3 April 2013

Nigeria: Group Wants Oil Companies to End Corporate Social Responsibilities in Nigeria

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, has called on the oil companies in the country to put an end to their corporate social responsibilities (CSRs).

The non-governmental organisation stated this, Wednesday, during a media interactive session and lecture on the 'Role of Civil Society Groups in Social and Environmental Justice Struggles', in Lagos.

The Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, Godwin Ojo, said that oil companies' CSRs have become subject to manipulation and abuse.

"Until environmental health is restored, we call for the immediate suspension of all forms of oil companies' corporate social responsibility that is weakening and dividing the people than providing any net material benefits," Mr. Ojo said.

"Oil companies should stop forthwith the substituting of CSR schemes for environmental remediation and compensation," he added.

A United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, report in 2011 documented how oil companies systematically contaminated a 1,000 square kilometres area of Ogoniland, a pollution that would cost over $1 billion (N155 billion) and take up to 30 years to clean up.

Mr. Ojo said the "crime scene" of environmental despoliation is intensifying throughout the Niger Delta, and less than one percent of environmental justice cases make it to the Nigerian courts.

"Ecological debt from environmental destruction is piling up and it is time for the agents and corporations to pay up," he said. "It is sending victims to their untimely graves as impunity is left unchecked. We urge policy makers and parliamentarians to put in place a policy framework to kick-start this Environmental Tribunal process to allow for corporate and individual liability."

Mr. Ojo further called for an amendment in the law of evidence and proof in environmental cases.

"In the case of oil pollution, the burden of proof should shift to the respondents to demonstrate otherwise claims by the plaintiffs.

"This is because the burden of proof as currently practiced is too heavy a duty to be discharged by the poor hapless victims," said Mr. Ojo.

"So far, less than one percent of the environmental justice cases ever make it to court due to crucifying inhibitions strewn in the way of justice.

"After 10-15 years of litigation, communities are forced to accept paltry compensation and to sign indemnity clauses that absolve such oil companies from remediation," he added.

ERA/FoEN also used the opportunity to present Mr. Ojo to the media as its new Executive Director.

Mr. Ojo, a Political Ecologist, succeeds Nnimmo Bassey who stepped down on March 31.

He holds a PhD covering environment, politics and development from the King's College, London, and co-founded ERA/FoEN in 1993 with Messrs Bassey, Oronto Douglas, and Nicholas Ashton-Jones.

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