Shell: Goldfish In Turbulent Sea

By Casmir Igbokwe

As the saying goes, goldfish have no hiding place. They are usually kept as pets in a glass bowl. In Nigeria, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) is a goldfish. But rather than be admired in a glass bowl, this subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell has found itself in a turbulent sea. No matter how it tries to hide, the waves always push it out to fishermen who throw dangerous hooks to catch it for food.

Most times, private and corporate entities, as well as communities, either drag the company to the court of justice or the court of public opinion. Currently, a local oil company, Aiteo Eastern E&P, is digging it out with the oil giant at a Federal High Court in Lagos.

Aiteo had obtained an interim injunction freezing the account of Shell in 20 Nigerian banks, pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice. The company is seeking compensation in billions of dollars over alleged poor conditions of the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) pipeline and the attendant loss of sales. It bought the pipeline from SPDC in 2015. Shell was further alleged to have stolen over two million barrels of crude oil between June 2016 and July 2018 through unapproved metering system, which it purportedly used to short-change local operators. For Aiteo, the alleged crude theft by Shell is over 16 million barrels. The company regretted that it had become practically impossible to meet its repayment obligations to its financiers.

Shell, on its part, denied the charge. According to the company, the allegation of crude theft or diversion was factually incorrect. Shell Nigeria’s media relations manager, Bamidele Odugbesan, explained that what was touted as theft was actually the result of the activities of saboteurs in the supply chain. He said the theft claims were baseless, malicious, and without any iota of truth.

Industry regulator, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), agrees with Shell. Last month, the DPR described as false and baseless the allegations that SPDC under-reported two million barrels of crude from 2016 to 2018. It urged the public to disregard the false media reports. The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) quoted DPR’s spokesman, Paul Osu, as saying, “There is absolutely nothing like that, kindly disregard.”

The DPR was also said to have imposed a fine of N250,000 on Shell and asked it to implement the refund of the missing crude to Aiteo and others. That is true. But there is a twist to this story. My enquiries on the matter indicate that the fine of N250,000 was not for any crude theft but for sundry issues, including non-compliance with submission of some documents to the DPR. If truly the sanction was for oil theft, I don’t think the penalty will just be the paltry N250,000. The DPR would have either suspended Shell or prosecuted it for serious crimes against Nigeria.

Besides, I understand that the directive by the DPR to SPDC, as operator of the Bonny Oil and Gas Terminal, was to implement a crude reallocation programme between injectors into the SPDC Joint Venture’s Trans-Niger Pipeline and injectors in the NCTL. Simply put, this directive was for Shell to share the crude loss among the different operators. The loss could have been caused by leakage, theft or water injection into the pipeline. 

Shell explained: “Crude allocation review and reallocation is a normal industry practice to re-allocate previous provisional allocated volumes under the directive and supervision of DPR, and this is not an exercise resulting from crude diversion, under-reporting or theft at the terminal. This industry practice is not peculiar to the SPDC-operated Bonny Oil and Gas Terminal alone and does not translate into any loss of volumes to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

The company added that the reallocation issue was initiated by it while the DPR validated and confirmed it for implementation for the concerned oil producers. In a letter to the DPR, dated February 8, 2021, Shell agreed to “implement the refund of the 2,081,678 barrels of crude oil from the Trans-Niger Pipeline (TNP) injectors (SPDC, TEPNG, NDPR and WSPOL) to the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) injectors (Aiteo, Belemaoil, Eroton and Newcross) over the period from end of January 2021 till November 2021.”

Frankly speaking, the way Shell has been portrayed over the years makes it look like the company is completely evil and nothing good can come out of it. Of course, it is not a saint. But as a responsible corporate citizen, Shell has contributed immensely to the growth of personal and public finances in Nigeria. Many individuals are able to go to school today on account of the company’s scholarship schemes. Shell companies in Nigeria have touched on such areas as education, health, access to energy and enterprise development.

In 2019 alone, Shell companies in Nigeria paid about $1.5 billion in taxes and royalties to the Nigerian government. The companies contribute immensely to the social investment and development of many Nigerian communities and companies. The economic contributions from all SPDC joint venture partners to the Nigerian government from 2014 to 2018 were $17.8 billion. The companies further awarded 92 per cent of contracts in 2018 to Nigerian companies. There are many other things the company has done. Unfortunately, many people don’t remember these things. The negative side is what is usually in the public space.

It’s just like in the media industry where I operate. For any unfavourable story a big newspaper like The Sun, The Punch or The Guardian publishes, aggrieved individuals look for loopholes and may approach the courts and claim billions of naira as damages for libel. But behind some of those suits lies a hidden desire to take a part of the profit of such established newspaper companies. A similar story in a little known publication, most times, does not attract any litigation or even response.

Similarly, I have seen some communities in the Niger Delta demonstrate against Shell for actions or inactions of some other oil companies. For most of these communities, the only company they know is Shell. Last week, Nembe community in Bayelsa State embarked on a peaceful protest against the oil giant. As far as the indigenes of the community were concerned, it was Shell that stole Aiteo’s crude oil and that it must return the stolen crude within one week or risk having its facilities in the area shut down.

As curious as this and other protests are, they have negatively impacted on the corporate image of Shell. Resources that could have been deployed to noble, productive ventures have been wasted in litigation and all that.

Obviously, Shell has community and media relations departments. One way or the other, they may have been engaging with critical stakeholders. But it appears the strategies they have adopted need some retooling. As a global company, no doubt, it has its standard operational practices. But it always has problems in Nigeria because some of its actions do not sit well with some Nigerian stakeholders. For some of our people, building world-class hospital or school is a non-issue. What matters to them is what comes into their private pockets.

Shell should continue to engage with such critical stakeholders. It needs to be a bit flexible in some of its set rules. The local peculiarities in Nigeria are quite different from what are obtainable abroad. Good or bad, it should continue to push out its case to the public domain. After all, as an Igbo adage says, the cry of a chicken is not to prevent the hawk from preying on it, but to let the whole world know what is happening to it. 

 

Re: No hope in South-East governors

Dear Casy, M.I. Okpara, Akanu Ibiam led eastern Nigerian government to an enviable state. Eastern Nigeria economy was the fastest growing economy from 1964 to 1972. Ukpabi Asika ruined that economy with his ‘onye ube ruru’ mantra and ended up as a failure. Mbakwe and Nwobodo did well. Peter Obi did well in Anambra. Since 1999 till date, Imo and Abia hadn’t any good governor. Let’s remind Igbo governors and their political rulers that nobody does evil in their land and survives. Since Emeka Ojukwu’s demise, Igbo lost their leadership. Uzodimma has killed his kinsmen to appease his Fulani lords. The society we abuse today hunts our future generation.

– Eze Chima C. Lagos, +2347036225495

Dear Casy, there is no coordinated action in the South-East because our leaders suffer from “why should it be you instead of me” syndrome. To ensure they outsmart one another, they go cap in hand to ‘Power Brokers’ up North to obtain filthy political anointing which script they act out as directed by their Principals. Where God frustrates such scripts, they resort to the proverbial scenario in which if the chicken could not have her way, she resorts to scattering the menu. 

– Steve Okoye, Awka, 08036630731

Casyyour homily is a potpourri of issues even as it is founded on the embarrassing way and manner the South-East governors kowtow to any position or interest that supports the agenda of the ruling authority. In respect of the Uzodimma’s emergence or sudden flight from number four to the number one position, I am of the firm belief that the almighty Supreme Court in its innermost recesses is also confounded by the oddity of plummeting Uzodimma’s rejection to a position of ‘acceptance’.

-Edet Essien, Esq. Cal. South, +2348056615168

Casmirthe South-East governors seem to be pretenders, hypocrites and devoid of ideologies. Their actions and body language seem to depict one working under the influence of external forces. They seem like those who lost touch with the realities of the demands of their subjects. Most are interested in pleasing the powers-that-be in Abuja. They’re interested in how to win the next election to the detriment of their subjects.

– Pharm. Okwuchukwu Njike, +234 803 885 4922

Dear Casmir, Igbo can’t continue to be “yes citizens” only. Eastern governors should not allow themselves to be weighed down by the defeat in the civil war. They should negotiate for amnesty on behalf of IPOB just as Northern Elites vie on behalf of their bandits and insurgents. 

– Cletus Frenchman, Enugu, +234 909 538 5215

Anyone interested in the warfare strategy of counter espionage will easily see through the smokescreen of our efforts in fighting the war against insecurity in North East, North West. When it appeared like we were giving Boko Haram a run for their terrorism, their system simply creates a diversion known as “armed Herdsmen”, to launch new offensives with gusto and AK47 rifles. From the same pool, they create yet another terror group called “Bandits” with similar “modus operandi”. At each stage, it is the same system of command and control at work, under whatever name. They should never dare the South-East and South-South geopolitical zones.  Rats do not eat the fish of a person who is wide awake.

– Dr. Chuka Nwosu, Port Harcourt, 08085914645

  • Also published in the Daily Sun of Monday, March 8, 2021

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