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Buhari, Shell: A tale of two apologies

Call it a season of apologies and ‘penitence’, and you may not be too far from the truth.  Somehow, the sins of yesterday are defining the course of rectitude today in several quarters, albeit with interesting fallouts. For instance, just last Tuesday, administrative justice came the way of late Chief Moshood Abiola the presumed winner of the annulled, landmark presidential polls of June 12 1993, when President Muhammadu Buhari – acting on behalf of the country,  not only offered a posthumous apology to the former, but also restored Abiola’s mandate as the winner of the polls under consideration and proceeded to confer on him the highest national honour of GCFR. Not done with that Buhari replaced May 29 the country’s present Democracy Day with June 12 being the day of Abiola’s landmark electoral victory. Also on the honours train was Alhaji Babagana Kingibe who bagged the GCON as Abiola’s running mate in the polls. It is easily recalled that the polls had been concluded and results were being announced when the General Ibrahim Babangida regime which was in power then annulled the exercise. 

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Journalists of an older generation may recall how even before the annulment, premonitions that things could go awry were in the air.  Palpable signs that preceded the impending anomaly included the much publicised, ominous announcement by Mr Tony Iredia – then spokesman to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under Professor Humphrey Nwosu,  warning journalists to avoid publicising any information on the poll results, except such as would come from him.  According to him then, the penalty for any journalist that would breach his instructions was imprisonment. 

As was apparent even then, his employers had appreciated the capacity of newshounds to fish out the truth and lay such bare in public, if they remained unrestricted with harsh sanctions. Incidentally Iredia’s warning was cast into the dustbin when by 4.00 pm of Sunday June 14 1993, the next day after the polls, the BBC through its news bulletin broke the news as reported by its Nigerian correspondent Charles Aniagolu that “Tofa loses Kano…”. And that was it. 

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The next morning opened with a situation stir, which  could easily be described as the BBC saving the Nigerian media when almost all of the leading newspapers in the country went to town with a common front page lead headline – “Tofa Loses Kano – BBC”.  

Given that the sundry fallouts from the June 12 saga right from inception until Buhari’s intervention have been flowing around in torrents, even as more are coalescing pending full manifestation, it would still be an understatement to note Buhari’s honour to Abiola hit base with Nigerians. The avalanche of reactions simply accentuated how profoundly the June 12 dispensation had affected Nigerians from all walks of life and social classes, in all of its 25 years life. 

Put succinctly, the reverberations of the annulment had hit Nigerians like an evil spell, and remained an incubus that cast a dark lining on the tapestry of the country’s political space all the while. Among its fallouts were the dashing of hopes of a better country, political turbulence and attendant losses of lives of the innocent as well as property,  dislocation of livelihoods, as the country was thrown into a vortex of social miasma.  

 Meanwhile as if in fulfillment of the cliché which holds that “if you live in a glass house don’t throw stones”, the architect of the anomaly – General Ibrahim Babangida found himself unable to withstand the heat of the fire he started and barely escaped from his gilded throne. But not before deepening the malaise by  conscripting Mr Earnest Shonekan a retired private sector business leader to take over power, even if it was to serve as a gesture of availing the former a soft landing ground in his drop from power.   

Meanwhile, welcome as Buhari’s gesture over June 12 may be, its narrative may not be concluded for now, as the likelihood of litigations over its course cannot be ruled out on the grounds of patent illegalities associated with it. Not a few well disposed Nigerians see Buhari’s take  as a well intentioned dispensation that was railroaded through a path of legal incontinences. 

On a less publicised scale was another apology – this time credited to Royal Shell Group, whose Nigerian subsidiary Shell Nigeria Limited suffers a reputation deficit at least in the Niger Delta region of the country. The apology which was directed at the Niger Delta has nevertheless been swirling in a vortex of controversy. According to a recently trending recast of a May 2010 video clip on You tube channel, one Mr Bradford Houppe, reportedly the Vice Chairman of Shell’s Ethical Affairs Committee unequivocally  announced the apology on behalf of the organisation. According to him the apology stems from a realisation by the multinational that its traditional business practices were questionable as such only promoted a despicable policy of exploiting and abandoning the host communities of their locations. He then announced a new operational philosophy the firm had adopted whereby they will play as good fellas in their operation.  

Interestingly the Shell group has been bellyaching over the return of the video clip and this time on a trending course in the social media. The company has accordingly spared no effort in discrediting the video as a ‘fluke’ which did not come from it.

Yet Shell needs not waste its breathe in debunking the video as it actually defines the most noble cause for the firm to follow henceforth, if it will enjoy the future with its Nigerian host communities.  Already a typical instance is the fact that Shell has been out of any oil production activities in Ogoniland for several decades due to the massive scale of despoilation without remediation of the host communities’ lands. As at present the Federal government is still grappling with the humongous challenge of cleanup operations in Ogoniland, with the likelihood of similar operations in other areas in the Niger Delta which suffer similar fate of land  as well as water pollution from Shell operations. 

After all Shell as a company still needs Ogoniland as well as other areas where its operations have brought more tears than joy to the host communities. Besides from a business perspective the prospects of the exclusion of Shell in the proposed Ogoni cleanup exercise does not even offer a good picture. That is why the firm needs to go beyond the apology – officially endorsed by its leadership or not. 

It was Bryan Davis the Australian Television host that said “ Sacrifice is in the heart of repentance. Without deeds your apology is worthless”. The onus lies with the firm to drop from its high stool and engage its host communities in the Niger Delta region on the basis of symbiotic collaboration. The firm does not need to be told that the simple gesture of extending its presently wasted electricity from its flow station gas turbines to power better life among its host communities, will go a long way in changing its presently redoubtable image in the region which a thousand tongue in the cheek apologies may not attain.  

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