In continuation of its campaign to hold oil companies accountable for ecological damage caused by their activities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, We the People on the 23 rd of November 2022, held a Multi-Stakeholder Conference to address the subject of divestment by multinational oil companies. The Conference which held in the city of Port Harcourt brought together a wide range of stakeholders in the region including academics, civil society actors, oil-impacted communities, health experts, etc. and extensively discussed the 64-year impacts of oil extraction in the region.
According to Dr. Briggs, a medical practitioner who has keenly studied the impacts of hydrocarbons on the health of people living in the Niger Delta, there has been an alarming rise in cases of cancer and other respiratory challenges. He also linked the prevalence of hydrocarbon pollution in the region to the rise in reproductive illnesses among women, and the rising occurrence of birth defects.
Earlier in his presentation, Dr. Uche Igwe, a political economist and oil sector expert stated that the rise in conflict situations in the Niger Delta is directly traceable to the character of oil extraction in the region. According to him, the repressive nature of the oil sector, where the national government routinely deploys armed personnel to support oil companies and brutalize community member whenever there are disagreements, is instrumental in engendering episodes of ‘militancy’ in the region. He equally opined that there were enough grounds to believe that companies may be instigating crisis in order to generate excuses for their hurried divestment.
In his opening address, Executive Director of We the People, Ken Henshaw described the attempt by multinational oil companies to sell off their onshore oil assets and just walk away after 64-years of oil extraction with huge ecological impacts, as criminal.
“These companies came into the Niger Delta without consulting the people or seeking their consent. For 64-years they operated recklessly, polluting the environment at will, poisoning indigenous people, destroying their sources of livelihoods, and killing them. For 64-years, these companies adopted repressive policies and with the support of the federal government, and unleashed terror on communities who dared to resist the destruction of their lives. In Umuechem, Ogoniland, and other parts of the Niger Delta, indigenous people have come under attack and have been repressed in order to keep the oil flowing. It is criminal for them to leave without being held to account. The minimum is to demand that they assess the enormous damage their operations have done and immediately remediate it” he said.
The Keynote speaker at the event Prof. Sofiri Peterside reflected on the cost of fixing the damage done to the Niger Delta environment when oil companies eventually divest, and advice action by all stakeholders to demand a process of remediation before divestment takes place.
Several oil impacted community members took turn to narrates their ordeal with oil extraction including how they have become poorer on account of the impacts of extraction. The expressed resolve to support all efforts at holding oil companies accountable.