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Daily Champion (Lagos)
By Ebere Nwoji, Vincent Adekoye and Napoleon Ehiremen
SHELL Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has alerted that the oil status of the country could be severely affected by the resurgence of violence in the Niger Delta region.
The company raised this alarm just as the Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC) yesterday said they are ready to negotiate the release of the four expatriate oil workers kidnapped by militant youths at SPDC facility two weeks ago.
The communities said this was in accordance with the mandate given to them by President Obasanjo to secure the release of the kidnapped oil workers.
Skirmishes in the region recently assumed frightening dimension. Penultimate Sunday about 14 people were feared killed when armed militants attacked SPDC's Benisede flow-station, burnt down two staff lodgings and damaged processing facilities.
SPDC acting External Relations Manager, Chief Charles Akeni, however, said that the raging crisis in the region is threatening the operations of the company on daily basis, thereby diverting its attention from other commitments that would have improved the nation's oil production capacity.
Akeni stated this while delivering a lecture on the operations of the company and problems confronting it, at a workshop organised for journalists in Asaba and Benin, Delta and Edo states respectively.
He identified some of the threats to include bunkering, (crude oil theft) pipeline vandalization which he said has assumed a fearful dimension of recent, threat by the Ijaw National Youth Congress and other militant groups across the country which often comes in form of invasion of flow stations, lock-outs, vehicles seizures, disruption of oil operations, hostage taking and kidnapping.
Others are arms build up in the Niger Delta and Supreme Court decision on the controversial resource control matter.
Chief Akeni observed that while other oil producing nations of the World are busy carrying out research on how they could improve their oil production, Nigeria is busy negotiating release of innocent oil workers abducted by some unknown militant youths on their work place.
While calling on stakeholders to appreciate the gestures of the SPDC which he said has taken the issue of the community relations seriously than any other oil producing company in the country, he disclosed that Shell has set up a functional department that is headed by a senior manager, to review the local content policy of the company with a view to making it more virile if need be. According to him, this will address some of the agitations relating to issues of employment and award of contracts to indigenous contractors.
He reiterated the policy of the company in support of the extractive transparency in the revenue generated by the extractive industries and called on the federal government to implement same to the letter.
On January 11, four expatriate workers of Tidex Drilling Company Limited, a corporate contractor to SPDC were kidnapped and their captors had earlier ruled out their immediate release despite pressure from government.
But in a statement signed by Hon. Bello Oboko, and Chief Government Ekpemupolo, president and director of mobilization respectively, it was stated that President Obasanjo had mandated them to negotiate and secure the release of the oil workers.
According to the statement, “Following increasing pressures from presidency officials and a direct instruction of Mr. President, in a telephone conversation relayed on January 18, 2006 mandating FNDIC to act as chief negotiators, we (FNDIC) obliged to accept the weighty responsibility”.
It stated that their readiness to take up the task was because of the gravity of the consequence a government action against the Ijaw nation could be, and being a representative of the people, swift action to resolving the issue would be to the advantage of the Ijaw nation.
The FNDIC commended President Obasanjo for his wise decision in which a peace committee led by Governor Good- Luck Jonathan of Bayelsa State is already in place.
It however appealed to the Ijaw people to eschew violence as only peaceful environment can bring about development and growth urging all parties to the crisis to cease-fire.
However, in an effort to boost supply and ease distribution of petroleum products in the Niger Delta, President Obasanjo has approved the establishment of six depots in the region.
In a related development, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 2 Mechanised Division, Ibadan, Maj. Gen. Nuhu Bamali, has commended the activities of men of the Niger-Delta Force codenamed “Operation Restore Hope” deployed by the Federal Government to counter the resurgent militia attacks on oil workers, installations and search for the kidnapped foreign oil workers in the region.
He said that the action of the military as at now is satisfactory and in line with the new call for professionalism rather than the use of excessive force.
The GOC who spoke in the office of the Edo State governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion in Benin yesterday during his three-day visit to military formations in the state said though the soldiers involved have been trained to adapt to the new development in the region and adopt dialogue in their dealings with the restive youths, the Federal Government's position on the development would be respected by the Niger-Delta Force with utmost display of professionalism.
Bamali disclosed that military authorities had done a lot in ensuring that peace and orderliness are maintained in the region, knowing the importance of the region as the oil belt of the nation, and that the renewed efforts of professionalising the activities of the Force was geared towards it.
Earlier in his speech, the governor expressed satisfaction with the relationship existing between the state government and 4th Mechanised brigade in the area of warding off cases of violent crimes in the past in the state and said that though many persons may be trying to advocate for the return of the military in governance.
Meanwhile, President of Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC) Adams Oshiomhole has called for the release of the four oil workers held hostage by some groups in the Niger Delta since January 11.
Oshiomhole, in a statement yesterday said that the NLC remains firm in its belief that there were compelling local concerns in the Niger Delta which require urgent political and constitutional solutions.
He however said that oil workers, whether Nigerians or expatriates were not in any way responsible for that state of affairs, while their abduction will not solve the problem.
According to him, the NLC is opposed to violence and hostage-taking as means to pursue grievances no matter how justified they may be.

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