Celestine shell

Photo: Amy Scaife

There are moments sometimes when you are suddenly struck by the realisation that this is what life is about. I am not talking about being in the green fields at Glastonbury after a rather potent chai tea. I am talking about the feeling of a tiny, temporary re-balancing of the injustice of the universe – the rushing joy of having confronted and challenged those with the power and influence to change things for the better.

A few days ago, I was lucky enough to work and make friends with a very inspirational activist and community organiser called AkpoBari Celestine. He works from a NGO in Nigeria called Social Action. His main reason for visiting the UK was push Shell to clean up their mess in Ogoniland – his and Ken Saro-Wiwa’s home region. An UNEP report from 2011 showed that the clean up would take 35 years and $1bn of start-up finance. Celestine works with impacted communities in the region and says that the clean up has not yet begun.

When we heard that Peter Voser, Shell’s CEO who is soon to retire, was in town to give a presentation to shareholders, we couldn’t resist the temptation to pay him a visit. Celestine wanted to invite him to a retirement party in the Niger Delta, replete with dirty water champagne and an invitation.

Here’s what happened when Celestine went to confront Shell’s CEO in London.

It’s so important that the people impacted by Shell’s reckless behaviour are able to directly challenge the company’s fancy powerpoint presentations and glossy brochures to tell the real story. For one day, we were able to do this and to derail Shell media spin.

Shell’s media strategy is to try to drown out any noise about the UNEP report and clean up by using its power and influence to direct the news agenda towards oil theft and blaming some of the poorest communities globally for oil spills. This is a red herring as whatever the cause of the spill, Shell is legally obliged to clean up oil spilled from its pipelines. Shell’s strategy relies on people forgetting about the clean up and on people like Celestine being silenced.

Of course, it’s not just about those moments when change seems possible. We are committed and have plans for working long-term with a wide range of groups and individuals to make sure the clean-up happens and Shell isn’t let off the hook. Here’s a final word from Celestine about the reasons for this trip.

I have travelled all the way from the Niger Delta to ask Shell what it has been doing in the past two years since the UN report established their responsibility for the devastating pollution in my homeland. We see no evidence of Shell starting the clean up. The only evidence that we see is the oil in our water, the smoke in our air, the crops that die and our livelihoods and culture that are destroyed. All the things that Ken Saro-Wiwa was fighting for, we are still fighting for them. While Peter Voser is retiring to spend more time with his family, in Ogoniland we are still fighting for a livable environment for our families.