By Frankie Edozien
Wednesday, December 22, 2010.
Tucked into the treasure trove of thousands of leaked cables from the U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to the State Department in Washington was a beaut of a find.
Royal Dutch/Shell oil has long infiltrated the Federal Government of Nigeria and had moles in all relevant industries, the cables leaked to the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks revealed.
But is anyone really surprised?
One suspects many Nigerians may have suspected, it but the shock of the alleged admittance by Shell oil brass to the former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Renee Sanders in an Abuja meeting in October 2009 was a kick in the collective African gut.
Apparently, their folks have no shame in admitting privately how dirty they play, despite their public pronouncements.
So thanks to WikiLeaks we know that Royal Dutch/Shell claimed its spies had access politicians' every move and in all relevant government departments.
Ann Pickard, then Shell's vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa told American diplomats that Shell knew "everything that was being done in those ministries".
She boasted that the Nigerian government had "forgotten" about the extent of Shell's infiltration and was unaware of how much the company knew about its deliberations.
In March, the oil giant seconded her to Australia.
The Nigerian media has pointed out that moles could be at the very top.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s pick of Diezani Alison-Madueke as oil minister seemed to prove that point, as Royal Dutch/Shell and her are ‘family’.
After all, she served as its executive director in Nigeria in 2006-2007 and her father was also one of the group’s senior executives.
Ifeanyi Ukoha a banker who works often in the oil producing Rivers state also pointed out that many oil companies there have “what they call Government liaison people who are usually well connected politically or in Government … many of the oil company's have former top Government officials on their board too.”
Of course Royal Dutch/Shell called the allegations “absolutely untrue” in a statement to the Associated Press.
Just they same way they passed the buck on their oil spills in the Niger Delta when the reporters confronted them with evidence of aging pipes and reported that months after an oil spill the finally shut off the pipe.
Caroline Wittgen, a spokeswoman for the oil conglomerate told the New York Times “vast majority” were of oil spills caused by sabotage or theft, We do not believe that we behave irresponsibly, but we do operate in a unique environment where security and lawlessness are major problems.”
Yet it seems they annually acknowledge their corroded pipelines are responsible for spills annually. Militancy and violence hasn’t succeeded in bringing real change and make it easier to dismiss the real issues.
But with oil explorations going on in nearby Ghana, perhaps its time for a change of strategy and the Ghanaians and others looking at Nigeria as a cautionary tale might it not make sense consider real change of strategy?
How about the Jonathan administration and all African oil producing nations consider revoking permits and licenses to drill to bad corporate giants? If they play dirty, maybe its time to invite someone else in.
These marriages are already broken so why not consider other players? One can only hope that in 2011 this becomes part of the national and continental conversation.
Edozien is the Director of New York University Journalism’s Reporting Africa program and editor of The AFRican magazine.