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OIL POLITICS: So Shell is everywhere

Nnimmo Bassey - Next

It was bound to bubble to the surface one day, that the multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria had a certain foothold on the Nigerian government that is more than having a toe in the door. The WikiLeaks reports showed a brash Shell official boasting of how they have infiltrated every facet of the Nigerian government.

This should, however, not surprise anyone. Did they not draw up Nigeria's Vision 20/20 under the Abacha/Shonekan regime? When the government broached the idea of a new oil sector bill, didn't Shell's Ann Pickard, the then vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa, warn that the oil company would not accept any law that is against the interest of the company? And that was stated at a meeting in Abuja, not in the creeks of the Niger Delta; yet no government official made even a whimper in protest of such an affront on a sovereign state by a company.

Miss Pickard was then quoted by the Financial Times (24 February 2009) as saying "We do see that the legislation, the bill, will have a profound impact on the way the industry functions and how the companies move forward...Getting it right [is] absolutely essential. Getting it wrong will not be acceptable for Nigeria or the [oil companies]."

WikiLeaks tells the world that Shell had intelligence to share on militant activities as well as on business competition in the Niger Delta. We are also told that Shell knows how leaky the Nigerian government is. What a sorry picture the then minister for petroleum resources, Odein Ajumogobia, must have cut when he denied a letter from the government inviting China to bid for oil concessions.

Sneaky Shell already had a copy of the letter. And they also knew that similar letters had been sent to Russia, according to WikiLeaks. The meeting with the Russians was even recorded, transcribed and sent to Shell. Interesting, but not surprising. These Shell spies must be so trusted and well paid by the company, otherwise one would have asked if the transcripts were accompanied by sworn affidavits.

Shell's Pickard is quoted as saying to the US ambassador that "the GON [government of Nigeria] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries."

It can be suggested that today, with a former Shell director sitting as the minister of petroleum, Shell may not need small fries to snoop and scan pages from that ministry's bulging filing cabinets. They may not have to rely on low level officials with tape recorders concealed in pens, tie clips, belt buckles, eyeglasses, or cufflinks to record meetings and send transcripts to them. Now they may have copies of whatever document they want forwarded directly as a matter of routine. Hopefully, that would not be the case.

Like Nigeria, like United States

The game of infiltration of public office by oil companies is not limited to Nigeria. It was revealed in the BP Deepwater Horizon fiasco that regulatory agencies in the USA were very chummy with the oil mogul's official and that this contributed to the lax oversight. How else would BP had claimed several times over, in the oil spill response plan as well as their environmental impact assessment, that there were virtually no risks associated with such an operation?

In BP's Deepwater Horizon exploration plan, the company specifically stated in Section 10 that, "A description of the measures that would be taken to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to the marine and coastal environments and habitats, biota, and threatened and endangered species is not required."

The company went ahead to say in Section 14 that "No adverse impacts to endangered or threatened marine mammals are anticipated" and that also "No adverse impacts to endangered or threatened sea turtles are anticipated"; and "No adverse impacts to marine or pelagic birds are anticipated".

Impunity is the word in this sector. Disrespect of the sovereignty of nations is the norm.

How do you regulate companies who play the game by any rule they chose to set to ensure their dominance and profiting? How do you regulate an industry that engages, as suggested by these leaks, in espionage possibly under the guise of business research?

The response of the NNPC's spokesperson, Levi Ajuonoma, as published in The Guardian (London) is pitiful. Mr. Ajunoma is quoted as saying that "Shell does not control the government of Nigeria and has never controlled the government of Nigeria. This cable is the mere interpretation of one individual. It is absolutely untrue, an absolute falsehood, and utterly misleading. It is an attempt to demean the government, and we will not stand for that. I don't think anybody will lose sleep over it."

It is true we have lost so much to the activities of Shell and other oil companies in Nigeria, including the NNPC. We have lost lives, our environment, and our dignity. We can say that we are tired of losing things to this sector.

However, to not lose sleep over this revelation of the dealing between oil companies and embassies and our government circles is to ask us to shut our eyes to a dangerous travesty.