Fifty years since it won independence from the United Kingdom, Nigeria continues to languish under a new form of colonial rule; occupied not by far off states, but by ‘Western’ companies.
Of this isn’t news. Numerous large businesses were already setting themselves up for a leading role in independent Nigeria even before the UK withdrew – most prominent amongst them being Royal Dutch Shell, which began establishing a vast network of infrastructure, armed troops and political heavyweights throughout the country back in 1958. Over the following decades Shell’s environmental devastation of the fragile Niger Delta region and suppression of resistance- not least through complicity in the murder of prominent activists such as Ken Saro Wiwa - was well documented.
However, recent Wikileaks revelations have drilled home just how much influence the company continues to exercise in Nigeria, even so long after the military junta (its strongest ally) fell and its brutal behaviour was exposed to the world. Secret correspondence from the US embassy includes testimony of Shell’s highest-ranking executive in the country, boasting that the company had infiltrated every layer the Nigerian government and knows everything that occurs in the various departments. There are strong indications that Shell has been able to manipulate Nigerian law and engineer concessions allowing it to continue its exploitation of Nigeria’s people and environment; a situation only compounded by the country’s rampant corruption and the astronomical political clout that Shell’s multi-billion dollar turnover carries.
Further cables highlight Shell’s fears concerning escalating violence by militant groups fighting against the exploitation of the Delta region; including discussions on what new weaponry they may posses. Yet paradoxically, the evidence of Shell’s influence over the Nigerian government contained in the documents, will only serve to strengthen this fledging resistance movement, generating a level of public anger and support that will prove far more beneficial than any practical addition to its military arsenal. This highlights Shell’s on-going failure to recognise that attacks on its facilities and on the Nigerian government, whilst largely unjustifiable are not generated not by few extremists but by a region that has suffered decades of death,destruction and degradation and both parties' hands.
Of course, it must be noted that Shell is far from alone in its crimes against the Nigerian people. A plethora of other companies including Total and Exxon have long exercised considerable influence over successive Nigerian governments and repeated the kind of abusive practices they’ve respectively demonstrated in other parts of the world such as Burma and Indonesia. However, this weeks revelations firmly confirm the fact that Shell is the runaway leader in the manipulation of this vulnerable state for its own financial gain.
Ironically it is a UK-registered company that- over half a decade since the Union Flag was lowered in Nigeria – continues to dominate and exploit the country through financial force, military prowess and the utilisation of numerous corrupt ‘puppet’ local officials and departments. Unfortunately for those in the Niger Delta – the sun has not yet set on the British Empire.