Shell’s $400 million Niger Delta security funds better invested on local communities — report

River Niger

Oil giant Shell has spent almost $400m in three years guarding its installations in the Niger Delta, including maintaining its own 1,200-strong internal ‘police’ force, running a network of plainclothes informants and supplying government forces with equipment, according to Platform, a campaign group.

Platform combed through leaked internal documents and WikiLeaks diplomatic cables to unpick Shell’s $1bn security spend between 2007 and 2009 – of which almost 40% was spent protecting its Nigerian facilities. The group also looked at Shell’s close relationship with government forces dating back to 2003. The Observer reported on the organisation’s findings yesterday.

Shell’s colossal Niger Delta facility has come under frequent attack from armed insurgents, who are frustrated by the local population’s exclusion from the Delta’s incredible oil wealth and by pollution. Kidnappings of oil workers, robberies and attacks on pipelines were frequent during the period covered by the documents.

Shell’s facilities in the Niger Delta are protected from armed insurgents by 600 police and 700 members of the Joint Task Force (JTF), which combines army, navy and air force. Platform claims in 2008 Shell spent almost a third of its global security budget – $99m – on ‘third parties’, which is believed to include supporting such Nigerian government forces such as the JTF.

‘Shell has supplied these government forces with gunboats, helicopters, vehicles, food, accommodation, satellite phones, stipends and large-scale funding throughout years of conflict in the Delta region,’ Platform notes.

Related article: Embassy cables reveal Western complicity in Nigerian oil conflicts

Platform is concerned that JTF has a poor record on human rights violations. In 2009 alone, Platform estimates Shell provided $65m to the Nigerian government. ‘This is a staggering transfer of company funds and resources into the hands of soldiers and police known for routine human rights abuses,’ the campaign group notes. The same year, the Nigerian military used helicopter gunships to launch an campaign lasting several weeks against the camp of a militant leader named Government Tompolo in the Delta.

The US State Department said the attacks displaced ‘tens of thousands’ and cost them their livelihoods, as well as killing an unknown number of people.

Platform suggests that at the time of these attacks Shell was providing extensive financial support to the JTF. ‘Instead of holding government forces to account by ensuring that abuses were properly investigated and appropriate punishment or disciplinary action taken, Shell rewarded the JTF with lucrative funding and support,’ Platform notes.

In many cases, Shell’s security spending may only serve to entrench the conflict. The security spending documents show Shell spent $75m on a mysterious category marked ‘Other’. WikiLeaks cables reveal that in 2003 Shell was among oil companies making payments of up to $300 a month, and Shell ‘frequently’ pays off armed groups, for example to regain access to closed-off facilities.

But this can encourage groups to battle for control of particular towns or facilities: in one case documented by Platform, the town of Rumuekpe was completely destroyed by rival armed groups struggling for access to alleged payments from Shell, with an estimated 60 people killed.

Meanwhile, of the $35m spent on private security contractors in 2008, Platform claims that local contracts often turn out to be with the very militants they are targeting. And the hardline approach of external contractors, many of whom have shipped in as contracts dry up in Iraq and Afghanistan, only fans the flames of conflict. Private contractors often give orders to military personnel guarding oil facilities, muddying the line between corporate and government responsibility for incidents, Platform adds.

‘What is striking about Shell’s security spending in Nigeria is its ineffectiveness,’ the report notes. Investing in communities and cleaning up ‘decades’ of pollution, the report suggests, could yield very different results.

This version of the story was first published by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

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