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Niger Delta Communities Protest Against Shell

allAfrica.com: Niger Delta Communities Protest Against Shell

25 May 2005

 

This Day (Lagos)

Onwuka Nzeshi

Warri

 

About 50 oil bearing communities and hosts to the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in Delta State, staged a peaceful demonstration at the weekend in protest over the alleged relocation of Shell’s major departments from Warri, Western division to the eastern division in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State.

 

The protesters said the company had moved its key offices namely the finance/Treasury, minor contracts, major contracts recruitment, community front desk, contracts/procurement and logistics departments from Warri to Port Harcourt. This means that even though Shell still has its largest concentration of oil wells and production facilities in the western Niger Delta, all of these infrastructure would now be administered from its Eastern division.

 

The relocation has been a subject of controversy in the past two years, more so as the exercise equally trigged off the exodus of at least forty two oil service firms to the same Port Harcourt city in what observed have likened to the movement of the snail and its Shell.

 

Hundreds of angry Youths, men and Women besieged the Edjeba and Ogunu offices of the Anglo-Dutch multinational to drive home their grievances, threatening not to leave the gates of Shell until the company rescinded its decision to quit the city. The protesters who clutched placards with various inscriptions accused Shell of betraying its hosts of many years.

 

Some of the placards read; “No to the movement of SPDC from Warri, “SPDC should bring back to Warri what it took to Port Harcourt” “There is no more war in Warri” and yet another says ” Shell has eaten the rat to its tail and must not abandon the meal”.

 

But Shell’s External Relations Manager, Western Division, Mr. Harriman Oyofo has debunked the claims of the host communities, insisting that reports of the company leaving Warri were untrue.

 

Oyofo however, maintained that the Company was not against any body protesting over what they perceived to be an injustice as the Nigerian constitution guaranteed freedom of speech and freedom to hold any opinion under a democratic dispensation.

 

He disclosed that the purported relocation has been a subject of discussion between the management of the company and the leadership of the Delta State government, stressing that the communities could have done better by channeling their grievances through the appropriate authorities rather than picketing at Shell premises.

 

One of the leaders of the protesting communities, Mr. Michael Udi said that the relocation had worsened the unemployment rate in Delta State as thousands of those who depended on Shell and its contracting firms for their livelihood were now jobless, having been laid off their jobs by the fleeing companies.

 

Udi also argued that the exit of Shell from Warri amounted to a double tragedy for the host communities whose lands and water have been polluted due to long years of oil exploration and exploitation. The indigenes who have lost their jobs in the oil service, Udi said can neither go back to till the soil as it can no longer support fruitful agriculture nor can they return to the waters which are no longer fit for fishing.

 

He described the action of SPDC as unfriendly and oppressive, arguing that it has inflicted harsh economic and social consequences on the people of its host communities who now must relocate their businesses to Port Harcourt if they must seek contracts with Shell.

 

“We are of the opinion that your decision to move everything to the East was premeditated and too hasty, because crisis of this nature is not entirely abnormal in cosmopolitan societies and indeed not perculiar to Delta State or Western operational area of Shell. Spate of violent crisis – be if communal, religious, cultist, etc abound everywhere in Nigeria and they all have the same magnitude as the Delta state crisis.

 

“It is rather cruel and unfortunate that after devastating our communities and means of livelihood, your company (Shell) has decided to embark on a voyage of discovery in Port Harcourt while still retaining your exploitation and exploration activities in our area. You know as well as we do that the bulk of your exploration and production activities are concentrated in Delta State, the highest oil producing State in the Niger Delta.

 

“We humbly feel that your decision to relocate is unethical, unfair, unjust and uneconomical. In this circumstance we humbly request that your said decision to relocate should be rescinded in the interest of peace, progress and justice” the protesting communities said in a joint statement issued on the protest.

 

It could be recalled that the Delta State government had since 2003 been appealing to Shell to reconsider the issue of relocating out of Warri. Similarly the Delta State House of Assembly had sometime ago embarked on a legislative bravado when it braved all the odds in the statute books and summoned the headship of SPDC to appear before the state legislators to explain the authenticity of the removed relocation.

 

The legislators had at that time argued that the removed relocation could threaten peace in the State and as representatives of the people they felt constrained to intervene before it was too late.

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