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Nigerian farmer: Shell says we’ll soon smile in the Niger Delta

Published on : 18 May 2011 – 12:29pm | By Hélène Michaud

It is his very first visit to the Netherlands, home of the company that he says has destroyed his family’s investments: “Our fish ponds, our bakery, our land.” He wants them back.

The green parks, the urban infrastructure, trains that arrive on time: Eric Dooh is impressed at what he’s seen in the Hague, where he’s just attended Royal Dutch Shell plc’s Annual General Meeting . He says he came to inform the company’s shareholders about the ongoing level of devastation caused by oil spills in Goi, his community in the Niger delta.

“Since 2003, we don’t produce fish anymore, there’s not a single fish in the water. The source of drinking water is oil. When we cook, our food smells like kerosene. We grow cassava and yam: if you cook them, you get a taste of crude.” He asked when Shell would use part of its benefits to clean up the water and the land.

Smiling very soon

Shell’s response was consistent. CEO Peter Voser said that sabotage and theft accounts for more than 80% of the volume of oil spilt in 2010, amounting to around 100,000 barrels a day. When asked when if it has a timetable to clean up the spills or end gas flaring, the company responds that it is committed to do so, but that this depends on the Nigerian government’s willingness to invest and on limited access to sites because of violence by militant groups.

Eric Dooh says the answers are “purely political”. I’ve been hearing this story for so long. When governments want to deceive you, they say: ‘The people will soon smile’. So now Shell is telling us we will soon smile, and I asked: ‘How soon?’ They told me: ‘Very soon.’”

Dutch pension funds concerned

In recent years, shareholders big and small, have become increasingly vocal when it comes to Shell´s environmental record in Nigeria. At this year´s AGM, Sylvia van Waveren speaking on behalf of the Dutch APG pension fund, the Robeco investment fund and other important shareholders with pension funds worth over 500 billion euro, said they “remain highly concerned with the operations in Nigeria and the potential damage to Shell´s reputation.” She said they were equally concerned about the “low standard and quality” of Shell´s dialogue with stakeholders, especially in indigenous communities in Canada where controversial oil sands are being exploited and in Nigeria.

Eric Dooh, wearing a black hat a la Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan and large necklaces with red and white beads around his neck, is impressed. “I noticed that people of this part of the world have great interest in the suffering of the people in the Niger delta. You don’t know us, and yet you are agitating for how the benefits of oil are being used in developing this area. I find this commendable.”

On trial

Eric Dooh’s Goi community and three other Niger Delta communities, supported by the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, have started legal proceedings against Shell in the Netherlands. On Thursday, the trial resumes in the Hague. At stake is whether Royal Dutch Shell plc in the Netherlands can be held accountable for Shell Nigeria’s activities. They want their communities to be cleaned up and they want reasonable compensation for the loss of their livelihoods.

Chief Dooh will be sitting in the tribune during Thursday’s hearing. Before coming here he says he told his daughter that “I’m going to defend you, your mom and your grand dad in the Netherlands.” He says that if he is finally granted compensation he will send her to study abroad “so that she can attain the same knowledge that those people in charge of these multinationals have acquired.”

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