, Research Paper
Shell Oil and the Exploitation of Nigeria
Nigeria has been a country in political turmoil for a long time. The country was created in 1914 under British colonial rule and at that time it was considered a protectorate. It was not until 1960 that Nigeria received independence from the United Kingdom. One of Nigeria s problems politically is that it has over three hundred different ethnic groups. The three largest of these are the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, and Yoruba. At the time of the independence of Nigeria it was split up into three states with each state being under the control of one of the major ethnic groups. The natural resources of the other 297 ethnic groups were exploited for the major three groups, creating a situation of political unrest. This resulted in a military coup d etat throwing out the Prime Minister and replacing him with a major Igbo General. The minorities wanted a political restructuring through states and they won. There was an Igbo secession from Nigeria forming Biafra in Eastern Nigeria including the Ogoni territory. A three-year civil war broke out after this over the natural resources held by the minorities especially the oil in the Ogoni territory. After this Nigeria went through several forms of Military governments and a public election in 1993 was considered null and void by Gen. Babangida, he was taken over by Gen. Abacha in 1993 who was to be by far the most horrid dictator of Nigeria yet.
The plight of the Ogoni people has been heard around the world, they number around 500,000 and live in an area very rich in crude oil. Shell and other companies have drilling operations in the Ogoni territory but Shell is by far the major extractor of oil in the region. Do to the drilling and spillage of massive amounts of oil the ecosystem of the Ogoni people has been devastated. It resembles a wasteland with little to no vegetation and wildlife being very scarce. Furthermore the Ogoni people have received almost nothing for the all the oil exported from their land. An estimated 10 billion dollars a year is earned for the Nigerian government most of which is embezzled by high ranking officials or put into the military to keep the population oppressed. One man led his people to stand out against the tyranny named Ken Saro-Wiwa a native Ogoni who had gone off and became educated and very successful, but he came back to fight for the right of his people. He formed MOSOP(Movement for survival of Ogoni people) and vociferously spoke out against the government of Nigeria. He wrote a Bill of Rights calling for protection of the environment in the Ogoni region and basic rights for the Ogoni people. His Bill of Rights was completely ignored by the government. He went on to do peaceful demonstrations against Shell s oil plants where special police forces came in and killed and injured many Ogoni people. In May 1995 Ken Sao-Wiwa and his close MOSOP associates were accused of the murders of four Ogoni chiefs. Their trial was closed to the public Ken Saro-Wiwa s legal defense resigned saying that the trial was not impartial or independent and no matter what they would all be found guilty. Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his close associates were all hanged. Shell has since spent millions trying to repair the damage they inadvertently caused in Nigeria and the world s major powers have taken small actions against Nigeria.
Violation of Human Rights, destruction of the environment, and denial of freedom of speech and congregation are the ethical issues raised in this case. The Human Rights violations are many. The Nigerian special police force raped, tortured, and murdered hundreds who spoke out against the tyrannical government. All together they killed 2,000 Ogoni, razed 27 villages and displaced over 80,000 people who fled into the bush as refugees. The oil spills by the Shell Company, the lying of the pipeline across farmlands, and the extraction of the oil has raped the land of the Ogoni. The plant and wildlife in the region is all dying the soil becomes infertile and the air is no longer clean. These harms against the environment will take thousands of years to heal and can be seen as an atrocity that cannot be repaired. The last ethical issue I saw was the denial of the right of freedom of speech and assembly. The Ogoni made many peaceful demonstrations against Shell plants where each time the special police came out and gunned them down, certain times the police were called into action by Shell officials who knew the practices the police used to stop these demonstrations. The Nigerian government stated that all these altercations and deaths were just small communal fights. American officials went in to study these so called communal altercations and found that the weapons used could have only been of a military source.
The human values which are at stake are similar to the ethical issues which the case raises. In this case there is a minority which is being oppressed by the majority the ways they oppress are brutal and take away inalienable God given rights. The ways the Nigerian government acted led by Gen. Abacha were atrocious. The average Ogoni is unable to flourish in his/her environment. Education and medical are not available to most of the population. Of the 5,000 Shell employees in the region only 88 are Ogoni. For farmers their soil is infertile and their plant life is tainted. These people have no opportunity to flourish in their environment that has been brought down upon them by their own government and giant western oil companies. For humanity to flourish it must respect each other and help those in need. The Ogoni s ecosystem was fine before the oil companies came in. After the human rights violations happened Ken Saro-Wiwa stood up and he and his followers were hung for it. The entire world knew an innocent man stood out against a tyrannical government and was killed for crimes he did not commit, and they stood by and did very little. Still today they do very little and all these things continue though not as out in the open as they used to.
John Stuart Mill s Utilitarianism is the ethical context system for this case. His basic theory was the greatest good for the greatest number for the greatest amount of time. Ecological harm hurts a large number of people in mostly small ways one could ignore however, the amount of time that this harm exists is very great and odds are it will be polluted in the future faster than it takes for the Earth to heal itself. Where the Ogoni s oil was taken by Shell and parts of the profits allocated to the Nigerian government there is a major misallocation of who received the money generated by the oil. The oil generates 10 billion dollars a year to the Nigerian government from producing the vast amounts of oil, this was embezzled by high ranking military officials. Supposedly 3% of profits from the oil of the Ogoni was supposed to be reinvested in their community the real percentage at best according to Greenpeace was .000007. So for the greatest good for the greatest number we see many people losing their resources, farmland, and ecology while a few Military officials become insanely rich off the poverty of many. As for the human right violations, any ethical context system would find them wrong and unjust. I found though, that in this case many people were hurt while few where helped and the way those that were hurt was great and those that were helped it was trivial since it was monetary. I chose Utilitarianism for this case since its philosophy is to maximize good in the best way for as many people for the longest time.
The ethical shortcomings in the case are many but there are couple ethical strengths in the case. Such as some of the things Shell oil company did to repair the damage done to the Ogoni region. The Ogoni region was rich in oil and that is where Shell drilled, they paid their fair share of revenue to the Nigerian government for the oil, it is not their fault the Ogoni received nothing for the devastation of their land. When Shell officials called in the police there were thousands of protesters outside their plant, peaceful or not it is intimidating and no one wants to lose a multi-million dollar plant. Shell has donated over a 100 million dollars specifically to the Ogoni region to help its environment and people. Shell does hold part of the blame but they do more than their fair share to correct the problems while the Nigerian government still does nothing but oppress the people and keep down revolutionaries with an iron fist. As for the many shortcomings in the case the killing of peaceful protesters, hanging innocent men after a mock trial in which press and public were forbidden, the devastation of a culture through murder, pillaging, and destruction of their land have already been discussed.
One conflict would be the necessity of oil in the modern world and effects of taking it from the land in third world areas where compensation is not given to the area and people from where it was removed. Before the entire Nigerian, incident Shell was ranked number one in the oil industry (it moved to three afterwards) and it took a large portion of its oil from Nigeria. As oil is necessary and Nigeria has oil deposits it will be drilled. Every year massive amounts of oil is spilled the effects of having crude oil spilled is very harsh on the land. Between 1982 and 1992 an estimated 1.6 million gallons of oil was spilled from Shell s Nigerian fields. This is just something that happens in areas where oil is being extracted and transported. Though what is happening to the Ogoni is wrong it is inevitable in a way, due to the need of oil, the natural resources the Ogoni region has and the impoverished corrupt country in which the situation takes place.
Had I been the principle decision maker, as soon as I learned of how bad it was for the Ogoni people I would have gone to General Abacha and told him he needs to remedy the situation. When the rest of the world learned of it there would be a terrible backlash. Foreign powers would cut off aid, loans, and possibly restrict trade. There would be protests and consumers would stop buying the gasoline from our company causing sales to drop. In the case where it would become threatening the companies would have to withdraw and move to other areas and as oil is 80% of Nigeria s source of money the country would be left crippled.
My direction is justified by Mill s Utilitarianism since it calls for a halt to the poor treatment of the Ogoni people. Mill states that one should act for the greatest good and the goal of morality. How the Ogoni people are treated is a far cry from the word good. Mill states that some pleasures are qualitatively better than other pleasures such as the intellectual pleasure is better than the physical one. But what of the pleasure to live that the Ogoni and those that protest against the government lose. The basic core of Utilitarianism is greatest good for the greatest number for the greatest amount of time. In the application of this theory one would first think stopping the drilling in the Ogoni area would be right. But there are two conflicting values though, the good of the Ogoni and the need of the world for gasoline. One good is greater and lasts longer while the other good is for a much greater amount of people. I believe there would have to be a mean where the Ogoni could live a decent life and the world would still receive oil from the Ogoni and Nigerian oilfields.
Three policies the company could have done to prevent or fix the situation in Nigeria are, have a much more efficient transportation system, better flow of cash back to the Ogoni region for the removal of their oil, and having a majority of workers being from the region the plants were in. 40% of all Shell oil spills were in Nigeria. Had they had a better system of moving the oil much of this could have been averted. Realistically how hard can it be to put a barrel on a truck and make sure it does not fall off. Gen. Abacha was a powerful dictator with no sympathy for the Ogoni people, it would be hard to convince him to help them out. But as most men like him they relate very well to money. Threatening him with the possible outcomes of continuing the situation as it was could possibly get him to divert some funds back to the Ogoni. The last policy of hiring more Ogoni to work at the plants would at least increase the flow of money back into their community. Had Shell done one or more of these policies this crisis might not have been as horrible as it was.