On the 5th of October 2022, We the People steered a conversation on the theme of ‘No Divestment Without Restoration’. The audience, made up of concerned activists, journalists, and committed stakeholders met at the Centre for Social Studies and Development in Port Harcourt to discuss the trends arising from the decision of International Oil Companies (IOCs) to sell off onshore assets and carry on business in deeper waters without restorative justice to the environmental degradation resulting from their activities.
Ken Henshaw, the Executive Director of the Centre for Social Studies and Development drew statistical inference to show how IOCs were beginning to dismantle onshore portfolios in the Niger Delta in his presentation titled ‘Examining Frameworks for Oil Company Divestments in Nigeria’. This systemic divestment gained significant traction in 2010, with Shell and Total selling off some oil mining leases under their various production units. More recently, these two multi-nationals, expressly stated a leaning towards complete divestment of their onshore assets. Total announced this decision in April 2022. Shell towed the same line earlier in 2021. Other IOCs like ExxonMobil and Chevron have seen a fair share of this divestment, with IOCs citing insecurity in the region and a need to streamline energy investments to more ecologically viable options as reasons.
The People’s Divestment Conference was a wake-up call by We the People to show how this divestment is a rape of the natural resources without adequate reparations to the environment. According to Ken Henshaw, “the activities of crude oil has not been neutral in the Niger Delta. Yes, there has been millions of dollars for the Nigerian state, but they have also caused devastating effects to the environment. For example, all the companies have flared gas from the very start of their activities. They have been culpable in oil spills, destroyed the rivers and lands, and posed serious health risks to the people of the Niger Delta region”.
These harmful activities from capitalist initiatives in the oil sector have only made the people of the Niger Delta poorer. It was more than an ethical misnomer to mine resources for more than 64 years without “a short period to carry out the assessment to exactly what oil extraction had bequeathed to the region.” Ken Henshaw strongly stressed the need for government to insist on this audit due to health and environmental concerns. Using the UNEP report on the Ogoniland as a signpost for environmental impact assessments, he noted that it was pivotal to the continued existence of the people of the Niger Delta if such measure was applied to not just Ogoniland, but other oil-producing areas in the Niger Delta.
Further deliberations on the activities of oil companies fingered their involvement in climate change. Ken Henshaw correlated these circumstances as evidence that “the chickens have come home to roost”. Carbon emissions from gas flaring amongst a host of other activities had contributed to this; one of the effects which was currently being seen in unusual flooding. Some stakeholders present lent credence to the fact that their communities were knee-deep in floods.
On his part, the Executive Director of Policy Alert, Mr. Tijah Bolton Akpan concurred with Ken Henshaw in stating that these IOCs were leaving the region due to the recent court pronouncements which have seen IOCs liable in damages. He noted that it was an insufficient excuse to use insecurity of the region and the emerging paradigms of green energy to abandon the obligations owed to the people of the Niger Delta, hence the need for accountability in divestment. It was therefore necessary for the government to take proactive steps in securing the future of the Niger Delta where a post-fossil energy economy was fast approaching.