Edward Obi – « Mining and resource extraction in Nigeria: social justice and corporate responsibility »

Edward Obi

« Mining and resource extraction in Nigeria: social justice and corporate responsibility »

Concilium 2018-5. Ökologie und Theologie der Natur
Concilium 2018-5. Ecology and Theology
Concilium 2018-5. Ecología y teología de la naturaleza
Concilium 2018-5. Écologie et théologie de la nature
Concilium 2018-5. Ecologia e teologia della natura
Concilium 2018-5.

Linda Hogan, João Vila-Chã, Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator

Welcome to Bodo Creek, Gokana Local Government Area, Rivers State, Nigeria! Sometime in August 2008, life changed dramatically for the 49,000 residents of this estuarine community. When fishermen noticed a greasy sheen deep in the swamps, they suspected something ominous. A weld had, in fact, ruptured in the Trans-Niger Pipeline (TNP). The spill was not clamped until 7 November 2008. By that time, as much as 2,000 bpd may have been spilled directly into the creek! A month later in December 2008 the same pipeline ruptured again.This time Royal Dutch Shell, owners of the TNP and operators of this Joint Venture, did not send anyone to inspect or repair it until 19 February 2009.Shell’s response oscillated between outright denial of responsibility and buck passing between officials.  According to satellite images obtained by Amnesty International and analyzed by the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the volume of oil spilled was as large as the Exxon Valdez spill on Alaska in 1989.[1]

In March 2012 the Bodo community sued Shell in a London court and demanded clean up  and compensation for lost livelihood. Through the intervention of Civil Society organizations working in concert with the Niger Delta Catholic Bishops’ Forum (NDCBF), an out-of-court settlement was reached in December 2014. Shell paid compensation of GBP55M in January 2015, out of which GBP35M was paid out to over 15,000 fisherfolk and individuals deemed to have suffered loss of livelihood arising from the spills. The other GBP20M was designated to be saved in an escrow account for community development.[2]

1. Market Mentality versus Social Justice

My aim here is to highlight the injustice of corporate engagement in the realities that affect and, sometimes, determine people’s livelihood, including the ecosystems in which they are embedded. Economic calculations arising from a market mentality miss an essential part of what it means to be human. The human person requires livelihood security, environmental sustainability and, above all, the dignity to be in control of the circumstances of her/his life. For instance, the money awarded and shared among so many affected people in Bodo pales in comparison with amounts that we know have been paid out for similar catastrophic events in other parts of the world. But even more than that, compromising the ecology in the reckless pursuit of profit, by its very nature, creates a double-jeopardy of sorts, which prevents the delivery of social and ecological justice to poor individuals and communities. The tragedy is that the so-called “spirit of entrepreneurism” of these corporations has focused mainly on the creation of wealth and the exercise of private property rights, at the expense of the social and environmental needs of the persons directly and indirectly affected by these processes.

The evidence suggests that these two pollution events on the TNP, and the attendant losses to livelihoods and ecosystem reliefs, could have either been prevented or ameliorated, if Shell’s managers had made appropriate and timely investments to enable them to be more proactive and precautious, in line with international standards.[3] Due to considerations of profit bottom-lines, however, this didn’t happen. As a result, deficit of depletion is occurring in the natural world, which keeps expanding and fostering the gap between us and the rest of Earth’s inhabitants.

2. The Church’s Witness to Justice and Peace

The Church in Africa, as elsewhere, is called to witness to justice, and be an agent of peace in the world. Though she cannot be directly involved in partisan politics she would be failing in her mission by withdrawing from active engagement. The Church, must be prophetic in its response to injustice and must be be vigilant to ward off oppressive situations.  Moreover  the Church must identify and stay engaged with officials of state at all levels, since they are the ones whose decisions ultimately affect people’s lives for good or ill. This is no sign of weakness! On the contrary, it entails a conscious effort on the part of the Church to work with, and through, her own trained agents, and other well-meaning bodies to build peace, influence politics, policy and justice systems. This is what the Bishops’ Forum tries to do.

As a social ethicist, I am prepared to engage with and challenge the world and its systems, particularly as these affect the delicate balance between the common good and individual or corporate self-aggrandizement. There should be a balance between economic growth and human development, which includes accountability for environmental goods and the welfare of society’s most vulnerable. Working for the Bishops of the Niger Delta region requires me to appeal to a variety of stakeholders to nurture peace between unlikely partners like oil and gas corporations and local communities. In many cases, these  relationships have been fractured by incidents like the Bodo spills.. In my experience, the greatest deficit here is the mutual distrust, which is the result of repeated environmental abuse on the part of the corporations, and the equally persistent youth attacks on the oil and gas infrastructure.

Peacebuilding in these circumstances is an intricate art demanding patience, doggedness and resilience. My daily challenges demand that I develop the capacity to see many sides of any case at the same time! Sometimes it requires me to absorb shock and suppress rage in the same breath, and be prepared to deal with plain falsehood, barefaced greed and outright intolerance of alternative viewpoints. The poor are not always innocent, as I have come to realize. With so many divergent interests, mostly selfish and self-serving to balance out, the peace building process is mostly daunting and emotionally exhausting. As the conflict is constantly unfolding, actors, agitators and their locations are as diverse as the extent and content of their discontent. But, as an agent of peace I am obliged to remain malleable even in the face of the frustrations of weak state institutions and/or the near absence or complete failure of governance, which often conspire to create a state of either total anarchy or enhanced warlordism. But what is my inspiration and staying power?

3. The Incarnation as Basis for Justice and Integral Ecology

I am neither anti-capital nor anti-technology. Far from it! In fact, I am impatient to see everything that relates to the human person and her/his culture and ecology reintegrated and working together. Thus, the mystery of the Incarnation, by which “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1,14) becomes for me an organizing idea for an integral ecology.

Pope Francis’ call for an integral ecology has its basis in the natural law, which places value on the connection between the human person, society, culture, and the equilibrium of the bio-physical sphere in which the human person comes to be. These connections, and the interconnectedness of the whole is, for Pope Francis, a sine qua non for “the conditions required for the life and survival of society, and the [basis for the] honesty needed to question certain models of development, production and consumption” (LS, 138). Furthermore, because creation as a whole, and each individual creature, has its own particular goodness and proper perfection, it is “endowed with its own stability, truth and excellence, its own order and laws… [each] reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom” (CCC, 339). The engagement of the Catholic Bishops’ Forum in the vivid context of the Niger Delta is but a small step in acknowledging these basic principles of the Church’s self-understanding and disposition in relation to this world. Their prophetic, vigilant engagement with well-meaning structures of civil society and government within the region and internationally is replicable in other parts of Nigeria (and, perhaps the world as well) that have unique problems – Boko Haram in the North-East, precarious artisanal mining in the North-West, Herdsmen attacks in the North-Central, etc. Looking back, I can say that though my engagements are energy sapping and emotionally daunting, I am a better human being for them!

[1] Amnesty International, The True ‘Tragedy’: Delays and Failures in Tackling Oil Spills in the Niger Delta (London: Amnesty International, 2011), p. 5.

[2] See Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development, Pecuniary Compensations for Oil Spills and Environmental Justice Claims in the Niger Delta: Lessons from Bodo Community and the Payment of 55 Million Pounds by Shell (Port Harcourt: CEHRD, 2016).

[3] Cf. Amnesty International.


Christian advocacy for human development and social justice is driven by the gospel values.  In Nigeria action for justice requires imagination, trust and resilience, as is shown by the work of the Bishops’ Forum and Christian NGOs.


Edward Obi, MSP, Ph.D, is a Nigerian social ethicist, who advocates for good governance, safe environments, and secure livelihoods. He teaches Moral Theology at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) and is National Coordinator of a coalition of environmental NGOs working for peace and curbing violence in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Fr. Obi also runs a technical agency for the Catholic Bishops’ Forum, which is focused on influencing developments in the gas sector in Nigeria.


No. 19 Okomoko Street, D/Line, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.