When Shell recently announced its onshore divestment plan, the multinational oil giant couched its move in terms of a business decision aimed at repositioning operation in the interest of shareholders. On January 16, Shell sent shockwaves through the oil industry when it announced that had reached an agreement to sell its Nigerian onshore subsidiary the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) to Renaissance, a consortium of five companies comprising four exploration and production companies based in Nigeria and an international energy group. There is however a new twist to the story with environmental, civil society and community groups across the Niger Delta denouncing the move as a ploy to dodge accountability and leave communities in the lurch, after destroying their environment through pollution and oil spills.
A frontline civil society group, Social Action, which coordinates the community efforts to hold oil companies accountable for their destruction of the environment has accused Shell of trying to divest from its onshore operations in the Niger Delta in order to dodge accountability relating to its pollution of oil bearing communities. The group consequently described Shell as one of the world’s “most notorious corporate devastators of natural environments and human livelihoods,” noting that the multinational oil giant is orchestrating a major heist in the Niger Delta. In a widely circulated call to action document made available to The Explainer, Social Action warned that the plan of the oil major was to divest from onshore operations in order to absolve itself of decades of environmental degradation and community disenfranchisement.
The group insisted the divestment plan was not merely a corporate restructure; it said the move amounted to a “calculated escape from accountability for the widespread pollution, health crises, and social injustices inflicted upon the Niger Delta’s communities.” It said: “The divestment strategy, cloaked in corporate jargon, is a blatant attempt to sidestep responsibility for the ecological catastrophe and human suffering left in its wake. The repercussions of allowing this divestment to proceed unchallenged are dire, setting a dangerous precedent for the ecologically devastated Niger Delta.”
Social Action subsequently called upon environmental advocates, human rights defenders, and global citizens to unite in opposition to what it described as Shell’s divestment heist. “Together, we can amplify the voices of the Niger Delta’s communities, demand justice, and hold Shell accountable for its environmental and social liabilities. It’s time to act decisively and prevent one of the world’s worst corporate destroyers from evading the consequences of its actions.”
However, beyond the call to action, civil society groups concerned about the latest move of the oil giant have gone a step further to send a petition to the Nigerian President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In the petition, Social Action noted that the legacy of SPDC’s operations in the Niger Delta is deeply troubling, marked by significant environmental degradation, human rights violations, and unresolved grievances among local communities.
It said: “As detailed in the recent report by a team of international experts – the Bayelsa State Oil and Environment Commission, the Niger Delta region faces monumental health crises due to oil and gas pollution by companies like Shell. Contamination from total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPHs) and heavy metals (HMs) has led to high levels of toxins in water, soil, and air, significantly impacting public health.”
Similarly, the group warned that the contaminants from oil exploration have affected the food chain, exposing residents to carcinogenic substances, which exacerbate health issues and contribute to a public health emergency. The United Nations Environment Programme’s Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland report, the group noted showed similar findings. Consequently, the group made an urgent call on the Nigerian authorities to immediately halt to Shell’s divestment from SPDC until a comprehensive, transparent, and inclusive framework is established.
“This framework must ensure that all environmental and social liabilities are fully addressed to the satisfaction of all affected communities. The process must include clear commitments to environmental remediation, fair community compensation, and the establishment of robust regulatory oversight to prevent future abuses.” The group also highlighted the critical role of regulatory bodies in ensuring what it described as the stringent compliance with environmental and social standards, as outlined in the Nigerian Petroleum Industry Act 2021. It said the regulatory framework must be rigorously enforced to safeguard the rights and well-being of the Niger Delta communities during and after the divestment process.