The Nigerian Republic of Royal Dutch Shell

I didn’t have time write about this when the relevant cable first came out, but I was reminded by a CBS roundup of “How WikiLeaks Enlightened us in 2010” to go back and take a look. It’s disturbing but not particularly surprising to longtime observers and critics. Royal Dutch Shell has essentially become, according to the company itself, the industrial octopus inside Nigeria’s government, even in the “democratic” era:

Cables from Nigeria show how Ann Pickard, then Shell’s vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa, sought to share intelligence with the US government on militant activity and business competition in the contested Niger Delta – and how, with some prescience, she seemed reluctant to open up because of a suspicion the US government was “leaky”.

But that did not prevent Pickard disclosing the company’s reach into the Nigerian government when she met US ambassador Robin Renee Sanders, as recorded in a confidential memo from the US embassy in Abuja on 20 October 2009.

At the meeting, Pickard related how the company had obtained a letter showing that the Nigerian government had invited bids for oil concessions from China. She said the minister of state for petroleum resources, Odein Ajumogobia, had denied the letter had been sent but Shell knew similar correspondence had taken place with China and Russia.

The ambassador reported: “She said the GON [government of Nigeria] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries.”


What are some of the consequences of this level of control in Nigeria by an oil company? Here’s what I looked at back in June, for example:

How much is being spilled or is leaking? Well, right now there are about 300 incidents a year, and that has added up over the decades.

One report, compiled by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union and representatives from the Nigerian federal government and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, calculated in 2006 that up to 1.5m tons of oil – 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska – has been spilled in the delta over the past half century. Last year Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled and accused the oil companies of a human rights outrage.

According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillages sites, many going back decades, with thousands of smaller ones still waiting to be cleared up. More than 1,000 spill cases have been filed against Shell alone.

Last month Shell admitted to spilling 14,000 tonnes of oil in 2009. The majority, said the company, was lost through two incidents – one in which the company claims that thieves damaged a wellhead at its Odidi field and another where militants bombed the Trans Escravos pipeline.


Caption: 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. Above: Workers subcontracted by Shell Oil Company clean it up. | photo & caption by Ed Kashi, via citisven

Nigeria is now America’s third-largest oil supplier, even beating Saudi Arabia, from which we get about 40% of our oil. It’s time to do something about this.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Wave of terrorism in Nigeria?

A year ago, the world was focused on a young Nigerian man who had packed explosives into his underwear and tried to blow up a transatlantic flight over Michigan on Christmas Day. But as he was not trained in Nigeria (in fact, Yemen, which is much more commonly associated with terrorist threats), and as he was not “typical” of those considered at risk for falling in with terrorists (he was nicknamed the “Trust-Fund Terrorist”) the world’s eye soon turned away from Nigeria as a big terrorism risk. At present, though he may have been an unrelated outlier, this response is starting look have looked premature unfortunately…

October 1, twin car bombs go off in the midst of a re-election rally for President Jonathan:

All that was left of two cars packed with explosives was their smouldering chassis after they had been blown up on October 1st near Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, while surrounded by unsuspecting citizens celebrating the 50th anniversary of their country’s independence. At least 12 people died and dozens were injured in this year’s most worrying act of political violence. A well-known rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which is most active in the oil-producing south, claimed responsibility but blamed the government for the deaths, insisting that it had ignored back-channel warnings given 24 hours before the blasts.

The attacks took place close to President Goodluck Jonathan, as he was reviewing a parade a few hundred yards away in front of invited dignitaries. Shortly before the bombings he had declared: “There is certainly much to celebrate: our freedom, our strength, our unity and our resilience.”
The attack in Abuja is unlikely to be the last act of political violence in Nigeria before the poll. The country’s police say they foiled a similar attack in September.

Christmas Eve bombings spark riots:

Clashes broke out between armed Christian and Muslim groups near the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, a Reuters witness said, after Christmas Eve bombings in the region killed more than 30 people.

Buildings were set ablaze and people were seen running for cover as the police and military arrived on the scene in an effort to disperse crowds. Injured people covered in blood were being dragged by friends and family to hospital.

The unrest was triggered by explosions on Christmas Eve in villages near Jos, capital of Plateau state, that killed at least 32 people and left 74 critically injured.

December 29, Islamist group explodes two bombs in the Delta Region at a political rally:

Bombs hit a political rally in a southern Nigerian city on Wednesday, a day after three people were shot and killed in the north of the country, as tensions rose before a series of elections next year. The two bombs exploded in the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa’s largest oil and gas industry, and the police said they caused injuries but no deaths. Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group, was believed to be behind the killing of the three people on Tuesday, the police said. The victims, including a senior police officer, were killed when men fired shots in a teaching hospital in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.

There are two relatively distinct political problems in Nigeria that could involve terrorism: a north/south geopolitical and cultural divide and the ongoing Niger Delta conflict. While the problem of internecine violence between those identifying with the country’s north and those identifying with the south has been a lengthy one, there is some question as to whether it is taking on a more terroristic edge.

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Death penalty primarily in cases with white victim

Sociological Images just posted about how the race of the victim determines whether the perpetrator gets the death penalty.

Even though half of all homicide victims are black, 77% of cases that result in the death penalty have a white victim. That’s a pretty clear indicator of what kind of lives we value.

The data is since 1976, and an Amnesty International report from 1990 shows similar patterns. Things might be improving (or they might not; it’s hard to find this kind of information), but they are still pretty bad:

A January 2003 study released by the University of Maryland concluded that race and geography are major factors in death penalty decisions. Specifically, prosecutors are more likely to seek a death sentence when the race of the victim is white and are less likely to seek a death sentence when the victim is African-American.

A 2007 study of death sentences in Connecticut conducted by Yale University School of Law revealed that African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white. In addition, killers of white victims are treated more severely than people who kill minorities, when it comes to deciding what charges to bring.

But let’s be cautious in how we handle this information: the solution should not be to give more people the death penalty, but to give fewer people the death penalty.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Guinea violence renewed after election upset

Supporters of (initial) frontrunner presidential candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo reacted with violence this week after the 11/7 election was preliminarily certified in favor of “underdog” candidate and opposition leader Alpha Conde, in the first elections since decolonization. Diallo had finished significantly ahead of Conde in the summer’s first round election but the delays and postponements of the second round apparently allowed Conde to catch up.

After a tense run up to the poll and a long wait for the results, Conde was declared winner with 52.5 percent of the vote, confirming he had succeeded in overhauling Diallo’s first round lead and cancelling out an alliance Diallo secured with the third-placed candidate.

The poll is hoped to provide legal certainty for billions of dollars of recent investment by mining firms in Guinea’s bauxite and iron ore riches.

The two candidates each represent one of the two largest ethnic groups, adding a nasty ethnic edge to the contest and associated clashes. The Supreme Court has not yet certified the results officially, but will do so some time before early next week.

Meanwhile, responding to the surge in violence, the military transitional government has declared a state of emergency. Reuters:

The measure includes an overnight curfew beginning from 6 p.m. (1800 GMT) and gives the police extra powers to tackle the situation, a senior police officer told Reuters.

The poll was the former French colony’s first free vote since independence in 1958 and is due to end almost two years of military rule since the death of strongman Lansana Conte.

Despite his calls for calm as he challenges the result in court, some of Diallo’s mainly Peul supporters have taken to the streets, where they have repeatedly clashed with the security forces and Conde’s mainly Malinke backers since Monday.

“Shooting and targeted arrests are continuing,” a resident in Koloma, one of the worst-affected neighbourhoods in Conakry, told Reuters by telephone on Wednesday.


It is unclear how many people have been killed or injured in recent days (though the security forces have been restrained, for their part, in eschewing guns for restoring order), in what has been an unfortunate extra twist on a topsy-turvy historic election. As previously discussed here, the actual runoff election a week and a half ago went very peacefully. All we can say now is that it remains to be seen what will happen next.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

American Indian law under siege by anti-Sharia movement

Remember that Oklahoma ballot proposition we covered after the election, which “thwarted” the “creeping” Islamic Sharia law in the state? Well, we knew it was ignorant and damaging before, but it appears it didn’t just take out the ten commandments as collateral damage, but was so broad and vague that it may have taken out Indian tribal law too, which is a serious problem in Oklahoma. Joan McCarter:

This law obviously makes Oklahoma feel like hostile territory for Muslim Americans. It also makes it potentially hostile territory for the very first nations to populate the land that is now Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has the second largest population of Native Americans in the U.S and law experts like Oklahoma University law professor Taiawagi Helton point out that language in the law banning courts from looking at “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” could pose a problem if applied to tribal legal cases, as the tribes are considered sovereign nations. In fact, the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission released an official memo on October 20 explaining how the “lack of specific tribal law language” could “damage the sovereignty of all Oklahoma tribes” and “starkly reminds [the Commission] that some Oklahoma lawmakers forgot that our nation and state were built on the principles, blood, and back of other nations and cultures, namely, ou[r] tribes”

A perfect example of the consequences of voting out of fear. […] A federal judge has granted a temporary order blocking the ban from taking effect. A hearing on the amendment will be held on November 22.

Oops. Good thing that “activist” judge thwarted the thwarting of Sharia, though.

It would be fascinating if this gets litigated up to the U.S. Supreme Court, since the whole controversy over the use of “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” stems from a couple Supreme Court rulings by Justice Anthony Kennedy, in which he referenced (but did not rule on the basis of) international laws and norms for comparison. In the intervening years since the controversy erupted, he has shifted dramatically back toward the right, under the divided and partisan Roberts court, and would probably be unlikely to rule against the proposition, although he could surprise.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

After delay, a smooth runoff in Guinea

After a very successful first round presidential election in June – its first in the post-independence period – the West African state of Guinea finally managed to hold a smooth second round between the top two first round candidates this weekend, after a very troubling period of delays and ethnic clashes over the past several months. NY Times:

After weeks of delays, ethnic tensions and clashes between the police and rival groups of supporters, this mineral-rich but poor West African nation quietly went to the polls Sunday to choose its first-ever democratically elected president.

Sunday’s vote unfolded calmly as citizens lined up outside schools and other polling places, waiting to cast ballots in a runoff election originally scheduled for last summer. Since then, disputes over the leadership of the electoral commission and fighting between rival ethnic groups allied with each of the two candidates have led to repeated postponements.

But apart from the late arrival of voting materials — ink and ballots — at polling places in this nation of about 10 million people, international observers said they noted few hitches on Sunday.

Great news. And it appears that the key to the smooth election was to bring in a total outsider from neighboring Mali to run the election commission during the runoff, to prevent accusations that one ethnic group or another was controlling the outcome.

As the vote was repeatedly delayed, ethnic tensions increased, amid confusion over who was in charge of the election.

The first head of the electoral commission was convicted of fraud and died in Paris a short while later. His replacement was accused by Mr. Diallo, who is from a different ethnic group, of bias. In October, a Malian general was appointed to head the commission, calming the rival camps. But before that, there were repeated violent clashes. In September, one person was killed and dozens were wounded in fighting in the streets here in the capital between groups of supporters of Mr. Diallo and Mr. Conde.

The country of Mali has had a very successful transition to democracy after the end of military rule in the early 1990s and the peaceful transfer of power between presidents in 2002. The country has a functioning unity government, a popularly elected president and assembly, and the military is supportive of the civilian rulers and does not interfere with political affairs. The decision to bring in Malian advisers and figures of authority may prove to have been the crucial decision in smoothing the way for Guinea’s first election. The Malian general is an outsider, but he is from West Africa (as opposed to bringing in European or American teams), and he represents one of the best examples of democratic transition in the region, while his military status makes him an authority figure and somebody that the Guinean Transitional Government — who are also mostly military officers — would be comfortable working with.

So my pessimistic take in mid-September seems to have been unwarranted and impatient. It was never going to go off flawlessly, and this is a huge step forward. Now we just have to see how the results are greeted and whether the new democratic government can bring enough change to the country to lend it the public confidence required to endure. If it does work out, it will still go down as one of the fastest, smoothest, most direct transitions from military to democratic civilian rule in African history, to the best of my knowledge.

Hope springs eternal.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Creeping Sharia: Thwarted!

Not that it was actually a problem or even a potentially impending problem, but Oklahoma’s voters decided Tuesday to be really proactive and ban Sharia law (or its application or legal citation of it) in the state. There are maybe 15,000 Muslims in the state right now, and as Saleem Quraishi, the President of the American Muslim Association of Oklahoma City, put it, “What’s Sharia law have to do with Oklahoma?”

Nevertheless, freaked-out right-wing Christian legislators wrote up a ballot question on it this year, asking voters to “amend a state constitution section dealing with the state courts, making them ‘rely on federal and state law when deciding cases, forbidding them ‘from considering or using international law’ and ‘from considering or using Sharia Law,'” according to CNN. International law being referenced in the courts has been a boogeyman of the past twenty years after a few Supreme Court cases made passing comparisons to European case law and statutes on issues such as the death penalty for minors, but with Islamophobia reach a fevered pitch in recent years, “Sharia law” as it is only vaguely understood has become the most well-known subcategory of laws from outside ‘MURICA.

Newt Gingrich and others have recently grandstanded about their opposition to attempted imposition of Sharia law in the United States, as if it were in the process of happening here already. It’s not. Former CIA Director James Woolsey of Oklahoma campaigned for the message saying in a radio ad:

“We must realize there is a major campaign in Europe to impose Sharia law and Sharia is beginning to be cited in a few U.S courts. It is completely incompatible with our Constitution.”

Again, basically made-up.

The other big problem is that voters have very little idea what Sharia law actually is. The ballot question just vaguely said it had to do with the Koran and Mohammed, but didn’t go into specifics. Many people think of the more extreme, medieval parts of Sharia law (e.g. stoning or flogging people), which tend only to be enforced in especially reactionary areas of the world, such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan under the Taliban. But there are other parts that are much more important such as special laws about business arrangements and financing — Sharia prevents making loans with interest, since the system was first developed in a zero-inflation economy that made interest automatically usurious, so there are complex workarounds for financing everything from car loans to Dubai skyscrapers — and these legal components must be followed for American businesses to operate in and partner with many predominantly Muslim countries today.

Legal experts say the ballot question, which was approved this week, thus banning Sharia in Oklahoma, is a disaster, between its business implications and its constitutional implications:

For months, legal experts had lambasted the initiative as biased toward a religion and potentially harmful to local businesses that engage in commerce with international companies. It also presents potential constitutional law problems, experts say. Is Oklahoma’s state constitution now in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … “?

There has never been a previous case in the state in which Sharia law was applied, said Rick Tepker, the first member of the University of Oklahoma School of Law faculty to try a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tepker called the passage of the measure “a mess” with implications unknown until a case that challenges it arises.

“Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don’t cry,” he said. “I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn’t that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren’t going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin.”

Businesses that engage with international companies may also find the ban is a stumbling block, Tepker said.

The main sponsor of the bill admitted that there was actually no evidence to date that Sharia had many any inroads whatsoever in the state of Oklahoma. But it’s the Republican target du jour, so it had to be done, I guess.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.