Shell has inserted staff into all relevant ministries of the Nigerian government, according to leaked US diplomatic messages.
They show that the former top executive for the Anglo-Dutch oil company in Nigeria told US Ambassador Robin Renee Sanders that Shell knew "everything that was being done in those ministries."
Ann Pickard, then Shell's executive vice president for sub-Saharan Africa, 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.
The leaked messages are published in UK broadsheet The Guardian. It writes that the secret diplomatic exchange from US embassies in Africa revealed that Shell shared intelligence with Washington. In one case, the company provided US diplomats with the names of Nigerian politicians it suspected of supporting militant activity, and requesting information from the US on whether the militants had acquired anti-aircraft missiles.
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Another leaked document shows that Ms Pickard was guarded in her discussions with US diplomats. "Pickard has repeatedly told us she does not like to talk to USG [US government] officials because the USG is 'leaky'." She may be concerned that ... bad news about Shell's Nigerian operations will leak out."
According to human rights activists, the leaked information reveals the extent of the entanglement between Shell and Nigerian politics. The West African country earns billions of euros in oil revenues but 70 percent of its population live below the poverty line.
"More powerful than the government"
Celestine AkpoBari of Social Action Nigeria said "Shell and the government of Nigeria are two sides of the same coin. Shell is everywhere. They have an eye and an ear in every ministry of Nigeria. They have people on the payroll in every community, which is why they get away with everything. They are more powerful than the Nigerian government."
Ben Amunwa of the London-based oil watchdog Platform concurred: "Shell claims to have nothing to do with Nigerian politics. In reality, Shell works deep inside the system, and has long exploited political channels in Nigeria to its own advantage."
Nigeria on Wednesday denied the reports: "Shell does not control the government of Nigeria and has never controlled the government of Nigeria. This cable is the mere interpretation of one individual."
Shell spokesperson Wim van der Wiel told RNW that "The Guardian's assumption that Shell has somehow infiltrated the government of Nigeria is absolutely untrue, false and misleading."
Sunny Ofehe, an environmental and peace activist in the Niger Delta said,
"It’s no news to me. We have always known that Shell has great access to certain governmental departments. As a multinational oil company they have the influence even to decide who becomes a minister or a political leader.”
“Of course we’ve seen the power of multinationals worldwide, not only in Nigeria. But in the case of Nigeria you should remember that we have some corrupt government institutions that easily fall to cash payments. So it’s easy to break into ministerial positions and the government.”
“I think it actually started in the time of the military era in 1983. That was the period of oil boom. The military were very corrupt. They were ready to do anything as long as the oil money was coming to Abuja.”