in the dock for environmental breach in Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.
Culled from Island News, Monday, November 8, 2004
The free community weekly newspaper for
Lagos Island, Ikoyi, Victoria Island & Lekki
(234) 01 791 4197
How else would you describe the activities of one of the
biggest multinationals in the world, that deliberately dehumanises its junior
employees to the extent that the victims eventually commit environmental crimes?
Some might call it apartheid, some might describe it as sheer insensitivity
while others may simply say it's typical of the arrogance displayed by some
blue-chip firms operating in the country. Here in Victoria Island, Texas based
is dealing with an ''apartheid'' policy that has precipitated an embarrassing
environmental breach by its employees. It is an irony that a company with a
world-wide turnover of $246.7 billion in 2003, surprisingly failed to provide
its junior staff with appropriate amenities when the call of nature beckons?
Left with little or no option, the employees, mainly drivers, defecate and
urinate in a pit hole that is flushed into a nearby open gutter right in the
heart of Victoria Island. This critical lapse in judgement has prompted the
local council in Victoria Island, to fall on the oil firm like a ton of bricks,
through a court action. But rather than ameliorate the mistake and treat the
employees concerned like human beings who work for one of the most successful
oil companies in the world, the company appeared in court last Friday to ask for
more time for consultation and is yet to make amends!
Some where along Ligali Ayorinde Street, Victoria Island, at the heart of the
nation's commercial nerve centre and at the central business district is a
misnomer, quite frankly, a disgrace to any company that respects the dignity of
its employees and the environmental well-being of its immediate community. The
culprit is the oil giant previously known as Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited.
Today it has been renamed ExxonMobil following a merger with oil giant Exxon in
November 30, 1999.
The company's head office is conspicuously identifiable by an imposing edifice
at Aboyade Cole Street or No. 1 Lekki-Epe Expressway, Victoria Island. Within
that vicinity is its car park and a peep into activities there is mind boggling.
Someone perhaps with crude engineering and architectural skills thought of a
''wonderful'' idea and proceeded to construct a primitive pit latrine that
flushes the human waste of junior workers of the firm made up of mainly
drivers, into the nearby gutter. It is not immediately discernible when this
practice started but it is believed to be several years back. A close scrutiny
reveals the various shapes, sizes and colour of faeces deposited into the drains
from an average daily participation of more than two hundred people. We hear
that the generosity of those who keep watch there, by allowing non employees of
Exxonmobil, who are hard pressed to equally fulfil the call of nature, may have
swelled the ''deposits'' of participants.
This is how this environmental breach began. Officials of the firm had
contracted this project to some hod carriers, bricklayers and plasterers. After
mobilisation, they dug up a hole and plastered it with cement. A tunnel was
subsequently created to flush the human waste into a nearby gutter. The outcome
is an eyesore. Stench from the nuisance is repulsive and belies the reputation
of this firm, that has been trying to build for itself a good image in the
community and in the country in general. How did we stumble on this revelation?
A dissatisfied member of staff, and local residents had reported the
''apartheid'' policy of the oil firm to the local council, Iru-Victoria. In no
time, the environmental officials of the council swung into action. They visited
the area and decided that the company had to be sanctioned. An Abatement of
Nuisance Notice was served and Mobil was summoned to a hearing last Friday
preparatory to the sealing off of its premises. It is a standard procedure often
used by the environmental officers.
This scenario however throws up two critical issues. The first is the deliberate
policy of ExxonMobil to denigrate its junior employees by failing to provide
them with decent toilet facilities. Experts in human resources have suggested
that in addition to the environmental suit filed against the oil firm by the
local council, the appropriate labour union should institute another legal
action to seek compensation for the affected employees in addition to a hefty
fine against the company. It appears that this seeming disrespect for junior
workers by blue-chip companies in the country may be pervasive. Several months
ago Zenith International Bank was caught in the same act. Failure by the bank to
provide basic facilities left its junior workers mainly drivers with little or
no immediate option but to urinate and in some cases defecate in the nearby
street. The environmental nuisance propelled residents of Adebisi Omojola
Street, to take action including a public notice in Island News exposing Zenith.
That action worked wonders. Zenith swung into action to rectify the mess. A
visit there today tells a different tale. Zenith has since leant its lessons and
it is believed that those responsible were either sacked or seriously
The second charge against ExxonMobil is the wanton disregard for the
environmental well-being of the surrounding area. For a company that is
constantly vilified about environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, where it
pumps oil in the region of 900,000 barrels per day, this ''oversight'' is
unpardonable. Why a successful oil company with world-wide profits of $21.5
billion for 2003 (far more than what the federal government of Nigeria earned
during the same period) would condone such deliberate activity is baffling. Is
it just arrogance, incompetence or nonchalance?
The company makes no pretensions about condoning such activities. On it's
website, it pledged to be a good corporate citizen in all the places it operates
world-wide. ''We will maintain the highest ethical standards, obey all
applicable laws and regulations, and respect local and national cultures. Above
all other objectives, we are dedicated to running safe and environmentally
responsible operations. The exceptional quality of our workforce is a valuable
competitive edge. To build on this advantage we will strive to hire and retain
the most qualified people available and maximise their opportunities for success
through training and development. We are committed to maintaining a safe work
environment enriched by diversity and characterised by open communication,
trust, and fair treatment''.
In spite of this pledge, the activities of ExxonMobil's staff at Aboyade Cole
Street in Victoria Island tells a completely different story, it is at variance
with the company's environmental pledge and must be a source of huge
embarrassment to the management. The matter has landed the firm in court,
courtesy of environmental health officers at Iru-Victoria Island Local Council.
In an Abatement of Nuisance Notice under the environmental sanitation law of
2000, the council's health officer Mr Egungbahun averred that an inspection
carried out under the enabling law at the company's premises at Ligali Ayorinde
Street, VI, on the first day of November this year revealed that (1) ExxonMobil
failed to clear/clean the dirty, silted and blocked drain in front of its
premises. (2) ExxonMobil erected illegal and unauthorised structure that
discharged human waste matter into the public drain at the oil company's
premises. ''In this circumstance, unless you abate the said nuisance within 24
hours of the service of this notice the provisions of the above named law will
be enforced and you will be prosecuted by the Environmental Sanitation Law 2000/Iru-Victoria
Island Local Government Environmental Sanitation bye-laws 2002''. One of the
council's health officers confirmed that the nuisance was detected on October
29, 2004. The failure of the oil company in rectifying the nuisance led to the
court summons instituted by the council.
Last Friday, ExxonMobil officials appeared at a customary court at Muri Okunola
Street, Victoria Island. In a charge No. MKC/GB/CR/208/2004, dated November 2,
2004 and addressed to the managing director and management, the plaintiff being
the local council averred that the oil firm had not only failed to clear the
sills and dirt in the frontage of its parking premises, but had also ''failed to
stop the unsanitary and indiscriminate act of discharging faecal matter/effluent
from the premises of your parking lot into the public drain along Ligali
Ayorinde Street, Victoria Island, contrary to and punishable under section 18 of
the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Law 2001''.
Mr A.L.A. Akinbola, ExxonMobil's lawyer appeared on behalf of the chief
executive and the management of the company. He told the court that the company
was served with the court summons last Thursday and so did not have the
opportunity to discuss with his clients. He therefore asked for a short
adjournment. The prosecution informed the court that there was need for the
court to know if there was any person at the hearing who represented the
management. At that juncture, Mr Emma Amadi the firm's general counsel and
company secretary announced his appearance. The prosecutor Mr Bamishile did not
object to the adjournment, he however asked the court to advise Mobil to clear
the human waste ''because if the situation is allowed to remain as it is while
the case drags, it has the potential of causing an epidemic''. The case was
thereafter adjourned till Friday, November 12, 2004.
An attempt by Island News to solicit a response from the oil giant was met with
silence. The firm's corporate affairs official Rita Umoren who had earlier
promised to respond to questions via email, was conveniently said to have
travelled and no other official agreed to speak on the embarrassing matter.