Fr. Kevin O'Hara of SACA addressing the Commission in the Government Conference Hall, Bayelsa State
The Executive Governor of Bayelsa State, Hon. Seriake Dickson, on March 27, 2019, set up an International Commission of Inquiry on Oil and the Environment in Bayelsa State, to investigate years of pollutions, insecurity and terrorism in the State, which the governor attributed to the multinational oil companies especially Agip. According to the governor, “Agip is not interested in the stability and safety of our communities. This is how far they have escalated their terrorist activities. So when we talk of environmental terrorism perpetrated, funded and encouraged by IOCs, you come to Bayelsa and you see a classic case.” The Commission is headed by the outspoken Archbishop of York and UK parliamentarian, Dr. John Sentamu, and made up of other reputable international lawyers and forensic experts, including the UK’s Baroness Valerie Amos, Ghana’s former President, John Kufour, and top professors from the US, Canada, the UK and Switzerland.
However, some stakeholders argue that the Governor was only fighting a political battle and only used his position as incumbent governor to assemble these global legal and environmental heavyweights and eggheads to his advantage. They argue that the ‘terrorists’ the governor alleged to be sponsored by Agip are only Agip contractors who, having become rich from the contracts, are now interested in running for the governorship position in the forth-coming gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa State under the opposition APC political party.
Be that as it may, the setup of this Commission, came, as it were, as a golden opportunity for SACA to impress on both the government and the oil companies to cleanup the environmental mess in the State for the sake of the endangered masses in the area. SACA came into the picture with a clearly neutral and apolitical position and not only presented the Commission with real facts but also urged the Commission to also invite and hear from the oil companies and establish fair and equitable grounds to prosecute the issues. SACA first met with the Commission’s Legal Counsel and former Attorney General of Bayelsa State, Bar. Kemasuode Wodu, on April 17, 2019, in the State House where it briefed the former Attorney General on the numerous issues the former had sought to address with the oil companies in the Delta over the years including the environment.
SACA introduced to Mr. Wodu a damning research report co-authored (unknown to the former Attorney General) by a member of the Commission, Prof. Roland Hodler, which showed that about 16,000 neonatal infant deaths occurred in the Niger Delta in 2012 alone (when the environment was not nearly as bad as it is today) because of proximity (within 10km) to oil spill sites, and that 11,000 of those would have survived their first year if there were no onshore oil spills (Bruederle, A., R. Hodler: The Effect of Oil Spills on Infant Mortality: Evidence from Nigeria, Munich Society for the Promotion of Economic Research (CESifo), 2017). SACA had in 2018 contacted the 2 professors in Switzerland who carried out the research and they affirmed that they stood solidly behind their report and had their facts. SACA had also presented the report to managers of Shell Nigeria as reason to clean up the huge Oruma oil spill, and they flippantly remarked that NGOs were always blaming Shell for everything. SACA also gave over a dozen more publications and reports to the former Attorney General regarding the issues.
SACA does not know the governor personally or have any interests whatsoever in his ambitions, politically or otherwise; neither does it have any stake in any company or contractor’s interests. Its interest is justice for the innocent poor and the remedy of the damaged environment. And its fortuitous alliance with the Commission is doing just that. SACA’s presentations and position reassured the Commission that they were fighting a genuine cause after all, and fortified them to forge ahead into full swing with the enquiry. SACA is currently helping to connect the Commission with top managements of the oil companies, especially Agip and Shell.
The Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Sentamu, said to SACA’s Chairman: “Monsignor O'Hara, you have saved this Commission...." Dr. Sentamu made this declaration after SACA’s presentations at a special hearing for it by the Commission in Yenagoa on May 25, 2019.
Some members of the Commission after meeting with SACA staff
It is important to note that SACA had earlier within this project, in February, 2019, reached out to the Archbishop of Cantabury, Justin Welby, who had been known to SACA staff for years, sharing information about its work with him and inviting him to send a representative to come and see things for himself on the degree of environmental damages attributed to the IOCs’ operations in the Niger Delta. SACA promised the Archbishop to foot the bill of his emissary’s flights and other logistics to Nigeria. However, the Archbishop declined sending anyone and instead preferred that SACA sorted things out locally. He referred SACA to the local bishop of the Anglican Communion in Yenagoa. SACA met with the local bishop, Bishop Emmanuel Okojiajia and his assistant, Ven. Odibukuma, at St. Peter's Anglican Church, Yenagoa, on February 26, 2019. However, even though the prelates accepted to collaborate with SACA, the meeting was lackluster and might not be as effective as what SACA expects with Archbishop Welby. Mr. Welby’s response reminds one of the rulings in January 2017 and February 2018 by the courts of England that aggrieved Niger Delta farmers and communities could not be allowed to seek redress against Shell in the UK courts but would have to do that back in Nigeria, even when Shell (or even SPDC) has no shareholders in Nigeria nor is quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
However, the Anglican Communion’s No. 2 man, Dr. Sentamu, who confirmed to SACA that the Church of England owns 20% share in the Royal Dutch Shell, assured SACA that he would get the Anglican Church Commissioners to take action on SACA’s reports and the huge environmental crisis in the Niger Delta which he himself had witnessed during their tours of the host communities. Also following SACA’s meetings in Abuja with 7 embassies including those of the UK, Ireland, Dutch, Sweden, the Swedish embassy wants to organize a wider forum of all the EU embassies in Nigeria to hear more details from SACA and take action on the issues raised including the possible outcome of the Sentamu-led Commission of Inquiry.
Currently, arrangements are in top gear by the Commission and SACA to bring top managements of the accused multinationals to the UK for hearing (evidence sessions) on the alleged roles of their companies in the environmental crisis in the Delta. Meanwhile, a separate arrangement is also being made for a major meeting between SACA, the Sentamu-led Commission (and possibly the Anglican Church Commissioners) and the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) in Oxford.
It is also pertinent to note that ECCR had, earlier within this project, published on the UK Church Times their delight with the new synergy between SACA and this Commission, lamenting Shell's insincerity and attempts to frustrate or undermine SACA's otherwise positive efforts. According to ECCR's Chair, Christopher Stockwell, in the publication, "this (the inquiry into oil spills in the Delta) is a saga going back some 25 years. For almost as long, the ECCR has been raising this matter at Shell AGMs and in correspondence with Shell. Shell’s attitude has been that Fr. Kevin O’Hara, Chair of SACA, the local representative organization in the Delta, can be ignored, and the whole problem can be treated as economically irrelevant and presented as due to local disturbances and unrest. The sad reality is that there has been little attempt by Shell to ensure that the local people benefit from the exploitation of the immense resources under their land. There has been corruption, in relation to which Shell and ENI now face multiple prosecutions.”