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Nigerian government failed to ensure Shell cleaned up Niger Delta oil spills: campaigners

AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei

Nigeria’s government is ultimately responsible for failing to hold oil multinational Shell accountable for failing to properly clean up oil spills in the Niger Delta region, according to Amnesty International and Nigerian activists. A report published on Tuesday accuses the Anglo-Dutch company of failing to implement recommendations from a critical UN report.

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“It’s definitely the responsibility of the Nigerian government,” Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International told RFI. “Shell has a responsibility to operate professionally and responsibly in the Niger Delta as elsewhere.

“The government should be holding Shell to account, but also should be doing far more to protect the people of the Niger Delta,” says Gaughran, Amnesty’s senior director for research.

A damning report by the human rights watchdog and Nigeria’s Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development accuses Shell of failing to clean up oil spills in Ogoniland and then making “blatantly false” claims about having dealt with pollution and contamination.

The investigation points to a 2011 report by the UN Environment Programme which said that “full environmental restoration may take up to 30 years”. The damage to Ogoniland from Shell’s oil spills “could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken”, UNEP said.

Investigations into four oil spill sites identified in the UNEP report demonstrate that they “remain visibly contaminated” because of an “inadequate clean-up”, according to Amnesty. “The investigation shows Shell has not addressed problems with its entire approach to cleaning up oil pollution in Nigeria.”

“The Nigerian government seems to lack the political will to compel the oil companies to practice according to internationally recognised standards in Ogoni,” says Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, human rights and environmental activist with Nigerian non-governmental organisation Social Action.

The government is unable to control oil multinationals in Nigeria, Fyneface told RFI. “It becomes difficult for them to compel these companies to do what they need to do for the environmental clean-up."

“The government has largely failed for the whole 50 years that the oil industry has been operating, in many ways the government is absent from the Niger Delta and leaves the people to deal with the oil companies on their own,” says Amnesty’s Gaughran.

In response to the allegations about the clean-up in Ogoniland, a spokesman for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria said that “without access to the full report it is difficult to verify and respond to the detailed claims made by this organisation”.

The statement from Shell seen by RFI said it is “committed to cleaning up all spills from its facilities, irrespective of cause”.

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