Shell regularly launches press releases on sabotage and oil theft from the pipelines in Nigeria. One example is the news report dispatched to the world by a Shell Nigeria representative on 7 May of this year: ‘Two new leaks were reported on the Trans Niger pipeline at Akpajo and K-Dere in Ogoniland, after a similar number of leaks caused by hacksaw cuts were repaired at the weekend.’
The suggestion is obvious: Shell is doing its very best to combat oil leaks and the resulting environmental pollution, but time after time their efforts are thwarted by local people.
Shell understands very well that public sympathy very quickly goes out to the innocent victim. So they are trying to reverse the roles: it’s not the Nigerian people who have been forced to live amidst millions of litres of oil leaked from Shell’s pipelines that are suffering, but the Western multinational operating according to high business principles but whose efforts are constantly being sabotaged.
Just as dictators, demagogues and other tyrants, Shell knows better than anyone that the best propaganda is not based on pure falsehood, but on effectively mixing facts with lies.
It is not untrue that pipelines are sabotaged in Nigeria and that oil is illegally tapped. No one denies this. But what is untrue is Shell’s suggestion that reliable statistics exist which prove that the rate of sabotage and theft is over 90 percent. In Nigeria, official figures exist only on oil export, not on oil production. That makes it very easy to falsify figures on theft and sabotage. But you will never read that in one of Shell’s press releases.
Also untrue is Shell’s suggestion that the company is in no way to blame for the oil theft. The company still leaves poorly guarded and insufficiently maintained oil pipelines crossing through Ogoniland, a part of the Niger Delta where Shell hasn’t drilled for oil for years because the situation there is considered unsafe for its own personnel.
Shell has created the largest oil disaster in history in Nigeria. The company knows that it will cost tens of billions of euros to repair the damage to nature, agriculture and fisheries, and to compensate the local population for the losses suffered.
Shell is trying to evade paying this bill by continually telling the world ‘it’s not our fault’. According to Nigerian law, in the case of sabotage a company is not required to pay compensation to those affected. Shell’s systematic strategy of denial – intended to keep the profits rolling in – is thus not just a harmless lie. It means that the victims of the oil disaster are condemned to live in poverty, amidst oil that severely pollutes their air, water and food supply.
Sometimes the truth comes out so clearly that even Shell can no longer ignore it. Acknowledging that the company is at fault is then swept under the carpet where no one is likely to notice it. In its Sustainability Report, for instance, Shell recently acknowledged that in 2011 the number of ‘operational spills’ (oil leaks caused by its own error) in Nigeria rose from 32 to 64. It should by now be obvious that Shell has not sent out a press release reporting these leaks.
In August 2011, after years of struggling and under pressure of a legal case, Shell admitted responsibility for a large oil leak near the town of Bodo. Filled with hope, the residents set off to Shell for compensation negotiations. But that soon ended in deception. It turned out that Shell was only willing to acknowledge a small portion of the pollution. According to a recent report commissioned by Amnesty International, the actual pollution is 60 times more than what Shell is willing to pay for.
This is another one of Shell’s clever propaganda tricks: admit a small amount, so that media attention fades away, and then slowly but surely exhaust the victims in backroom battles using endless delaying tactics, which the company can keep up for far longer than a handful of poor African farmers.
Noam Chomsky once said: ‘In war, truth is the first casualty.’ This is also true of the ecological war Shell is waging in Nigeria. It is therefore our task to continue to confront companies such as Shell with the naked truth and to ruthlessly unmask their lies.
Author: Geert Ritsema
Campaign coordinator, Milieudefensie – Friends of the Earth Netherlands
Milieudefensie’s latest campaign is called ‘Worse than bad’. Our intention is to get Shell to clean up the oil in the Niger Delta, to compensate residents, and to properly maintain pipelines and installations in order to prevent new leaks. Join us at: www.worsethanbad.org
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