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Obasanjo appoints independent mediators to reconcile Shell and local Ogoni community

Reuters: NIGERIA: Obasanjo appoints independent mediators to reconcile Shell and local Ogoni community

Posted 2 June 2005

 

Source: IRIN

 

ABUJA, 1 June (IRIN) – The Nigerian government has appointed independent mediators to end a dispute between transnational Royal Dutch/Shell and the local Ogoni community, which forced the oil giant to suspend some of its operations in the oil-rich Niger Delta 13 years ago.

 

President Olusegun Obasanjo chose a respected Nigerian Catholic priest Matthew Kukah to “facilitate” negotiations between Shell and the minority activist group, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and other Ogoni leaders, a statement by the president’s office said on Tuesday.

 

Kukah will be assisted by UK-based International Centre for Reconciliation (ICR) in seeking an end to the conflict which arose out of Ogoni allegations of environmental damage and general oppression as a result of Shell’s oil production activities.

 

Angry and violent Ogoni protests inspired by the campaigns of MOSOP under the leadership of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, forced Shell to shut down its oil wells in Ogoniland, in January 1993. The wells had produced 28,000 barrels of crude a day.

 

Saro-Wiwa was hanged in 1995 with eight other Ogoni rights activists on the orders of then Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha. Saro-wiwa was accused of murdering four rival chiefs, but the process was widely condemned as flawed.

 

Obasanjo said the latest attempt to broker peace between Shell and the Ogoni was part of efforts to end conflict across Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with more than 126 million people.

 

“Without peace we do not give development a chance,” said the Nigerian leader. “I sincerely want to put this conflict in Ogoni behind us so that we can have the environment necessary for development,” Obasanjo said.

 

However, previous attempts to make peace between the parties faltered over MOSOP demands for restitution and Shell’s Ogoniland wells remain shut down and MOSOP leader Ledum Mitee remained cautionary in expressing his support for the government’s latest move.

 

“It is critical that people do not misinterpret a willingness to talk as anything more than a first step,” Mitee said in a statement issued in response to the government announcement.

 

“We have consistently said that we are willing to talk and we do want to hear what the federal government and Shell have to say about redressing the damage which has been done to Ogoniland and our people,” he added.

 

Mitee said he expected any genuine reconciliation process to take into account the recommendations of the United Nations, the Africa Commission for Human Rights and internal Nigerian reports that found evidence of “years of extra-judicial killings, military occupation, rapes, looting and even the execution of our leaders”.

 

However, Shell representatives were more up-beat.

 

“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that a lasting reconciliation amongst and between Ogonis and Shell is achieved, to the benefit of all stakeholders,” Basil Omiyi, Shell Nigeria managing director said in a statement.

 

According to Canon Justin Welby, a senior official of ICR, the mediations “represent a significant first step” to resolving past differences and a more beneficial future for the impoverished Ogoni areas.

 

MOSOP campaigns against oil pollution and in favour of more access to oil wealth have inspired similar action from other ethnic groups in the Niger Delta.

 

Oil operations are frequently disrupted and violence regularly claims more than 1,000 lives a year.

 

Five joint ventures run by the Nigerian state with international oil companies that include Shell, Chevron Corp, ExxonMobil, Total and Agip pump more than 90 percent of Nigeria’s oil exports of 2.5 million barrels a day.

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