Human Rights Violations in Nigeria Term Paper

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Shell Oil in Nigeria

Discussions on economic hardship, environmental devastation, and political corruption in Nigeria always seem to come back to the Dutch Shell Oil Company. The company is charged by activists and Wiwa as influencing the Nigerian government to act illegally and, if we believe the allegations, monstrously in violation of human rights in order to exploit the oil resources in the Niger River Delta area (Livesey 58; Saro-Wiwa 7). In a final message to the public, just before his death by hanging at the hands of the Nigerian government, Saro-Wiwa blamed Shell for its influence leading to abuses in Nigeria (Saro-Wiwa 7). Saro-Wiwa wrote:

Shell Oil is here on trial, and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learnt here may prove useful to it, for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war the company has waged in the delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war will be duly punished. The crime of the company's dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished (Saro-Wiwa 7)."

Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producing nation today (Wiwa xv). Bronwen Manby (1999) says that Shell oil continues to be the biggest corporate exploiter of oil in Nigeria (Manby 281). The company received the bulk of its criticism during the years when Saro-Wiwa was involved in activism in the Niger River Delta region, 1994 and 1995 (Manby 281). 1995, of course, is the year thaqt Saro-Wiwa was hung to death. Manby writes:

While the Ogoni crisis is no longer in the headlines, and while the June 1998 death of General Sani Abacha ended a period of unprecedented repression in Nigeria -- allowing elections that have led to the installation of the first civilian government in 16 years -- protest and repression in Nigeria's oil-producing regions have, if anything, increased (Manby 281)."

If it was the Nigerian government's to silence the protests by making an example of Saro-Wiwa, they succeeded. Manby reports, too, that Shell denies reports that link it to Nigeria's responses using oppression and suppression to silence activist and political groups (Manby 281). Reports from various sources, including Manby, also indicate that Shell has not been a good ecological corporate partner (Manby 281; Livesey 58). In some instances, Shell has been cited as "arrogant," in its responses to discussion on its political and ecological positions and especially as concerns its damage to the Niger River Delta environment (Livesey 58).

In a remarkably candid speech to explain why Shell had "stumbled" (Herkstroter, 1996b, [paragraph]54), the Shell Group Chairman interpreted Spar and Nigeria as institutional challenges, saying that "modern demands [on companies] are... somewhat different to the traditional ones" ([paragraph]21) and that "the institutions of global society are being reinvented" by social and technological change ([paragraph]65). Accordingly, Shell had to learn to operate in "a very fluid world... In which the technological and communications revolution is redefining our perceptions of reality; of authority, and of what is appropriate and what is not" ([paragraph]46). Shell characterized the consequences of this change as a move from a "trust me" to a "show me" world (Knight, 1998, p. 2; see also Faulds, 1998). As Herkstroter (1996b) realized, where "the more traditional structures [of business and government had] failed to adapt," NGOs ("private groups organised around themes or issues") had "gained an authoritative voice" ([paragraph]45). Here, the Chairman appears to be recognizing and responding to discursive struggle and its institutional effects (Livesey 58)."

There are allegations that Shell has been complicit in manipulating the politics in Nigeria and, worse, that the company was active in creating a disparaging image of Ken Saro-Wiwa following his death (Wiwa xii-xiii).

Shell Oil, the company my father had accused of devastating the environment and abusing the human rights of our people, responded to questions about its role in the affair by launching a public relations campaign that spread doubts about his character and his reputation. The multinational distanced itself from the execution, insisting that it was being used as a scapegoat to deflect attention from the real issues in the trial. In a television interview, the head of its Nigerian operations claimed that Ken Saro-Wiwa had been executed for murder (Wiwa xiii)."

Nigeria nationalized its oil industry in 1977, and, today, Shell engages in a joint venture in exploiting the rich resources in Nigeria, owning 30% of the venture. Nigeria is 90% dependent upon oil for its country's revenues (Wiwa 50). What was once a vital and productive farm area for the country now has a declining yield of produce, and the air is heavy with acid rain since Shell is allowed to utilize open-air by product burn-off (Livesey 58). Also, the profit that Shell and the country take from the exploitation of that resource in the Niger Delta region has zero return environmentally or economically to the people of that area (Livesey 58).

Further, in Nigeria in 1995, 75% of gas by-products from oil drilling was flared -- burned off in the open air-as compared to a world average of less than 5%, and less than 1% in the United States (see Lawrence, 1999a, section 8a). Flaring in Nigeria not only caused some of the worst local environmental pollution but also contributed adversely to global warming as a result of the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) released through combustion (see Essential Action & Global Exchange, 2000, fn. 7). Similarly, oil spills and exploration, which cut through mangrove swamps, threatened one of the largest and most ecologically sensitive wetlands in the world (see SPDC, 1997a, p. 15) (Livesey 58)."

There is much to be concerned with when a foreign corporation is exploiting the resources of a third world nation. According to the sources cited here, Shell has not been the least bit repentant of its relationship with the government, or really of implications of its complicity in human rights violations.

Human Rights Violations in Nigeria

The dynamics that have been described here between Shell, Nigerian governmental officials, the environment, and the people is the reason that Nigeria continues to be on Amnesty International's list of countries that engage in consistent and persistent practices of human rights violations. Peter van Tuiijl (1999) points out that the United Nations has a Codified Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Tuiijl 493). It is, many people believe, part of the mission of the United Nations to respond to acts of human rights violations. Indeed, following the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995, there was "talk" of UN sanctions against Nigeria, but sanctions were never instituted against Nigeria (Maier 18). The importance of Nigeria to the United States and to other nations, especially western nations, was too important to alienate the country with economic sanctions (Maier 18).

Visa restrictions and other light sanctions were all the United States and its European allies could or would muster to support democracy in West Africa's regional superpower. When Abacha announced in December 1997 the arrest of his deputy, General Oladipo Diya, a Yoruba, on allegations of plotting a coup, there was hardly a murmur from the international community. Six months later, the "coup from heaven" took place (Maier 19)."

It might be pointed out here, too, that those impacted by the visa restrictions would be news media journalists, especially those independent journalists who are necessary to the industry and to the free world in order to get politically unbiased news. It would also impact those watchdog agencies, like Amnesty International, causing them delays in being able to make the necessary site visits for verification of information and conditions in prisons, hospitals, and infrastructure.

That there were no more stringent sanctions attached to Nigeria following the death of Saro-Wiwa and eight of his activists colleagues, especially when former U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, and even the Queen herself protested the hanging of Saro-Wiwa; and then six months later a "coup from heaven," brought about regime change in that country speaks volumes. It would be great to say that in the days following the coup and the reins of power transferring to General Obasanjo instilled confidence and hope in Nigerians. That, unfortunately, was not the case at the time when the Niger Delta region and Lagos broke out in riots (Maier 19).

Obasanjo pledged to whip Nigeria into shape and to stamp out malfeasance wherever it might lurk. "There will be no sacred cows. Nobody, no matter who and where, will be allowed to get away with the breach of the law or the perpetration of corruption and evil." Nigeria must change its ways in order to "ensure progress, justice, harmony and unity and above all to rekindle confidence amongst our people. Confidence that their conditions will rapidly improve and that Nigeria will be great and will become a major world player in the near…[continue]

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