up the pollution its extractive activities have created in the Niger Delta, warning that the company’s plans to move offshore was to evade the scrutiny its onshore activities have attracted.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) and the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) made the demand following reports that Shell was discussing with the government to sell its stake in onshore oilfields.

Chief Executive Officer of Shell, Ben van Beurden, had announced, last week, during the firm’s yearly general meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, that the company had struggled with spills in the Niger Delta over the years due to pipeline theft, sabotage and operational issues.

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Beurden said Shell could not resolve community challenges in the Niger Delta, adding: “That is for the Nigerian government to resolve.” But in a joint statement in Lagos, the groups described Shell’s plan as abdication of responsibility for years of ecocide in the Niger Delta and expressed concern that the Nigerian government would be setting a wrong precedent if it allowed Shell to move offshore without addressing the environmental imprints its extraction had caused in the Niger Delta.

Besides attempting to avoid responsibility over the onshore mess, the groups argued that Shell was attracted to offshore extraction because oil companies pay less, and sometimes zero royalties to Nigeria on wells in deeper waters, insisting that the move to extend exploitation with impunity for higher profits was unacceptable.

They, however, noted that it was time for Nigeria to diversify and move away from oil and gas rather than allow Shell and its cohorts to continue more polluting activities offshore.

Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, said: “We never expected less from a company that has ridden roughshod on the environment and people of the Niger Delta while raking in blood profits”.

“From Ogoni to Ikarama to Ikot Ada Udo and Ejama-Ebubu, the footprints that Shell wants to run away from are open wounds that cannot be healed by evading responsibility.”

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Also, Executive Director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi said: “We are not deceived by the media whitewash on the reasons for Shell’s so-called divestment. Shell must own up to the onshore mess. Offshore operations mean aquatic life will suffer and our fishers will make fewer catch. It means we will have more dead fish littering our shorelines. Ultimately, it will only expose the incapacity of the Nigerian government to track pollutions.

“We demand accountability and the Nigerian government owes the impacted people of the Niger Delta the responsibility of making Shell do that.”

On his part, Acting Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Chima Williams, said: “It is unacceptable and wishful thinking for Shell to even think that it could escape liability from the mess it has created in the Niger Delta.

“The landmark ruling of the Dutch court against Shell in favour of the Niger Delta farmers in January 2021 and the United Kingdom (UK) court ruling in February affirming the rights of communities to sue even in European courts, have opened vistas of opportunities that communities can exploit to hold Shell accountable.”

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