A business quest for peace
Human Rights (UNGPs) emphasize the need for a principled approach to doing business; preventing and addressing the risk of adverse impacts on human rights and maintaining the safety and security of business operations within an operating framework that encourages respect for human rights. Corporations frequently confront sensitive, complex environments and varied expectations among stakeholders that pose serious challenges to their business operations. An example of such a business climate is the oil-rich Niger Delta area. This region is home to ethnic groups such as Ijaws, Itsekiris, Ilajes, Ogonis, and Andonis. International oil companies (IOCs) including Shell Petroleum, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron operate in this zone. The area is known as a conflict zone, given the incessant conflicts, particularly between oil companies and the Indigenous people. According to Forrer et al. (2012) “extractive companies are arguably among the most entrenched private-sector actors in conflict.” Moreover, as pointed out by Gonzalez (2010), oil has created a fluid, dark foundation which has resulted in many of the world’s wars, conflicts, and grievances. In the Niger Delta, oil exploration and exploitation have created new conflicts or fueled old ones. “These conflicts are neither special nor unique to the Niger Delta. However, the intensity and dynamics of these conflicts have been affected by both the presence of and politics of oil” (Onuoha, 2005, p. 77). In particular, the activities of extractive companies that involve the use and possible degradation and pollution of land and water have had a negative impact on Indigenous people’s human, economic, social, and environmental rights. Frequent clashes between companies and communities have led to loss of lives, properties, and livelihoods (Amadi and Tamuno, 1999; Falode et al., 2006; Odoemene, 2012; Olujimi et al., 2011). Unfortunately, the Nigerian Government has failed to regulate the conduct of oil firms. The absence or inadequate enforcement of monitoring measures or policies aimed at checking on oil business activities has resulted in practices that defy efforts at greater transparency and best practices in business operations. Hence the constant friction between the Indigenous people and the multinational oil companies, which are generally considered complicit in the conflict context and surrogates of the Nigerian Government. Despite the cries of discontent by the people, the oil companies have capitalized on the government’s lackadaisical attitude and taken the liberty to behave badly in their quest for profit. For instance, by 1984, flaring of gas with its attendant environmental consequences had been made technically illegal by the government. However, the oil companies could get around the law that required them to re-inject the gas into the earth rather than flare it by paying a penalty or fine, which was considered far less expensive. This angered Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Niger Delta indigene from Ogoni in Rivers state and an environmental rights activist, who wrote in 1992:
The government’s refusal to facilitate socioeconomic development in the area has aggravated the situation. The wealth derived from oil by the Nigerian Federation is not reflected in the socioeconomic life of the oil-producing communities and does not improve their standards of living (Human Rights Watch, 2002; SaroWiwa, 1992). In his remarks regarding globalization, Kaur (2014, p. 149) wrote that “the region remains grossly underdeveloped, pauperized, marginalized and largely a poverty zone. The basic facilities and infrastructure of a modern society like potable water, electricity, health care facilities are lacking in the area.” The Niger Delta is also believed to be suffering from injustices based on minority status in the Nigerian Federation (Osaghae, 1995). The central government, which is controlled by the major ethnic groups, has absolute control of the distribution of revenues as well as the ownership of land and crude oil through the Land Use Act of 1978 and the Petroleum Act of 1969. The implication of these injustices is that the Indigenous people are denied adequate development resources, the right to participate in the industry they host, and the right of compensation when their environment and livelihood are destroyed during oil exploration. The result is the rise of ethnic and minority-rights groups’ demands for equity and justice for their people. Between 1990 and 1999 no fewer than 24 minority-rights pressure groups emerged (Obi, 2002), including the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), and the Ijaw National Congress (INC). Some of these groups have made declarations and demands that call attention to the plight of their communities in a bid to promote social equity and achieve economic and environmental justice. These declarations include the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the Kaiama Declaration, Aklaka Declaration of the Egi people, the Oron Bill of Rights, the Warri Accord, and the Resolutions of the First Urhobo Economic Summit (Ekine, 2001). Militant groups sprang up and attacked oil facilities and anything that symbolized government and oil companies’ presence. Between 2000 and 2007, over 12,000 cases of vandalism were recorded particularly relating to Nigerian oil pipelines and installations with most reports coming from the Niger Delta (Nwankwo and Ezeobi, 2008). Kidnappings of oil workers and expatriates for ransom became a regular occurrence. In just over one year, January 2006 to February 2007, there were 33 reports of kidnapping of over 200 people. Most of those victims were expatriate oil workers (Africa Masterweb, 2007). As the spate of attacks on their facilities and the kidnap of their workers and service providers surged, oil companies declared force majeure on their operations, claiming they were unable to carry out their legitimate business activities. Disruptions of oil production took a heavy financial toll on the oil companies. Government coffers suffered with each attack as well. Income from oil production was the primary source of state revenues (80%), foreign exchange earnings (90%), and export revenues (96%) (Emuedo, 2014). This blow to the economy has been the
basis of the government’s response to the agitations and armed struggles by the Indigenous people of Niger Delta. As stated in TELL magazine (1995, p. 49), “threats by the local communities struggling for redress were mostly followed by intensified security siege.” The hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa1 in 1995 was strongly connected with security reports that indicted him as the principal saboteur of Nigeria’s oil industry.