The recent WikiLeaks revelations have exposed the high level of influence, infiltration and intelligence-gathering that global oil companies have in resource-rich nations in Africa, specifically Shell's role in Nigeria.
Shell gained information on all aspects of Nigeria's oil business
Leaked US diplomatic cables from last year, carried by a number of international newspapers and magazines, show that Royal Dutch Shell - among the major oil producers in Nigeria - have infiltrated key Nigerian ministries and have been using links to US officials to gain information on rival oil companies in the country, and the movements and objectives of militants in the Niger Delta region.
Shell's level of penetration into the governmental structure of Nigeria - one of the world's largest oil exporters - have given the company access to politicians and decision-makers at the highest level, providing it with insider knowledge of all movements and negotiations within those ministries.
According to Dr. Heinz Jockers, a Nigeria expert and a member of the EU Election Observation Mission to Nigeria, Shell has personnel in the finance, interior, national planning, defense, environment, energy and foreign affairs ministries as well as influence over a number of presidential advisers, parliamentarians, governors, and high-ranked tribal rulers.
High level infiltration in major ministeries and oil-producing states
"Shell operatives - although they are unofficially employed by the company - have infiltrated the majority of the most important ministries in the Nigerian government," Jockers told Deutsche Welle. "They will of course also have their people in the ministries of the main oil-producing states."
Shell used Nigerian sources to help secure its interests
Jockers said that the main aim of the Shell operatives would be to gain information on everything which could in one way or the other affect the company's business. "Areas of interest for these people would be the position of other competitors, be it companies or countries; their offers regarding oil deals in Nigeria, the pricing scale for oil in the country, and the level of governmental support for security," he said.
The leaked cables show that Shell had obtained information that Nigeria had invited bids for oil concessions from China and was concerned at the possibility of increased competition from the People's Republic. They also show that Shell executives requested confirmation from US officials on Russian gas giant Gazprom's interest in Nigeria after information was obtained from ministerial channels.
Jockers added that the practice of infiltration was so widespread that it is highly likely that other large companies have embedded personnel in governmental offices as this was the only way that advantages in business could be gained in Nigeria. "These could include: Julius Berger, Chevron, Hochtief, Siemens, Peugeot, Haliburton, and Mercedes," he said.
"You have to remember: Nigeria is a chaotic and highly corrupt country. To do business there, you have to play the game."
Shell contacted US officials over Delta militant threat
Shell wanted US help with getting information on militants
Ann Pickard, Shell's top executive in Nigeria, was also revealed to have spoken to US officials in 2008 about the threat of militants in the Niger Delta which had, at its peak in 2006, shut down a quarter of Nigeria's oil output. An amnesty in 2009 ended the acts of sabotage being carried out on vulnerable pipelines and platforms, such as Shell's Soku gas facility which had been the target of militant rocket attacks at the height of the so-called Oil War.
"Shell had been the main target of attacks by militants since the early 1990s," Heinrich Bergstresser, a Nigeria expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg, told Deutsche Welle.
"The sabotages and attacks on Shell's installations, among others, were and are executed not just by militants but also orchestrated by complicit agents within the oil companies. They benefit from the attacks because these people are very often also in charge of managing the payment of compensation which offers the opportunity to keep certain amounts of the payment for themselves."
The cable dispatches from 2008 showed that Shell's Pickard had contacted the US consulate in Lagos with an offer to share "intelligence" on militant activity in exchange for information on a shipment of surface-to-air missiles which had allegedly been destined for Nigerian militant groups in the Delta region.
Cables hint at Shell's involvement with local godfathers
The cables describe how Pickard was also unconvinced that a certain governor in the Delta region "lacked the connections among Rivers state militant leaders to successfully coopt them as the governors in Delta and Bayelsa states have done with militants in their states," and that she believed the clash between the military and militants was "a proxy war for ongoing disputes" between rival governors.
Playing both sides in the Delta struggle is a dangerous game
This section of the cable transcripts hints at the possibility that Shell has been attempting to use its influence to control local leaders, a comlicated and dangerous practice according to Heinrich Bergstresser.
"Shell is playing with fire if it has or had any connection with the governors and militants," he said. "On the one hand, the oil companies cannot control the governors but on the other hand they can try to persuade them to act in favor of the companies and in their own interest. I am sure that they are paying certain amounts to the governors but that does not guarantee anything."
Bergstresser added that very often the oil companies find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. "The militias have emancipated themselves from their political Godfathers and have started their own business of attacks and kidnappings so the oil companies find themselves sandwiched between profit-making, being threatened by militias, and keeping very close relationships with the federal government."
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge