Ogoniland at a crossroad

How Nigeria and Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company have set Ogoniland on fire

“I tell you this, I may be dead but my ideas will not die!” Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Historical overview of the Ogoni Nation

Ogoniland is inhabited by the Ogoni people, one of many indigenous peoples in southeastern Nigeria. The Ogoni population numbers over 1 million, living in a territory of 404 square miles (1,050 sq. km). Ogoni is divided into six kingdoms: Babbe, Eleme, Gokana, Ken-Khana, Nyo -Khana, and Tai, with two special areas, Bori Urban and Ban-Ogoi. The primary occupations of the Ogoni people are agriculture, fishing, palm oil cultivation, and trading. Bori is the administrative capital of Ogoniland.

Oil discovery in Ogoniland

In 1936 the Dutch-British petroleum company Royal Dutch Shell Group established a venture in Nigeria with British Petroleum, precursor to BP Plc. In 1958, oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Ogoniland. The discovery of oil changed the landscape for the Ogoni environment, ecosystem and way of life. In 1973, the Nigeria government took 55 percent ownership of the venture, becoming the majority owner. The remaining 45 percent minority ownership was divided among three big oil companies: Shell took 30 percent, France’s Total S.A. 10 percent and Italy’s Eni S.p.A. five percent. Shell assumed the management of the new venture, named Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).

Environmental effects

Ogoniland, according to the BBC, experienced nearly 3,000 oil spills between 1976 and 1991; the Nigerian Department of Petroleum Resources, the country’s oil and gas regulator, estimates that 1.89 million barrels of petroleum were spilled into the Niger Delta between 1976 and 1996; whereas the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) states that 6,817 oil spills were recorded between 1976 and 2001, adding up to 3 million barrels of oil. A quarter of that spilled into in swamps, and six percent spilled on land. According to Reuters, SPDC pumps more than 1 million barrels of oil per day from Ogoniland as of 2003.

MOSOP and the call for remediation

In 1990, the Ogoni people formed an NGO, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), to draw the attention of the Nigerian Government, Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company, and the international community to issues surrounding oil exploration, spillages, leaks and slicks in Ogoniland. The movement was necessary because oil spillage was threatening the Ogoni environment, ecosystem, and way of life.  The movement was led by Africa’s renowned environmentalist and writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa. The Nigerian government, in collaboration with Shell Oil, silenced him and the Ogoni movement by hanging Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of the leaders of the movement in 1995. “I tell you this, I may be dead but my ideas will not die,” said Ken Saro-Wiwa.

United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)

In 2011, following international outcry against the effects of oil spills in Ogoniland, Nigeria and Shell Oil commissioned the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to conduct a scientific environmental assessment of Ogoniland. According to the UNEP recommendations, “oil contamination in Ogoniland is widespread and severely impacting many components of the Ogoni environment. The Ogoni people live with this pollution every minute of the day, 365 days a year.” It also identified communities in Ogoniland that have been consuming water with benzene over 900 times the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline. The report also asserted that it would take upward of 30 years and an initial capital injection of $1 billion to begin clean up of the Ogoni environment and ecosystem.

On June 2, 2016 the Buhari Administration launched the clean-up of Ogoniland and commissioned the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) as its pivotal agency in charge of the project.  The agency which is now smeared in corrupt practices has so far released the names of 16 contractors it awarded the contract for the Ogoni cleanup and remediation. HYPREP has also supposedly paid 714 million in local currency as upfront advanced payment representing 15 percent of the project cost according to the project coordinator; with nothing to show for it beside signage that reads, “PROHIBITION: WATER NOT FIT FOR USE.” Also, a report by Premium Times, a local publication, revealed that some of the awardees have nothing to do with environmental remediation. Rather, some were in the business of palm oil production and refining. 

The position of the Ogoni Nation on clean-up

The Ogoni people have insisted that the Nigerian Government and Royal Shell Oil Company should apply the same standard and methods applicable to oil cleaning and remediation in the western world. Namely, by hiring a consortium of international oil spill remediation firms with knowledge of environmental remediation as well as ecosystem and wetland protection under the supervision of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Nigerian Government - clamor for resumption of oil production in Ogoniland

In the mist of the confusion resulting from the award of contracts for the clean-up of contaminated oil sites in Ogoniland, about which nothing has being done; on March 01, 2019, Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari released a memo, with reference number: SH/COS/24/A/8540 transferring operatorship of Shell Oil assets to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), and Nigerian National Development Company (NNDC). The memo was a revocation of the operating licenses of Shell Oil for OML 11 in Ogoniland, transferring such to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and its upstream subsidiary the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NNDC.

The decision has fueled much insecurity and bloodshed in the Ogoni area and nobody can tell the sponsors of those gladiatorum but the Ogonis are well aware that the Nigerian government and Royal Shell Oil Company are culpable. But I tell you this, I may be dead but my ideas will not die!

Public health

While the Nigerian Government and Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company are masquerading and focused on oil exploration in Ogoniland because of the rich, sulphur-free oil content found in Ogoniland, there is an undiscussed issue which is the health of the Ogoni people. The rising death toll, as well as miscarriages, migraines, cancer, diarrhea, and the increasing carcinogens/toxins in the water and food supply is concerning. Pope Francis deeply deliberated on the value of our ecology. Local vegetation has been the primary source of Ogoni medicine. However, we know that our entire ecosystem has been destroyed by Shell, to whom shall we turn to?

The Ogoni people are now demanding a Social Impact Assessment and Biometrics Studies in Ogoniland. This study would reveal the impact or effects of toxic chemicals in the human body. The biometrics monitoring would enable the measurement of the presence and concentration of chemical compounds or their metabolites in human bio specimens such as blood, urine, breastmilk, adipose tissues, hair, saliva and meconium.


In this day and age we ought not to be at peace over this critical issue. I earnestly plead and invite the world not to ignore the rapid slow death of the Ogoni ethnic nationality. The Nigerian Government and Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company are poised to displace the Ogoni people by whatever means necessary to be able to harness the oil resources found in abundance in the area.

Understand that Ogonis are not against oil exploration, but they have insisted that their demands in the Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) be respected; exoneration of their leaders murdered in the 1990s; and the cleanup of the contaminated environment and ecosystem; and a social and biometric assessment of the Ogoni people and environment are foremost remedies before the resumption of oil exploration in their area.

“I tell you this, I may be dead but my ideas will not die!” Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Br. Anthony Kote-Witah, OFM, Cap.