Makmid Kamara, Nigeria Campaigner, Amnesty International,
On Sunday 22 April, I visited Bodo community in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria. The community was devastated by two major oil spills in 2008, caused by operational failures from Shell pipelines.
The Bodo community have been fighting for their rights – after failing to secure justice in Nigeria, they are now bringing a case against Shell in the UK. I visited Bodo to update the community about what Amnesty International, in partnership with Nigerian NGO the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), is doing to help the community tell the world about their plight, and in our broader campaign to get Shell and the Nigerian authorities to take responsibility for the devastation they have created across the Niger Delta. I also updated the Bodo community about the global week of action on the Niger delta, taking place this week, and of the activities being undertaken by Amnesty International Sections and supporters in more than 15 countries across the world.
Prior to our arrival, the Council of Chiefs and Elders had informed the entire community of our visit. They had agreed for us to meet with the community at the town centre. Around 300 residents of Bodo attended the meeting.
We were welcomed by the Chairman of the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders, Chief Hyacinth Lema. Ever since the oil spills occurred, the community has persisted in calling on Shell to clean up the pollution and pay compensation. Chief Lema said the intervention of Amnesty International and CEHRD marked a significant turning point in the community’s campaign against Shell. “They didn’t consider anything we did as serious. But the whole world is now hearing our cry and coming to our aid because of Amnesty International and CEHRD.” Chief Lema told us the support from both organizations “will forever remain in the history of the Bodo community”.
Various speakers, including people who had given testimonies during Amnesty International and CEHRD’s joint research in 2011 on oil spills in Bodo, urged CEHRD and Amnesty International to continue to support the community’s efforts and not to relent in demanding that Shell own up, clean up and pay up for the devastation they have caused in the Niger Delta. The Youth President of Bodo, Kpoobari Patta, said “the youth and people of Bodo are hungry and angry because of Shell… We’re hungry because our land and environment have been destroyed. We can’t even feed our families or send our children to school because the oil spills have destroyed our sources of livelihoods.” Patta said they are angry because Shell is consistently making “false claims against our community because they think we don’t have a voice”.
Pastor Christian Lekoya Kpandei said: “You have let the world know about our situation. Thank you on behalf of the church, thank you on behalf of the fishermen. Thank you on my behalf of my family.”
I was particularly inspired by Helen Akpe, an elderly widow who has lived in Bodo all her life. She displayed empty shells of a peri-winkle and a snail, to demonstrate the emptiness of people’s lives in Bodo after the oil spills. She claimed that for people of her age who depend on fishing and farming “Shell has robbed them of their hopes and livelihoods.” She called on Amnesty International and CEHRD to continue working with the community because they bring hope and restore community spirits. She said “very soon I’ll die, but I’ll die happily if I know that Shell is held to account for destroying my land.”
The motivation I got from the community’s commitment to ensuring that Shell is held to account for the suffering it has caused, and their appreciation for the support of Amnesty International and CEHRD, cannot be over-emphasized. I left Bodo with a renewed sense of fulfilment and inspiration. Now more than ever, I’m looking forward to joining residents of Bodo and other affected communities and NGOs in Nigeria on Saturday 28 April to protest through the streets of Port Harcourt demanding that Shell own up, clean up and pay up!