Tag Archives: oil company

Shell, villagers agree to $83.5 million for huge oil spilll | The Japan Times

Shell, villagers agree to $83.5 million for huge oil spilll | The Japan Times.

Over 15,600 Ogoni farmers and fishermen whose lives were devastated by two large Shell oil spills in 2008 are celebrating the $83.5 million settlement they will receive from Shell as compensation. The settlement, split among individuals and the community as a whole, avoids Shell having to defend a potentially embarrassing London high court case which was due to start shortly. It is thought to be the largest payout to any African community following environmental damage and the first time that compensation for an oil spill has been paid directly to affected individuals rather than to local chiefs.

In the past, compensation from companies has been paid to chiefs, with the understanding that he would use it for community projects.  However, there is little to no oversight after the compensation is paid out, leaving room for chiefs to skim off the top.  In fact, chiefs have had an incentive to actually encourage collective action against oil companies, since resistance measures could cause companies to pay out financial compensation that chiefs would then control. Conversely, during protests the chief will go to a private negotiation with company officials to “settle peace,” as Nigerians call it.  The company may pay the chief what they term “community compensation” to settle the matter, with both parties understanding that the chief is being paid to send the protesters home.  Whether collective action succeeds as it did in this most recent case, or whether is fails when chiefs put an end to it, the chiefs benefit. Hopefully, pay outs directly to community members like Shell is now doing will help ensure compensation goes where it should, into the pockets of local citizens.

Ikebere protesters

Niger Delta pollution: Fisherman at risk amidst the oil

From Will Ross at the BBC on May 30, 2013:

A “pristine paradise” – these are not words you often hear to describe the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria. But you get to appreciate the area’s natural beauty whilst wading across lily covered creeks and trekking deep into the forest, accompanied by birdsong.

Welcome to the Niger Delta before the oil. “I’m on the plank now so walk right behind me,” a guide said as we squelched across a muddy swamp trying not to sink in too deep. After walking for about an hour and a half from the village of Kalaba in Bayelsa state, I caught the first glimpse of an expansive tranquil lake through the trees. On the shore are shelters made of wooden poles draped in material. Every two years several families set up a camp at Lake Masi where they fish for just three months.

Fishermen empty bucket of fish

“After preparing the nylon and woven basket nets we go into the lake and drive the fish into one area,” Woloko Inebisa told me. “By fishing every two years we allow the fish to grow large. If we fished every year there would only be very small fish here,” the 78 year old told me as two men in dug out canoes adjusted the nets inside a section of the lake that had been fenced off with cane reeds.

Smoke drifted across the camp as women dried the fish over home made grills above smouldering fires. “I will use this money to pay my children’s school fees, to buy books for them, to buy their school uniforms and to do everything for them,” said mother-of-three Ovie Joe. When these families return to their villages they will continue to grow crops but will have raised some capital from the fishing season. “We have water for drinking and plenty of fish. But I’m not just here to feed my stomach – I’ll save up money for when I go back to the village,” Mr Inebisa said.

Just a few kilometres away near Taylor Creek is a very different picture. An oil spill from June 2012 has left the ground covered in a dark sludge and the trees are all blackened by fire.

Niger Delta fisherman carries net laden with fish out of a creek

Environmentalists believe local contractors often pay youths to set fire to the area where the spill has occurred. This can reduce the spread of the oil but has other detrimental effects on the environment. Despite extensive flooding late last year the oil has not dispersed and there are still signs of the rainbow sheen on the surface.

Your ears also tell you all is not well – there is hardly any birdsong as the pollution has sucked the life out of the area. “When I walked here the crude oil was spilling out so fast I couldn’t even get near the spill point itself,” said Samuel Oburo, a youth leader from Kalaba.

Running through this area is an underground pipeline belonging to Nigeria AGIP Oil Company – which is partly owned by the Italian oil giant, Eni.

Map of Nigeria

It says numerous leaks near Taylor Creek were all caused by people breaking into the pipe – sabotage.

On 23 March Eni issued a statement announcing the closure of all its activities in the area because the theft of oil, known as bunkering, was so rife. “The decision was made due to the intensified bunkering, consisting in the sabotage of pipelines and the theft of crude oil, which has recently reached unsustainable levels regarding both personal safety and damage to the environment,” the statement read. People in the village suggest corroded pipes as a possible trigger of the spill and they doubt it was caused by sabotage.

The breaking of pipes and theft of the oil is so rampant in the Niger Delta that experts believe several interest groups are involved. “There is a high level conspiracy between the security forces, the community and oil workers to steal the oil,” says environmental campaigner Erabanabari Kobah. “That is why people are not prosecuted and convicted even though the crime is happening at an alarming rate,” he says.

There is very little transparency when it comes to the awarding of contracts to clean up any oil spills.

Jeti Matikmo, fisherman carrying a pole on his shoulder with bundles of fish

This has led to increased incidents of sabotage as some believe the more oil spills there are the more money there is to share around. The pollution is having a terrible impact on the environment. “There is oil here. We are suffering,” said Jeti Matikmo, carrying a pole on his shoulder on which bundles of fish were tied. “Many of our crops are not growing well because of the oil spill and we are not killing fish in the ponds anymore. So we have to trek for more than two hours to where it is clean and where there is no oil.”

Back at Lake Masi a crowd gathered as two men waded ashore dragging an enormous woven basket behind them. It was heavy with fish. “There’s nothing like pollution here. Although if the oil prospecting companies come they may find oil and all that could change,” said Mr Inebisa. “If this pond is polluted, hunger is the answer,” he said adding that in his entire life he had not gained a single coin from the oil of the Niger Delta.

The Kioble case is dismissed in the Supreme Court

In a unanimous ruling this past Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the Kiobel case against Shell in Nigeria. The Kiobel case was filed by Esther Kiobel, the wife of a former activist, and alleges that Shell collaborated with the Abacha regime to violently suppress oil reform activities in the 1990’s.  The case brings claims for extrajudicial killing, torture, crimes against humanity, and prolonged arbitrary arrest and detention.

CorpsWatch argues that the ruling effectively blocks other lawsuits against foreign multinationals for human rights abuse that have occurred overseas from being brought in U.S. courts. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. (Shell) was brought under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a U.S. law dating back to 1789, originally designed to combat piracy on the high seas – that has been used during the last 30 years as a vehicle to bring international law violations cases to U.S. federal courts.

Lawyers began using ATS as a tool in human rights litigation in 1979, when the family of 17-year-old Joel Filartiga, who was tortured and killed in Paraguay, sued the Paraguayan police chief responsible. Filartiga v. Peña-Irala set a precedent for U.S. federal courts to punish non-U.S. citizens for acts committed outside the U.S. that violate international law or treaties to which the U.S. is a party. Almost 100 cases of international (often state-sanctioned) torture, rape and murder have been brought to U.S. federal courts to date under the ATS. The new ruling limits the law to U.S citizens and entities.

“Corporations are often present in many countries and it would reach too far to say mere corporate presence suffices,” wrote John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, in the majority opinion. “There is no indication that the ATS was passed to make the United States a uniquely hospitable forum for the enforcement of international norms.” Stephen Breyer, another of the nine judges, agreed with Roberts in the decision but left the door open for some lawsuits. “I would find jurisdiction under this statute where (1) the alleged tort occurs on American soil, (2) the defendant is an American national, or (3) the defendant’s conduct substantially  and adversely affects an important American national interest,” wrote Breyer in a separate legal opinion. “(T)hat includes a distinct interest in preventing the United States from becoming a safe harbor (free of civil as well as criminal liability) for a torturer or other common enemy of mankind.” Shell – in Breyer’s opinion – did not qualify as a U.S. entity. “The defendants are two foreign corporations. Their shares, like those of many foreign corporations, are traded on the New York Stock Exchange,” Breyer wrote. “Their only presence in the United States consists of an office in New York City (actually owned by a separate but affiliated company) that helps to explain their business to potential investors.”

Other such cases have been filed against Chiquita and Halliburton. Chiquita was sued by surviving victims of brutal massacres waged by right-wing paramilitary squads in Colombia. The paramilitary, who killed thousands of civilians during Colombia’s dirty war of the 1980s and 1990s, were on Chiquita’s payroll in the 1990s. Now-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended Chiquita in the case and won a plea bargain for them of $25 million and five years of probation. Kellogg, Brown and Root, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, has also been sued under the ATS for allegedly trafficking 13 men from Nepal to Iraq against their will to work on U.S. military bases. The men, 12 of whom were killed, believed they were going to work at hotels in Jordan and elsewhere.

The Obama administration backed Shell last June after abruptly changing sides. In its submission the Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the suit against Shell. The brief’s authors stated that the ATS was not appropriate for Kiobel or other lawsuits involving foreign corporations accused of collaborating in human rights abuses with a foreign government outside U.S. territory. U.S. courts “should not create a cause of action that challenges the actions of a foreign sovereign in its own territory, where the [sued party] is a foreign corporation of a third country that allegedly aided and abetted the foreign sovereign’s conduct,” the Justice Department wrote.

Many activists say that the decision will set back human rights causes. “This decision so severely limited a law that has for decades been a beacon of hope for victims of gross human rights violations,” says Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First, a New York based NGO. “Abusers may be rejoicing today, but this is a major setback for their victims, who often look to the United States for justice when all else fails.  Now what will they do?” However, other lawyers drew a measure of hope from the fact that the Supreme Court decision did not exclude all lawsuits against multinationals overseas in U.S. courts.

 

Dutch court rules mostly in favor of Shell

Four Nigerian farmers of the Goi and Oruma villages, supported by the Dutch NGO Friends of the Earth and the local Environmental Rights Action, sued Royal Dutch Shell in the Dutch District Court of The Hague for four oil spills between 2004 and 2009. This past Wednesday, the court ruled that the oil spills were caused by sabotage, and that Royal Dutch Shell is not liable towards 3 of the 4 farmers. It dismissed the claims of the Friends of the Earth. The court’s decision would support the idea that much of the Niger Delta pollution is caused by criminal activity carried out by locals, which has been the argument of  oil companies defending their role in the environmental damage there.

The court did find that the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a Nigerian subsidiary, could have prevented the sabotage in one case by plugging up the well but then acknowledged that the SPDC subsequently contained the leak. Nevertheless, Shell has been ordered to pay compensation to one farmer and has agreed to do so.

The verdict is not necessarily a total defeat for Niger Deltans.  Although the farmers did not prevail, the case does establish that cases against Dutch companies for misdeed abroad can be heard in Dutch courts. Friends of the Earth announced that the case was intended as a test and that the organization is satisfied by the precedent. The case been followed closely by those who have been interested in the Saro-Wiwa and Kiobel rulings.

Read details of the ruling here.

Related articles:

 

Democracy Now’s Video on Kiobel

Along with same-sex marriage and affirmative action, the Supreme Court will re-examine the issue of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) as means for foreigners to sue American corporation in U.S. courts. The new 8-month session began this week and the Kiobel case remains on the docket, in which 12 Niger Deltan petitioners are suing Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum. This case has been discussed in previous posts here.

Online Kiobel symposium: The Alien Tort Statute and the foreign relations fallacy : SCOTUSblog

Online Kiobel symposium: The Alien Tort Statute and the foreign relations fallacy : SCOTUSblog.

French oil firm Total SA says natural gas leak ongoing at a plant in Nigeria’s Niger Delta

Total benzinestation Calandstraat

(Photo credit: Gerard Stolk)

The Washington Post, LAGOS, Nigeria — French oil firm Total SA said Saturday that a natural gas leak at one of its plants in Nigeria’s crude-rich southern delta may have been going on for weeks.

The leak at its Obite natural gas site has forced the company to evacuate those nearby and led to daily monitoring of air and water surrounding the plant in Nigeria’s Rivers state. However, Total’s Nigerian subsidiary hasn’t made any public statement about the leak since it likely began following an incident March 20, though the company has given near-daily updates about a similar leak at a plant off the United Kingdom in the North Sea.

In a statement, Total’s Nigerian subsidiary said workers noticed a mix of water and natural gas bubbling up from an uninhabited site near the Obite plant on April 3. Total said there had been no injuries from the leaks, which it said likely followed the “technical incident” on March 20.

Total spokesman Charles Ebereonwu said Saturday he did not have details of the incident.

“All necessary means to ensure the protection of nearby communities and personnel and to limit the impact on the environment have been immediately mobilized,” Total said in a statement on its subsidiary’s website dated Thursday. “Strict monitoring of the environment is ongoing and a safety perimeter has been established.”

The statement said testing has not found any “toxic elements” in the environment.

Rumors about an accident at a Total operation have circulated in Nigeria for weeks, though the company remained silent. Asked why the company hadn’t publicized the Obite gas plant leak, Ebereonwu said Total’s Nigerian subsidiary had been posting updates on its website. However, the company has not sent any information to journalists. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with more than 160 million residents, is a top energy supplier to the U.S. The OPEC member nation also has seen foreign oil firms boost production of natural gas in recent years.

However, environmental and industry regulations lag behind spills and violence in its oil-rich Niger Delta, a region of mangroves and swamps about the size of Portugal. Some environmentalists say much as 2.1 billion liters (550 million gallons) of oil have spilled during more than 50 years of production. That would be at a rate roughly comparable to one Exxon Valdez disaster per year in a region where oil still stains beaches and waterways.

Many foreign oil firms blame thieves for much of the oil spills now happening in the region, as they tap into pipelines to steal crude. However, there have been a series of major spills and accidents in the last six months, including a spill by Royal Dutch Shell PLC at its offshore Bonga facility that saw some 40,000 barrels of oil spill.

Total’s Obite gas plant exports a capacity of 10.65 million metric cubes of natural gas, and collects oil condensate to mix with crude oil it produces from another area, the company has said. Total operates in the plant in partnership with the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. Total said it has stopped production at the Obite plant and shut down its wells.

Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case coming from Ogoniland in the Niger Delta. Ogoniland is the birth place of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the epicenter of the anti-oil movement in the 1990s, and the most polluted area in Nigeria.  Nineteen plaintiffs have brought Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum under the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act/Alien Tort Statute (ATS). It was originally intended to show the international community that the U.S. government would enforce and provide remedies for violations of international customary laws. Although ignored for almost 200 years, it was revived in that Filartiga v. Pena-Irala (1980) case that found a Paraguayan former Police Chief guilty of torturing a Paraguayan political dissident four years earlier in Asunción.  A non-American petitioner challenging a non-American respondent for a crime committed outside of the U.S., on the grounds that the crime was a violation of international law, won in an American court—quite a precedent.  Since then, more than 120 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts against 59 corporations for alleged wrongful acts in 60 foreign countries, almost all for “aiding and abetting” foreign governments. ATS has been utilized against multinational oil companies operating in Burma and Sudan. In a Nigerian case, jurors in Boweto v. Chevron (2008) found Chevron not guilty of knowingly assisting soldiers in human rights abuses committed in January of 1999. In Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Shell, Shell settled out of court for $15 million. Aside from some settlements, the ATS has not been particularly successful at bringing convictions against MNCs operating in the global south, but many human rights activists in the legal field still hold hope that it can.

For the Kiobel case, the question is less about whether Nigerians can bring a case against non-Americans for the torture and extrajudicial killings that occurred in their community, but whether or not they can bring the case against a corporation. Does international law recognize corporate responsibility? The 2nd Circuit of Appeals found that it does not, with the majority writing, “Corporate liability is not discernible” because “no corporation has ever been subject to any form of liability (whether civil or criminal) under the customary international law of human rights.” In other words, the behemoth rise of the multi-national corporation has outpaced international law’s ability to regulate it.

Dutch Shell’s counsel will rely heavily on the argument that there is no precedence for corporate criminal liability under ATS. However, those who believe corporations can be held criminally liable under international customary law point to post-WWII jurisprudence. The Allies, under the authority of international law, dissolved several German corporations that had produced goods and invested money in support of Hitler’s war efforts.  The most famous was I.G. Farben, the manufacturer of poison gases, drugs, and oil used in the Holocaust. The Ogonis’ case will largely depend on whether their lawyers can successfully equate Nazi-supporting German corporations with contemporary oil companies operating in Nigeria.

Even if Dutch Shell is successful in this argument, it may not necessarily be the end of the road for the Ogonis. Law is an inherently discursive space that changes form little-by-little as its parameters and content are constantly renegotiated.  Although he wrote it in last year’s decision dismissing a case against Firestone for children’s rights violation in Liberia, Judge Posner wrote, “Suppose no corporation had ever been punished for violating customary international law. There is always a first time for litigation to enforce a norm; there has to be. There were no multinational prosecutions for aggression and crimes against humanity before the Nuremberg Tribunal was created.” Although law is inherently conservative, and gathers much of its power from being so, it is not immutable.

The Ogonis counsel could cite the 2010 Citizens United ruling that corporations’ personhood give them free speech protections. The Supreme Court found that the framers of the Constitution intended the First Amendment to apply to corporate persons. It requires impressive creativity to argue that corporations are “people” deserving of constitutional protections but not “people” liable for crimes against humanity prohibited by a statute passed in the decade following ratification of the Constitution, unless one emphasizes that Citizens United was unrelated to international law.

John Bellinger, former legal advisor to the State Department, supports curbing the ATS.  He finds that its original intent to allow foreign nationals to sue in federal courts for violations of international law was only to reduce diplomatic frictions for the nascent United States. However, since international law does not allow courts of one country to exercise jurisdiction in civil cases over offenses in other countries, foreign governments have filed more than 20 protests with the State Department and federal courts in Alien Tort Statute suits over the past decade. Paradoxically, its modern application is creating the very diplomatic tensions that it was meant to prevent. For Bellinger, the major concern over ATS is reciprocity. The U.S. government would certainly be opposed to foreign courts hearing cases against American corporations for violations of international law. Reuters points out that such litigation is time-consuming, expensive, and complicated.

My prediction: The United States, well-known for its exceptionalism, is often behind other developed countries in marrying itself to international human rights law. It waited almost thirty years to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.  It is the only developed nation left that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child not the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and it will probably never ratify the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Even under intense international pressure, the U.S. privileges its sovereignty over international human rights law, which means there is very little chance that an American court would indulge an international law-based ATS claim against a corporation without even an international tribunal doing so first.

MEND Attacks Resume

On Saturday, the oil pipeline of the Italian-owned oil company ENI was attacked by MEND fighters.  The company says it has lost 4,000 barrels per day but this attack has not had a noticeable impact on global oil prices so far. A MEND spokesman, Jomo Gbomo, publicly claimed credit for the attack on the oil pipeline in Bayelsa, as well as for a separate attack on the home of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe.  He said, “The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta understands the negative impact our assault on the Nigerian oil industry will have on the ordinary citizen in a country which relies almost entirely on one source of revenue. Unfortunately, the extremely irresponsible, floundering government of Nigeria is more concerned with enriching themselves and family members than attending to the problems of the Niger Delta and the continuously depreciating standard of living of the ordinary Nigerian.” Gbomo warned that  “traitorous indigenes of the Niger Delta” need to be careful.

The very same day a popular hotel near Warri in Delta State suffered a bombing after ex-militants staying there protested perceived poor treatment by the national Amnesty Committee’s consultant responsible for their rehabilitation training and living quarters.

Last week’s violence is important because it is the first flare of violence since the Niger Delta Amnesty Program, created under the late Preside Yar’Adua, was implemented. Managers of the amnesty program claim that over 26,000 ex-agitators have already been demobilized and that over 7000 are currently being trained in Nigeria and abroad while 12,000 are being processed in order to do so.  The major educational reintegration camps within Nigeria are located in Cross River State in the East and in Lagos State in the west.  There are a number of women who have accepted the amnesty program and are living with their children at the Cross River State camp. Additionally, ex-militants have reportedly been sent all over the world, including to Malaysia, Russia, India, South Africa, and the Philippines. Not surprisingly, it is a fairly common belief that people who were never part of the agitation have emerged to claim amnesty in order to enjoy its benefits.

So, MEND is back, at least for now. Does this mean the amnesty has failed?

A Visit to the Poorest Communities of the Delta

I had heard about Ikebiri long before visiting.  The Ikebiri Kingdom of the Southern Ijaw region in Bayelsa State is well-known for being at the epicenter of militancy.  The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) emerged not far away, and the area is considered to be one of the “hottest” in the Niger Delta.  It hosts the Nigerian Agip Oil Company, which locals blame for the destructive oil spills and gas flares that have killed local wildlife, poisoned drinking water, and ruined agricultural land. There have been several incidents of Ijaw women from Ikebiri demonstrating in the capital, and four years ago they threatened to march nude to Agip in protest of the lack of economic development in their villages.

To access Ikebiri from Yenagoa, we took an old speedboat an hour and a half towards the ocean. We passed two military checkpoints along the way that required us to raise our hands upon approaching, to show that we meant no harm and didn’t carry weapons. Although we were stopped for having a white person onboard, the soldiers were amiable. We maneuvered around fishermen in their canoes and made sure to avoid the nets that they were floating using empty water bottles. We waved to farmers along the banks as they dug up yams and cassava.  Families were living in thatched-covered homes perched on stilts, some constructed out of scrap wood and others out of reeds. Most of the women we saw were washing clothes or bathing themselves in the muddy water and children were fishing or diving for snails in their underwear.  It was a world apart from the middle- and upper-class neighborhoods that rely on the oil underground there.

Spending less than an hour at Ikebiri makes it clear why residents demand more economic development from the Nigerian government. Our first stop was at the health clinic, which services the thousands of people in the Kingdom.  From outside it looks new, but once inside we saw that the building was simply a skeleton.  There was nothing inside except for two dilapidated twin beds and a few foam pads on the floor; there were no medicine cabinets, furniture, nor machines of any type.  Wondering about machines is highly optimistic though since those machines would require electricity or a generator, which the clinic didn’t have. The only doctor on staff, a 23-year-old recent college graduate doing his National Youth Service, said that he performs surgeries using satchels of drinking water, but if those satchels run out the he is forced to boil river water.  When a human rights activist that I had traveled with asked about health problems related to the ongoing fire on a Chevron rig, which has been burning for almost three weeks, he seemed overwhelmed and mumbled that it was causing asthma and gastrointestinal issues with the patients.  Two older men interrupted to point out their red and pussing eyes.  I don’t know if these problems can be linked to oil pollution or the poor living conditions in the community in general, but hospitals need medicines, machines, and doctors, and this one didn’t have any of those things.

During our walk back to the boat, it suddenly dawned on me why this community had felt unusual.  The majority of the residents were children.  All around were children carrying babies, children washing babies, children feeding babies.  The children must have outnumbered the adults almost ten to one.  Additionally, the adults I did see were women, and almost half of those women were visibly pregnant.  Presumably the men must have left to go find work, since fishing and agriculture are no longer able to sustain families anymore, but somehow the community still managed to have astronomically high birth rates. Nigeria has a young population, with over 1/3 of the population under the age of 24, but this community must have had an even more dramatic youth bulge.

Each community we visited seemed to have even more noticeable poverty than the one before it. As the seat of the Kingdom, Ikebiri I receives the majority of resources, so that newer Ikebiri II was noticeably less developed.  Our final visit was to Otorgbene, an island community situated in muddy mangroves.  We went to ask about the thousands of fish that had washed up on shore in the last few days, probably as result of the ongoing rig fire. Residents told us that every morning they would wake up to find more and more fish on the banks, and that they didn’t know what they could do to stop it.  They told us about common health problems they experienced; foremost among them was malaria, a problem certainly predating the development of the oil industry.  They asked about the free mosquito nets they had been promised months ago by the federal government, and the investigator had to tell them that a state government official had been caught selling the nets for personal profit, and so there were no more left. They admitted they had been excited when our speedboat pulled up because a white person was on it (me); they thought we were arriving to deliver food and medical supplies.

We carefully made our way to where the Delta creek meets the ocean at the village of Kolu-Ama.  We went to see the smoke fumes caused by the Chevron fire.  The billows came up out of the trees and then disappeared into the sky.  We had passengers in our boat from a community that is in a legal battle with Kolu-Ama over land rights, so we didn’t want to approach too closely out of fear of provoking a conflict.  I was glad to see the Kolu-Ama community that I had heard about in recent weeks, the one in which women marched to the Chevron office in Warri and then to Government House in Bayelsa to demonstrate against the company’s failure to put out the fire. It is still burning.

On the ride back to Yenagoa, I chatted with a pleasant woman who had joined us for the day.  When she showed me a picture of her deceased son, I realized that she is the mother of the 20-year-old who was shot by police for refusing to pay a traffic bribe. It is well-known story here. The two of them were coming home from church, his mother tried her best to protect him during the altercation, and he was killed holding a bible in his hand.  The police involved were acquitted of all charges except mishandling a firearm. The parents have filed a civil suit and are being assisted by the human rights activist who had led the site visit.  I couldn’t help noting the irony that her husband helps head the Joint Task Force (JTF), which has had a very heavy hand when dealing with collective action in the Delta.  The very organization that was representing her in her case for her son’s murder is the same one that speaks out against rights abuses perpetrated by the JTF in the very areas we had visited. The Niger Delta is a complicated place.

To see photos from the site visit:

Gathering Data on Pollution in Ikebiri, Nigeria