Niger Delta Case Study

Niger Delta shanty town

Niger Delta: a case of environmental catastrophe on a vast scale. After 50 years of oil, Port Harcourt in southern Nigeria still looks and smells like a shantytown. Smoke from a slaughterhouse drifts over shops thrown up on a riverbank.

Update November 2016

For recent news on this, see the November 2015 Amnesty International report and catch up with the latest attempts to make Shell accountable (PDF file download):  Amnesty International 2015 Niger Delta Report

BBC report: Shell brought before London court in March 2016

Niger Delta pollution

A. Introduction

The Niger Delta is one of the most polluted places on earth. A case study of this degraded environment needs to examine wide range of issues: poverty and social conflict, combined with a history of irresponsible practice by multinational corporations exploiting the environment with the help of repressive local political regimes.

To examine the causes and analyse the situation fully, the case study should look at the following factors:

1. The effect of oil drilling, refining and oil spills on the environment
2. Social and economic effects on the people of the Niger Delta region
3. Brief summary of the governance of Nigeria (how it went from colonial rule to independence, democracy, civil war, dictatorship, etc.)  A paragraph will do.
4. Relationship between Shell oil company and Nigerian state. Key points only: how has the Nigerian government enabled foreign oil companies to exploit the delta?
5. International regulation: what intervention has there been to stop this?
6. Local protest: non-violent protest, turning to armed conflict (MEND), (issues of wider terrorism may be mentioned in passing.)

B. Exploring the evidence

1. To begin your study read and make notes on the very short Niger Delta case study in your book (p.373)

2. Compare the article Nigeria’s Volatile Delta and make notes on that to complement the material in the book.  (This material is from the US Council on Foreign Relations – homepage – a think tank focusing on foreign policy choices facing the United States.)

3. Read and make notes on National Geographic article, Curse of the Black Gold: Hope and betrayal on the Niger Delta

4. Now continue your study with the following sections C to E.

5. A draft case study should be written for the start of the new term in September. Please get the study into shape and we will look at ways to edit it into a neat copy when we start again.

C. Additional optional reading

Optional in this case doesn’t mean ignore all of it! Take a look at these references and see which of them interests you most, or provides accessible information to add to your case study.

Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink which gives a former US ambassador’s impressions of the state of Nigeria.

(Optional article on geopolitics of China-Africa oil. This is interesting as a future prospect but has no bearing on the environmental degradation of the present.)

International Crisis Group documents:

2008 CrisisGroup report – Ogoni land after Shell

2009 CrisisGroup report – Nigeria Seizing the Moment in the Niger Delta

“The environmental problems discussed in this case study have continued for many years and any solutions – like those suggested in our conclusion – will be subject to the future stability of Nigeria and the Delta region. As the country’s general and regional elections draw near, a report from the International Crisis Group suggests it is unlikely that the country will find a more stable future after February 2015….”

November 2014 CrisisGroup report – February 2015 elections 

Swamps of Insurgency:  The_swamps_of_insurgency_nigeria_s_delta_unrest

US army academic thesis on possible counter-insurgency operations in Niger Delta: US Military investigation into insurgency in Niger Delta

The case against Shell in 2009 was set out in the protest website where there is a video telling the story of the protest movement of the Ogoni people which eventually led to the executions of nine of their leaders including Ken Saro-Wiwa.  Days before the hearing in court, Shell agreed to an out-of-court settlement of $15.5 million to victims’ families but denied any liability for the deaths.

Greenpeace article alleging Shell admits funding Niger Delta warlords.

Workers subcontracted by Shell Oil Company clean up an oil spill from an abandoned Shell Petroleum Development Company well in Oloibiri, Niger Delta. Wellhead 14 was closed in 1977 but has been leaking for years, and in June of 2004 it finally released an oil spill of over 20,000 barrels of crude oil.

Workers subcontracted by Shell Oil Company clean up an oil spill from an abandoned Shell Petroleum Development Company well in Oloibiri, Niger Delta. Wellhead 14 was closed in 1977 but has been leaking for years, and in June of 2004 it finally released an oil spill of over 20,000 barrels of crude oil.

Amnesty International documents:

Amnesty International 2005 report, ten years after executions of Ogoni protest leaders: Delta Ten Years On – Amnesty 2005

Amnesty International Report Amnesty Report 2013

Amnesty International November 2014: announces Shell admits lying about extent of oil spills

Court documents released by Amnesty in November 2014 reveal the extent of Shell’s knowledge about oil spills:

Celina Naadueba & Others and Shell

Claim HQ12X04933

Denkore Donu & others and Shell

Kembe Sangbara & Others Residing in Lewe and Shell

D. Video material on the Niger Delta:

Guardian report (

Amnesty International report (2011) The oil company Shell has had a disastrous impact on the human rights of the people living in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, said Amnesty International, responding to a UN report on the effects of oil pollution in Ogoniland in the Delta region.

Amnesty International report (November 13th 2014) Court documents expose Shell’s false claims on Nigeria oil spills. Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues explains the significance of these documents and the potential repercussions.

The Real Story of Nigeria: an exhaustive but quite compelling two and a half hour documentary.

E. The Yes Men

A spoof video by “The Yes Men” (Mar 28, 2010) giving their version of what Shell should say to the people of the Niger Delta.

“The Yes Men” we will not watch the full documentary of their international hoaxes aimed at exposing the bad side of globalisation, as we cannot justify the amount of lesson time, but watch it at home if you wish. It is fun to watch, but the key thing is to observe the novel way that the Yes Men raise awareness of issues. Do you think the trick they played on the Bhopal survivors was morally justified? They believed for a few hours that the company was going to compensate them, then found it was untrue.  (Brief details of what happened at Bhopal – the worst ever industrial accident – are on page 380 of your A-level Geography text.)

F. Niger Delta chronology

1938 Shell D’Arcy obtains licence to explore for oil throughout Nigeria.

1956 Shell drills first successful well at Oloibiri, Bayelsa State; company renamed Shell-BP

Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.

1958 First shipment of crude oil from Nigeria.

1970 Controversy over oil spill at Ebubu-Eleme, Rivers State.

1979 State-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) increases equity in company to 60%, then to 80%; company renamed Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).

1992 Mismanaged oil spills result in widespread protests.

1993-4 Peaceful Ogoni protests against Shell and lack of economic development. Nigerian military government occupies Ogoni region. Shell launches new corporate social responsibility programme focused on community assistance.

1995 More than 3,000 Ogoni reportedly die under occupation by military. International protests. Shell publishes newspaper advertisements asking for protests to end. Writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders executed on trumped-up charges by Nigerianauthorities. UK Prime Minister John Major condemns killings as ‘judicial murder’. Nigeria suspended from the Commonwealth.

1997 Pensions Investment Research Consultants, ECCR and others, supported by WWF and Amnesty International UK, submit shareholders’ resolution to the AGM of Shell Transport & Trading regarding environmental and human rights impacts of Shell operations in Nigeria. 10.5% of votes cast in support, 6.5% abstain.

1998 Nigeria’s military ruler General Abacha dies. The Ogoni Twenty are freed by the transitional government led by General Abubakar. Nigeria readmitted to the Commonwealth.

2005 Shell merges its two arms – Netherlands-based Royal Dutch and UK-based Shell Transport & Trading – into a single entity headquartered in the Netherlands.

2008 Four Nigerian citizens and Friends of the Earth Netherlands/Nigeria file lawsuit against Shell in The Hague alleging the company caused environmental damage abroad.

2009 Shell settles out of court in US cases Wiwa v. Royal Dutch/Shell, Wiwa v. Anderson, and Wiwa v. SPDC. $15.5 million settlement to compensate plaintiffs, establish a trust for the Ogoni and cover plaintiffs’ legal costs.



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