11-09 IK-Nigeriaflickr
Dead trees dot the landscape of the Ogoni people of Nigeria. They have had their environment contaminated by oil companies for over 50 years. Photo credit: Flickr/Socialist Youth League of Norway

By ELAINE MATTHEWS

Ogoniland is the home of the Ogoni people in Nigeria, west Africa. Oil was discovered more than 50 years ago and has been produced there by large international companies ever since.  Shell Oil pulled out of oil production in Ogoniland in 1993 after 300,000 Ogonis protested about the failure of Shell and the Nigerian government to address widespread pollution. However, pipelines and other facilities remain and oil production continues under Shell’s Nigerian partner, Shell Petroleum Development Company.

For many years, organizations such as the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and Amnesty International (an international human rights organization) have provided evidence of oil pollution in Nigeria.  Problems include contamination of rivers and farmland that has destroyed the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen, made the water undrinkable, and caused lung and skin problems.

Efforts for environmental justice recently received support when the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) released the first scientific report documenting the massive oil pollution in Nigeria by Shell Oil and its Nigerian partner. UN scientists investigated 200 sites.  Joseph Alcamo, UNEP chief scientist said, “UNEP believes that oil contamination in Ogoniland has created an environmental crisis of unprecedented proportions.

A few days before release of the UN report, Shell Oil acknowledged responsibility for two large oil spills in 2008 and 2009, including a promise to carry out clean-up. However, Shell continues to claim, without evidence, that most of the oil spills are caused not by their poor practices, but by theft and vandalism.