Tonight The Guardian revealed how Shell uses a wide network of informants to infiltrate top government departments in Nigeria. The revelations are contained in a secret US embassy cables leaked via whistleblower website Wikileaks.
The cable confirms what communities in the Niger Delta have long suspected. Shell wields enormous power over Nigeria and is actively exploiting the political turmoil in the West African nation.
The oil giant has a major influence on any laws and policy decisions that affect its profits. For decades, Shell has cultivated a political environment where it can get away with almost anything, from tax dodging to daily oil spills and gas flaring, in violation of human rights and Nigerian law. The company's political strategy boosts its profits, but it has devastated the lives of local communities and aided corruption in Nigeria. As David Smith, The Guardian's Africa correspondent reports:
The company's top executive in Nigeria told US diplomats that Shell had seconded employees to every relevant department and so knew "everything that was being done in those ministries".
Campaigners tonight said the revelation about Shell in Nigeria demonstrate the tangled links between the oil firm and politicians in the country where, despite billions of dollars in oil revenue, 70% of people live below the poverty line.
Nigeria is Africa's leading oil producer and the eighth biggest exporter in the world, accounting for 8% of US oil imports. Although a recent UN report largely exonerated the company, critics accuse Shell, the biggest operator in the delta, and other companies, of causing widespread pollution and environmental damage in the region. Militant groups engaged in hostage-taking and sabotage have proliferated.
The WikiLeaks disclosure was today seized on by campaigners as evidence of Shell's vice-like grip on the country's oil wealth. "Shell and the government of Nigeria are two sides of the same coin," said Celestine AkpoBari, programme officer for Social Action Nigeria.
"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."
The criticism was echoed by Ben Amunwa of the London-based oil watchdog Platform. "Shell claims to have nothing to do with Nigerian politics," he said. "In reality, Shell works deep inside the system, and has long exploited political channels in Nigeria to its own advantage."