The oil companies operating in Nigeria have a legitimate interest in ensuring security for personnel, flow stations, pipelines, and other oil facilities. In recent years, the number of cases of hostage taking and intimidation of oil company staff has increased, as have incidents in which flow stations are temporarily closed by community members protesting an alleged injustice; in addition, sabotage certainly does occur, even if the figures are contested, and the oil companies must try to prevent damage of this kind in order to protect the environment as well as their own profit. Equally, the Nigerian government has a legitimate interest to exploit its oil resources, to protect the operations of its joint venture partners, and to ensure that the oil companies themselves protect those operations. For these reasons, security agreements between the oil companies and the Nigerian government are inevitable. If the multinationals are in Nigeria at all, then they must have arrangements or understandings with the Nigerian government for their security; they must also have internal guidelines in relation to the deployment and use of security guards, police or other protection. Human Rights Watch is concerned, however, at the level of secrecy which surrounds such arrangements. Although the oil companies with which we corresponded gave us some information about their security arrangements, all—including Shell, which divulged the most—failed, despite requests, to give us access to the relevant parts of their Memorandum of Understanding or Joint Operations Agreement with the government which govern security and the internal guidelines relating to protection of their facilities.
Security Arrangements for Oil Facilities
All the oil companies in Nigeria hire “supernumerary police,” sometimes known as “spy police,” to protect their installations. These police are recruited and trained by the Nigerian police force, but paid for by the oil companies, at rates well above those paid by the Nigerian government. They remain accountable to Nigerian police command structures.53 According to Shell, the supernumerarypolice deployed at its premises are, in general, unarmed, and patrol inside the perimeter fence of oil installations, with instructions not to attempt to exercise jurisdiction outside the company property. Local activists challenge this statement, stating that the oil company police, including those at Shell installations, are frequently armed. As of mid-1997, SPDC stated that it employed 594 supernumerary police, of which the company said ten to twenty were armed, after application from Shell to the authorities for them to do so. In addition, Shell stated to Human Rights Watch that 186 armed members of the regular Nigerian police force, employed by the Nigerian government rather than Shell, were deployed to SPDC facilities, including several dog handlers. Both sets of police officially report to the commissioner of police and operate according to the procedures and practices of the Nigerian police, though SPDC decides where they are to be deployed. If not employed on “visible duties” some of these police may be in plainclothes, engaged in investigation such as uncovering theft.54 Shell said it has no official policy on engaging informers, though it has “all kinds of links” with the communities where it works, including “surveillance guards,” who are farmers paid to look after pipelines or well heads on their land. Shell stated that the only private security companies engaged by Shell work on barriers at entrances to Shell property and similar duties. A large proportion of Shell staff work on security (including internal duties unrelated to public order): of a total SPDC 11,372 workforce in mid-1997 (of which 41 percent were contractors), 20 percent were security staff.55
Chevron Nigeria stated in correspondence with Human Rights Watch that it has “a running contract with some private security companies for the protection of Company assets against theft and to control access to our premises. CNL does not have a running contract with any Government Security agency.”56 Mobil only divulged that “Under the Joint Operations Agreement and also in the interest of Mobil employees, contractors and in order to safeguard our facilities against theft and sabotage, we make efforts to provide adequate security facilities in our areasof operations. We do have a security department.”57 Elf did not give any details of its security measures, stating only that “We do not involve the military neither in providing security for our operations nor during demonstrations,” and that “EPNL uses landlords and community guards to secure its well heads and installations.”58 In a later letter, Elf stated that these local guards “are supervised by the site managers. These guards are paid 500% above the national income wage or according to the industry standards.”59 Agip did not respond to questions about security.
The oil companies state that they are under a legal obligation to notify the government if there is a threat to oil production, though there is some confusion as to the basis for the obligation. When asked the specific legal provision in meetings with Human Rights Watch, SPDC cited the Nigerian criminal law of conspiracy, under which, if the company failed to notify the authorities of actions that could amount to criminal offenses (such as damage to property), the company itself could be charged with an offense. Chevron, on the other hand, referred to “laws relating to economic sabotage, kidnap, and high sea piracy based on which [the Nigerian government’s] agencies are deployed to oil installations.”60 In addition, according to Shell, since the companies operate under joint venture agreements, “the authorities have the right to know when production is threatened.”61 In relation to a specific incident at Chevron’s Parabe platform, the company stressed again that it is “required by regulation and agreement to report to our partner when an incident such as the Parabe hostage situation occurs.... CNL has no paid soldiers of its own.”62 The detailed terms relating to security in the MOUs or JOAs by which the joint ventures are governed are not public.
The companies also emphasize their commitment to avoid violent confrontations between protesters and security forces. In the case of Shell, “We only notify the authorities and we assume responsibility, as operator, to resolve problems through dialogue and negotiations. In most cases the authorities do not intervene and, when we become aware that they are considering doing so, we prevail on them not to—because the process of dialogue yields results acceptableto both sides.”63 Shell states that the company’s staff “emphasize to the police the need for restraint and tact so as to avoid violence.”64 Accordingly,
Staff members are not authorized to call the police to intervene during demonstrations and the use of MOPOL [Mobile Police] or the military is prohibited. It is the brief of the CLO [community liaison officer] in such cases to contact the most influential indigenes or organization of the area to kick off a dialogue. If that fails, the CLO and government relations officials of the company go to the Chairman of the Local Government Authority and to the State Government when necessary. If the case goes beyond the Local Government Authority, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Police are notified by SPDC as a statutory requirement (but not invited to quell the demonstration).65
In another document, Shell has stated that “a call for external police protection (i.e. use of police other than those assigned to guard Shell’s premises and people) is to be made only as a last resort if this is necessary in order to protect lives.”66 Shell has also stated that the company has “never requested military force for assistance” and would not do so.67 In meetings with Human Rights Watch Shell has stated that its contractors are bound by the same rules relating to security as its own staff. In March 1998, in response to allegations that it had made payments to soldiers protecting an airport construction project at Osubi, Shell admitted using external police protection in circumstances short of a threat to life, stating that “Fourteen armed policemen from the regular Nigerian Police Force are currently on site protecting contractor equipment from vandalisation. They were moved to the site on 8 February during an industrial dispute between the contractor and some of the workforce when a threat was made to vandalize a dredger. The dispute wasresolved on 26 February, but the policemen will remain there until it is considered that this threat is no longer there. This dispute did not involve the communities. In fact, the communities helped to resolve the problem. Before this industrial dispute, there had been no police at the site.” 68
Chevron similarly states that:
In the event of a demonstration, employees and contractors alike are firstly counseled to remain calm and do nothing that would further aggravate a tense situation. All personnel are advised to assemble in designated safe areas where they would be adequately protected. If the situation warrants it, work could be shut down and employees evacuated. ... Employees and contractors are not normally authorised to have direct dealings with military or civilian authorities in the event of demonstrations. ... Any crisis of such proportion as cannot be managed by the Chevron Security is made known to the appropriate government agencies. ... Whenever the need to request for help arises, CNL Security insists on exercising reasonable control over those deployed to assist, ensuring that no more than the minimum force required to bring a situation under control is applied.69
According to Mobil’s response, “When demonstrations do occur, we prefer dialogue and resist using any force to settle disputes. ... We definitely oppose the use of force by the military or any other authority.”70 In this regard, “Employees are instructed to be calm and never engage in physical force. ... We have always prevented any confrontation between our security personnel even when there are demonstrations. We have never supported the use of force to handle dispute. Mobil advises the appropriate authorities where violence is a real threat.”71 Elf states that “When there is a blockade, protest or demonstrations, Community Relations Officers approach the venue peacefully to create an atmosphere for dialogue.... We do everything possible to maintain peace through dialogue or negotiation, and this has yielded positive results all the time.”72
Shell also maintains that it has on occasion taken political risks in order to avoid confrontation, citing the 1994 strike by oil workers related to the previous year’s annulment of elections aimed to install a civilian government, during which SPDC “shut in more than half its production ... in order to prevent confrontation between security forces and staff. This was done despite considerable pressure from the government to keep the oil flowing.”73 Similarly, during the Warri crisis, when seven flow stations were closed, it said “the company asked the authorities not to intervene by force, but rather leave it to dialogue with the host communities. As a result, 127 hostages were freed without any serious incident.”74
Despite requests, none of the oil companies provided Human Rights Watch with copies of internal directions relating to the handling of protests or deployment of security, though Shell did confirm in meetings that such documents existed, and states that its guidelines have been reviewed against the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers, the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and the U.N. Pocket Book on Human Rights for the Police.75 Allegations regarding illicit payments to the military or the import of weapons are described below, in the section on the role and responsibilities of the international oil companies.
Special Task Forces
In addition to the regular security arrangements made between the oil companies and the Nigerian government, the Nigerian government has created a number of special security units and initiatives to protect oil installations: oil is the lifeblood of the Nigerian federal government, and any threat to oil revenues is viewed in the most serious light. The best known of these special units is the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force, a paramilitary force created in response to the protests led by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), with a well-earned reputation for brutality. The Task Force was now withdrawn to barracks in September 1998, and the situation in Ogoni greatly improved.
The government regularly emphasizes its commitment to the forceful protection of oil company activities. In August 1996, after arresting nine youths in connection with sabotage of a Shell pipeline, a press release from the police command in Rivers State warned “community and opinion leaders that the command will deal ruthlessly with anyone caught.”76 In April 1997, oil minister Etete warned local communities that “The present administration will not tolerate a situation where every political grievance is taken out on the oil installations and operations of oil companies.” Community leaders should restrain their youths, since “Host communities should relate with operators in the oil industry as frequent unrests in the oil producing communities are not conducive to sustainable development[sic].”77 In March 1998, Etete again stated that destruction of oil company property would meet “the full wrath of the law,” emphasizing the identity of interests between the government and the oil companies by stating that “the oil joint venture companies are partners of government; any destruction of their equipment is like destroying government property.”78 In September 1998, the coordinator of the “Naval Information Unit,” Lt.-Cdr. Kabiru Aliyu stated that the navy would deal with any youths involved in attacks on oil installations as “economic saboteurs” and that they would be “decisively dealt with.”79
In August 1997, the government of Bayelsa State announced the formation of a new security outfit known as “Operation Salvage,” with the aim of protecting oil installations.80 Press reports stated that the announcement was in the presence of oil company representatives. However, Shell stated to Human Rights Watch that “SPDC was not present at the announcement of the formation of the Bayelsa Security Task Force. However, we and other companies operating in the area were subsequently invited to a meeting with the State Government to discuss the matter and to sign a proposed memorandum of understanding (MOU). At the meeting we were informed that the primary purpose of the task force was crime prevention,although a role in protecting oil facilities was also mentioned. For that reason, SPDC refused to sign the MOU.”81
A similar unit, named “Operation Flush,” has been established in Rivers State. Special anti-crime task forces, with names such as “Operation Sweep” or “Operation Storm,” exist in other (non-oil producing) states, and have reputations as being among the most abusive Nigerian security force outfits. In December 1997, it was reported that the federal government was planning to establish a new naval base in Bayelsa State, “in view of the economic importance of the state”; in March 1998, the minister for internal affairs also stressed the need for “increased security operations” in Rivers State; in April 1998, the Delta State military administrator suggested the creation of a national coast guard, comprising the army, navy, airforce, police, customs and related agencies, to police the delta, “especially economic activities”; in November 1998, the government once again promised to “beef up” security in the oil areas, and it was reported that several hundred soldiers, including a number recently returned from peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone, had been deployed to the delta, while the Nigerian navy would also be fortified to prevent disruptions to production.82 On December 30, 1998, as Ijaw youths protested at several locations across the delta, both army and navy deployed large numbers of personnel, reported as up to 15,000, into the region.83
53 The Police Act (originally promulgated in 1943, republished by Decree No. 41 of 1967) provides (according to a 1965 amendment) for the appointment of supernumerary police by the inspector-general of police on the application of “any person ... who desires to avail himself of the services of one or more police officers for the protection of property owned or controlled by him.” A police officer appointed in this way “shall be employed exclusively on duties connected with the protection of that property,” and “shall be a member of the Force for all purposes and shall accordingly be subject to the provisions of this Act and in particular the provisions thereof relating to discipline.” Theperson for whom they are appointed is responsible for the cost of uniforms and for payment to the officers designated. Police Act, section 14.
54 In 1997, a visiting environmentalist from the U.S. was confronted by a man in plain clothes claiming to be “Shell police” at a Shell installation in Port Harcourt. He produced an identification card showing a picture of him in Nigerian police uniform and the Shell logo. Kretzmann and Wright, Human Rights and Environmental Operations Information on the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies 1996-1997, p.10.
55 Human Rights Watch meeting with SPDC, Port Harcourt, July 28, 1997.
56 Chevron Nigeria Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, March 11, 1998.
57 Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited letter to Human Rights Watch, February 10, 1998.
58 Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, May 8, 1998.
59 Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, November 23, 1998.
60 Chevron Nigeria Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, March 11, 1998.
61 Shell International Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, February 13, 1998.
62 Chevron Nigeria Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, June 29, 1998.
63 Shell International Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, February 13, 1998.
64 SPDC, “Response to Human Rights Watch/Africa publication — The Ogoni Crisis: A Case Study of Military Repression in Southeastern Nigeria, July 1994 [sic],” attached to SPDC letter to Human Rights Watch, July 6, 1995.
65 Shell International Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, February 13, 1998.
66 Complaint submitted to the British Broadcasting Complaints Commission, November 1995; reply of Shell International Limited to response of Channel 4, June 10, 1996.
67 SPDC letter to Human Rights Watch, July 6, 1995. As noted below, soldiers have been reported at Shell sites on several occasions.
68 “Osubi Airport Project: Shell Nigeria’s Response to Allegations by ERA,” SPDC Press Release, March 23, 1998.
69 Chevron Nigeria Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, March 11, 1998.
70 Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited letter to Human Rights Watch, February 10, 1998.
72 Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, May 8, 1998.
73 SPDC, Shell in Nigeria, December 1995.
74 Shell International Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, February 13, 1998.
75 Shell, Profits and Principles—does there have to be a choice? (London: Shell International, May 1998), p.38. In correspondence with the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility, Shell quoted a paragraph from SPDC’s guidelines on the use of external security, on which its comments to Human Rights Watch are clearly based: “Under no condition or circumstance must SPDC, or any contractor working, or about to work for SPDC, engage, or cause to be engaged, the services of any military or paramilitary force (e.g. MOPOL), for the protection of SPDC facilities and work locations or, for the protection of transportation to and from such facilities and locations.” SPDC, “Response to Environmental Rights Action,” p.2.
76 Reuters, August 30, 1996.
77 James Jukwey, “Nigerian Troops Head to Oil Town to Restore Order,” Reuters, April 23, 1997.
78 Platts Commodity News (London), March 25, 1998
79 Philip Nwosu, “Navy Reads Riot Act to Youths in Oil-Producing Areas,” Post Express Wired, September 6, 1998.
80 Environmental Rights Action, “Don’t Militarize Bayelsa,” Press Statement, August 12, 1997.
81 Shell International Ltd letter to Human Rights Watch, February 13, 1998.
82 “Nigerian Government to Build Naval Base in Bayelsa State,” Kaduna Radio Nigeria, December 5, 1997, as reported by FBIS, December 7, 1997; “Minister Urges Increased Security in Rivers State,” Lagos Radio Nigeria, March 22, 1998, as reported by FBIS, March 24, 1998; Nigeria Today, April 17, 1998; Nigeria Today, October 28, 1998; Opecna Bulletin, November 27, 1998.
83 Environmental Rights Action, “Unprecedented State of Emergency Declared in Niger Delta,” Press Statement, December 31, 1998; Reuters, December 31, 1998.