Dialoguing on Oil Company ‘Divestment’ with Joinkrama Community
Joinkrama Community is a vivid example of the negative impacts of oil extraction on people.
Joinkrama is a collection of 4 settlements located in Ahoada West local government area of Rivers
state. It lies along the Orashi river which cuts through many parts of the community and provides
support for fishing and farming which is the key income earning activity of the people. 48 oil wells
are located in Joinkrama community and have been exploited by Shell for decades, contributing
about 200,000 barrels of crude oil daily to Nigeria’s oil output.
By all standards, Joinkrama is poor. Health and education infrastructures and indicators are
exceptionally poor. Public services like water supply and sanitation are simply non-existent. For the
people, the government has failed in providing the most basic development benefits, despite being
responsible for so much hydrocarbon revenues.
The development gaps in Joinkrama community have been made worse by the obvious impacts of
crude oil extraction. The most notable of these impacts are gas flaring and the regular oil spills that
occur. According to members of the community, the nonstop flaring of associated gas has meant
that they no longer utilize rainwater that was previously considered a major source of usable water.
Beyond rainwater contamination, they describe far-reaching impacts on health. They note the
prevalence of what they describe as ‘strange illnesses’ including cancers, respiratory conditions,
diseases of the epidermis, diabetes, hypertension, leukaemia, etc. which they trace to chemicals
released as a result of gas flaring. Residents also note unusual levels of discomforting heat, a strange
sooty smell from the flares, as well as sight and sleeping difficulties.
Fisher folks in the community note a strange phenomenon where fishes die and float on the Orashi
river. According to them, this is as a result of the continuous poisoning of the river with
hydrocarbons which are routine occurrences by the oil company.
Shell facilities located in Joinkrama, as in other parts of the Niger Delta, are notorious for oil spills.
According to community members, the first major one occurred between 2000 and 2001. The spill
which lasted for months, polluted the Orashi River as well as farmlands. As has now become typical,
the Shell denied responsibility, did not carry out any clean up and paid no compensation even when
Nigeria’s National legislature requested they do so. Following an investigation, Nigeria’s House of
Representatives in 2009 asked Shell to pay 1 billion naira to Joinkrama community over
environmental degradation caused by its operations. In passing the resolution, the legislators noted
that the community was a victim of an oil spill by Shell which caused “damages to waterways,
farmland, and economic trees”. Again, as is often the case with national rulings and resolutions
against Shell, the company refused to comply.
Shell’s default response to oil spills in Joinkrama and elsewhere in the Niger delta has always been to
deny culpability and rather pass the blame on communities which it accuses of sabotage. In 2015, more than six months after an oil leak incident was reported, oil recovery and remediation was not
carried out, despite appeals by the community to Shell and Nigerian regulatory authorities. On that
occasion, the community leadership reported that while they were awaiting the company and
Nigerian regulators to visit the spill site and determine the cause (as is required by law), Shell
operatives secretly visited the spill site and tampered with evidence that could have determined its
cause as either the failure of the company’s equipment or sabotage.
The leadership of the Joinkrama community report that they have severally demanded ecological
justice from Shell, making a case for environmental restoration, pollution prevention, livelihood
alternatives and improved community benefits. Every time they try, the company block all channels
of engagement, and rather increase the presence of armed soldiers in the community and around
their facilities. The community knows from experience that the armed forces stationed all over the
Niger Delta are answerable to the oil companies and their Nigeria government partners, and not the
impoverished people who exist in ecologically devastated areas.
The challenges experienced by Joinkrama community have been compounded by the impacts of
climate change. The community is one of the most impacted in Nigeria and perhaps in the world.
Since 2012, the Orashi river has experienced annual sea level rise and floods that overwhelm
massive parts of the community with alarming impacts. The first flood that broke with known
patterns of minimal sea level rises along rivers in the area occurred in 2012. In that year, the
community was totally submerged with massive loses in properties and livelihoods. Since then,
flooding has become an expected occurrence every year. Without doubt, the floods have exposed
the people to tremendous pressures, disarticulations and negative impacts. During the floods,
members of the community who are predominantly fisher folks and farmers are forced to abandon
their livelihood sources and migrate to places where they exist without income for months. The
floods erode farmlands and destroy entire season of food crop production. This has greatly
threatened food security in the area, and has significantly reduced the ability of the people to
produce for themselves.
Each year when the flood waters recede, the community loses several feet of its land to the river.
The people tell stories of homes, roads and farmlands that have now been swallowed by the river.
They point far into the Orashi river at landmarks showing where roads previously existed. They show
evidence of buildings that have collapsed into the encroaching river and others buildings and land
seriously threatened by the encroaching river. Their cries to Shell and Nigerian authorities that have
benefited most from climate change causing oil extraction have not been listened to or acted on.
Each flood season, the people are left to fend for themselves, abandoned by their government and
by the oil companies they ‘host’.
The Joinkrama people express shock that after decades of oil extraction with these devastating
environmental, livelihood and climate change impacts, the oil company that caused the damage plans
to sell off their oil facilities and leave. The people of Joinkrama fear that Shell’s plan to divest from
their community makes it impossible for them to hold it accountable for several years of
contamination, health hazards and related socio-ecological issues.
In the conversation around Shell’s divestment, the people of Joinkrama have never been consulted.
Not the oil company or the Nigerian government has deemed it appropriate to engage the affected
community. Their plans to divest are unfolding in the exact same manner their decision to invade the
communities and extract crude oil happened- without regard to the free, prior and informed consent of
As oil companies plan to leave, Nigeria has failed in establishing frameworks for how divestment
should happen. For example, who takes responsibility for remediating the environment which has
been terribly devastated by oil extraction and its attendant pollution? Who accounts for the several
negative health impacts which have reduced life expectancy in the area to the lowest in Nigeria? Who
takes responsibility for restoring the fishing and farming livelihoods of the people? Who takes
responsibility for addressing the climate change impacts which the people did not contribute to, but
are sufferers of?
For the Joinkrama people, the oil company that has brought destruction, poverty and death needs to
leave, but not before they repair the damage caused by decades of their mindless and reckless oil