New ways to bring justice to communities and companies in Nigeria

New ways to bring justice to communities and companies in Nigeria

Oil spills, sabotage, kidnapping, stealing oil, governors stealing oil revenues, violent threats turning into civil wars, unemployment, no respect for local communities and little contribution to their development: these are all part of the history of the Niger Delta. But there are positive trends.

General memorandums of understanding (GMOUs) between oil companies and communities now redefine relationships. The size of environmental damage is being mapped. Cleaning up is under way, although spills still occur. A new way of looking at corporate responsibility comes from the UN. And civil justice in Nigeria has been evaluated rather positively in a survey among the population and experts.

The projects in which HiiL is a partner address three questions:

  1. How can the UN principles help to redefine these distressed relationships?
  2. How do the GMOUs contribute to peace building in the Niger Delta?
  3. What should grievance mechanisms (conflict resolution systems) be able to achieve between communities and companies (Terms of Reference)?

UN principles: protect, respect and remedy

The UN principles for Business and Human Rights (the Ruggie principles) are a unique and new framework for business, because they were accepted unanimously in the UN General Assembly as a worldwide standard in 2011. They came after consultations with, and without any major objections from, the business world.

The Africa Centre for Corporate Responsibility (located in Abuja and Warri, Nigeria, director Austin Onuoha) has assessed the potential of the principles for the Nigerian situation in a project funded by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.

HiiL's academic director Maurits Barendrecht has provided conflict resolution system expertise (see his presentation in a consultation with stakeholders and journalists in Lagos). Initial findings suggest that land rights, environmental problems and employment issues are now the most important sources of conflicts.

The Ruggie principles potentially change the game. They make clear companies must do more than just follow the letter of national law and the licences they get from local governments. The duty to protect, respect and remedy is triggered by the impact they have on human rights of individuals and local communities.

The intention is not to place companies in the same league as brutal dictators torturing and killing people. Such a comparison would be unfair and ineffective. But there is now general awareness that the rights to property, personal security, a secure livelihood, education, employment rights and access to justice are impacted if a major business starts operating on your doorstep. So yes, businesses do impact human rights.

Businesses have now accepted a responsibility to assess potential impact, to minimize impact and to help remedy things that go wrong, even if they have not directly caused the problem. For instance, theft of oil and spillage would not have occurred but for their operations. Although it is clear that oil thieves are fully responsible for the mess they cause and government is the first entity to provide security, companies should carry a fair share of the burden, which would otherwise fall fully on the community.

GMOUs: A platform for relationships

ARRS director Austin Onuoha researches the impact of the GMOUs on peace building with Barendrecht as a supervisor. The initial findings suggest that GMOUs in which Chevron is involved provide a platform for contributions of companies to local development and local employment opportunities at company facilities.

Many people in communities still have grievances, and the committees for resolving conflicts are not always functioning. The contribution of GMOUs to peace building remains to be investigated. But at least the GMOU provides a platform for negotiation and for exchange of information that can be the basis for further innovation.

What conflict mechanisms should be able to do: Terms of Reference

In a third project, sponsored by the Hugo CSR Initiative, ACCR and HiiL investigated the most frequent types of conflicts occurring between companies and communities. They found 19 types of issues - five relating to prevention and relationship building, three to legacy issues from the past where reconciliation is necessary, and 11 concrete grievances. Each of these conflicts needs different capabilities.

Land issues, for instance, require extensive mapping of claims and usage patterns. In case of an oil spill, there is a need for fast decisions on immediate remedies, contracts for cleaning up have to be awarded, and an extensive mechanism for providing adequate compensation is necessary. Reconciliation requires psychological healing processes, as well as remedies for harm done.

The main message is that much specialised knowledge is required and should be available locally. Developing protocols with best practices for these conflicts may be a way forward.

Other positive signals

Transparency increases. Shell and UNEP have published extensive data about the size of pollution and the progress of clean-up. Such data may be contested, but at least they provide a base line for further debate and an idea of the investments required.

Nigerians may also have better skills at making peace than expected. The WJP Rule of Law Index 2011 places Nigeria at number 34 in the ranking of civil justice, second out of 16 countries in its income group. The same index suggests the solution for these disputes will not come from the far away US courts of law. The US scores 21st overall, and 20th out of 23 countries with similar income levels.

Project details

Project Leader:
Contact: Prof. Maurits Barendrecht