giant Shell claimed it had inserted staff into
all the main ministries of the Nigerian
government, giving it access to politicians'
every move in the oil-rich Niger Delta, according
to a leaked US diplomatic cable.
The company's top
executive in Nigeria
told US diplomats that Shell had seconded
employees to every relevant department and so
knew "everything that was being done in
those ministries". She boasted that the
Nigerian government had "forgotten"
about the extent of Shell's infiltration and was
unaware of how much the company knew about its
The cache of secret dispatches from Washington's
embassies in Africa also revealed that the Anglo-Dutch
oil firm swapped intelligence with the US, in one
case providing US diplomats with the names of
Nigerian politicians it suspected of supporting
militant activity, and requesting information
from the US on whether the militants had acquired
The latest revelations came on a day that saw
hackers sympathetic to WikiLeaks target
MasterCard and Visa over their decision to block
payments to the whistleblowers' website.
The website's founder, Julian Assange, spent a
second night in jail after a judge refused him
bail prior to an extradition hearing to face
questioning over sexual assault charges in Sweden.
Campaigners tonight said the revelation about
Shell in Nigeria demonstrated the tangled links
between the oil firm and politicians in the
country where, despite billions of dollars in oil
revenue, 70% of people live below the poverty
But that did not prevent Pickard disclosing
the company's reach into the Nigerian government
when she met US ambassador Robin Renee Sanders,
as recorded in a confidential memo from the US
embassy in Abuja on 20 October 2009.
At the meeting,
Pickard related how the company had obtained a
letter showing that the Nigerian government had
invited bids for oil concessions from China. She
said the minister of state for petroleum
resources, Odein Ajumogobia, had denied the
letter had been sent but Shell knew similar
correspondence had taken place with China and Russia.
Nigeria is Africa's
leading oil producer and the eighth biggest
exporter in the world, accounting for 8% of US
oil imports. Although a recent UN report largely
exonerated the company, critics accuse Shell, the
biggest operator in the delta, and other
companies, of causing widespread
pollution and environmental damage in the
region. Militant groups engaged in hostage-taking
and sabotage have proliferated.
The WikiLeaks disclosure was today seized on
by campaigners as evidence of Shell's vice-like
grip on the country's oil wealth. "Shell and
the government of Nigeria are two sides of the
same coin," said Celestine AkpoBari, of
Social Action Nigeria. "Shell is everywhere.
They have an eye and an ear in every ministry of
Nigeria. They have people on the payroll in every
community, which is why they get away with
everything. They are more powerful than the
The criticism was
echoed by Ben Amunwa of the London-based oil
watchdog Platform. "Shell claims
to have nothing to do with Nigerian politics,"
he said. "In reality, Shell works deep
inside the system, and has long exploited
political channels in Nigeria to its own
strenuously denied the claim. Levi Ajuonoma, a
spokesman for the state-owned Nigerian National
Petroleum Corporation, said: "Shell does
not control the government of Nigeria and has
never controlled the government of Nigeria. This
cable is the mere interpretation of one
individual. It is absolutely untrue, an absolute
falsehood and utterly misleading. It is an
attempt to demean the government and we will not
stand for that. I don't think anybody will lose
sleep over it."
Another cable released today, from the US
consulate in Lagos and dated 19 September 2008,
claims that Pickard told US diplomats that two
named regional politicians were behind unrest in
the Rivers state. She also asked if the American
diplomats had any intelligence on shipments of
surface to air missiles (SAMs) to militants in
the Niger Delta.
"She claimed Shell has 'intelligence'
that one to three SAMs may have been shipped to
Nigerian militant groups, although she seemed
somewhat sceptical of that information and
wondered if such sensitive systems would last
long in the harsh environment of the Niger Delta,"
the cable said.
Pickard also said Shell had learned from the
British government details of Russian energy
company Gazprom's ambitions to enter the Nigerian
market. In June last year, Gazprom signed a $2.5bn
(£1.5bn) deal with the Nigerian National
Petroleum Corporation to build refineries,
pipelines and gas power stations.
Shell put a request to the US consulate for
potentially sensitive intelligence about Gazprom,
a possible rival, which she said had secured a
promise from the Nigerian government of access to
17trn cubic feet of natural gas roughly a
tenth of Nigeria's entire reserves. "Pickard
said that amount of gas was only available if the
GON were to take concessions currently assigned
to other oil companies and give them to Gazprom.
She assumed Shell would be the GON's prime target."
Pickard alleged that a conversation with a
Nigerian government minister had been secretly
recorded by the Russians. Shortly after the
meeting in the minister's office she received a
verbatim transcript of the meeting "from
Russia", according to the memo.
The cable concludes with the observation that
the oil executive had tended to be guarded in
discussion with US officials. "Pickard has
repeatedly told us she does not like to talk to
USG [US government] officials because the USG is
'leaky'." She may be concerned that ... bad
news about Shell's Nigerian operations will leak
Shell declined to comment on the allegations,
saying: "You are seeking our views on a
leaked cable allegedly containing information
about a private conversation involving a Shell
representative, but have declined to share this
cable or to permit us sufficient time to obtain
information from the person you say took part in
the conversation on the part of Shell. In view of
this, we cannot comment on the alleged contents
of the cable, including the correctness or
incorrectness of any statements you say it