Students from across the country descended on Hoxton Square on Saturday night to protest against gas flaring in the Niger Delta.
The Amnesty International demonstrators, many dressed in white chemical suits, stood silently for an hour with torches and banners held aloft. A replica Shell pipeline spanned the square as part of the protest which took two months to plan.
Oliver Mali, a student at SOAS, was one of hundreds who then dispersed around Hoxton, explaining the impact of gas flaring to local residents and collecting signatures for a petition.
“We’re here to make people aware, and hold the Shell corporation accountable,” the 29-year-old said. “Hopefully, with this exposure, it will pressure the CEOs and managers of the company to own up to the environmental degradation which violates innocent people.”
Except where ministerial consent has been granted, gas flaring has been prohibited in Nigeria since 1984. But the burning of unwanted gas produced when oil is pumped out of the ground – a global practice that releases 400 million tonnes of CO2 into the air each year – continues.
David Helsby, 19, who had travelled to Hackney from Hull, said: “Because the company has so much power in Nigeria, basically the government’s left them to it.”
“It’s a constant burning flame,” added Sally Devine, 22, from Manchester. “It causes great health problems for the population, contaminating the fish, contaminating the water.”
Shell is committed to halting gas flaring, the company claims. However, on-site violence and kidnappings, along with a shortage of government funding, have “significantly delayed” progress.
Despite the estimated $600 billion generated by the Niger Delta’s oil deposits over the last 50 years, the majority of its 31 million population lives in poverty.
“Oil companies have been exploiting Nigeria’s weak regulatory system for too long,” said Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty, whose UK headquarters are in Shoreditch. “They do not adequately prevent environmental damage and they frequently fail to properly address the devastating impact that their bad practice has on people’s lives.”
For information on the campaign visit www.amnesty.org.uk/dignity.