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Dutch officials wade into Niger Delta crisis

Tuesday, 18 October 2011 00:00 From Kelvin Ebiri, Rotterdam

TOP officials of the Dutch government at the weekend kept on the front burner efforts to bring lasting stability to the Niger Delta.

The position of the government was articulated by Dutch parliamentarians and a representative of the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in charge of the Horn of Africa, East and West Africa.

A Dutch parliamentarian, Sharon Gesthuizen, specifically tasked Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to clean up oil spill in all contaminated sites in the Niger Delta. Shell admitted that oil spill in the Niger Delta was wrong and it would do its best to remediate areas affected.

Gesthuizen who led a Dutch parliamentarian delegation to Nigeria in February, made the call during a conference organised by the Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC) with the theme, “Success and challenges of the Nigerian government amnesty programme: The role of international community” held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

The lawmaker said her Socialist Party would press for environmental and human right laws that would force Dutch multinational companies like Shell to adhere to strict international standard wherever they operate.

She observed that the Netherlands government had over the years not paid adequate attention to the situation in Nigeria, particularly in the Niger Delta where she said people were living in abject poverty in the midst of abundant natural resources.

She recalled that during her last visit to Nigeria she witnessed gas flaring, environmental pollution, oil theft, uneducated children and was detained by men of the Joint Task Force (JTF).

Gesthuizen accused the oil companies and Nigerian government officials of culpability for crisis in the Niger Delta and charged Shell as a Dutch company to clean up the environment and listen to the sincere yearnings of the people for development.

Shell’s Strategy Relations Manager, Barnaby Briggs, said the company recognised the tragedy of oil in Nigeria and that it had made mistakes in the past.

Briggs said Shell was striving hard to clean up polluted oil spill sites, but noted that it had been extremely difficult working in the Niger Delta.

He pledged Shell’s support for the amnesty programme, which has led to increase in oil production, which once plummeted to 700,000 barrels per day. Nigeria currently produces about 2.4 million per day.

HNDC President, Sunny Ofehe, explained that the conference was organised because of the importance of sustenance of peace in the Niger Delta due to its strategic role in the global energy supply.

The representative of the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry in charge of Horn of Africa, East and West Africa, Michiel Bierkens, said his country in collaboration with other European Union countries would hold a roundtable dialogue with the Nigerian government officials on the way forward for the amnesty programme.

The former President of the Ijaw Youth Council, Chris Ekiyor, appealed to the Dutch government to assist the amnesty committee locate certified vocational institutes where ex-militants could be trained.

He also called for the lifting of the travel advice on Nigeria and granting of visa to ex-militants that the government planned to train in Europe.

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