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Nigeria Daily Independent: Dimming Peace Prospect Between Ogoni, Shell

Dimming Peace Prospect Between Ogoni, Shell

 

By Odudu Okpongete

Senior Correspondent,

Port Harcourt

 

 

If Royal Dutch oil giant, Shell, would have to return to its abandoned oil sites in volatile Ogoniland in Rivers State, it would certainly have to muster enough patience to cross the landmines on its path.

 

After the elevation of Mr Basil Omiyi, an indigene of the Niger Delta in 2004 as Shell’s first indigenous Managing Director, it looked as if the prospect for peace between the Ogoni and the oil firm was quite high.

 

And Omiyi had at a dinner organised by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in Port Harcourt to celebrate his elevation told his audience that peace with the Ogoni was a major priority for its leadership. If there was any doubt at all regarding the pursuit of that agenda, it was doused by the appointment of a Catholic cleric, Rev. Father Mathew Kukah, as the facilitator of the peace process by the Federal Government. 

 

But recent events between the two foes appear to be putting the process in jeopardy. And the altercations that had ensued between Shell and the Ogoni since March this year on the re-entry give the impressions that the much talked about reconciliation might not be achieved so soon. And that is because the Ogoni remain ever suspicious of any move taken by multinational oil firm. 

 

Somehow, both parties seemed to have returned to the trenches after the devastating oil spill that struck its Bomu Well-2 in Kegbara Dere, Gokana Local Government Area of the state.

 

The row started with the umbrella Ogoni organisation, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), accusing the company of adopting a half-hearted approach towards ameliorating the sufferings of the victims.

 

The quarrel, of course, had to do not just with the quantity of the relief materials but also the manner that it was distributed. MOSOP does not seem to understand why a spill of that magnitude would attract just N5 million from Shell, whose oil exploration activities was responsible for the damage to the farmlands while the state government donated N10 million to the victims.

 

MOSOP also claimed that by choosing to deal with the victims through a third party rather than representatives of the affected communities, Shell was yet to do away with its usual, condemnable tactics of dealing with such situations.

 

“The idea of supplying relief materials, which cannot considerably reduce the pains and sufferings of communities and victims of the spillage aforesaid, pending adequate compensation is unreasonable,” MOSOP said in a statement signed by its Information Officer, Mr Bari-ara Kpalap.

 

But Shell, in a reply to the accusation, said the relief materials were just an interim measure pending the conclusion of investigations into the cause of the spill. “ This was a humanitarian gesture, which was made in the spirit of the ongoing reconciliation process,” Shell responded.

 

That was not the end of the matter. Perhaps the aspect of the quarrel that had generated much concern is the claim by MOSOP that the oil firm was capitalising on its access to the oil spill sites to further its alleged backdoor re-entry plot. And the body is throwing up lots and lots of allegations. Besides alleging that the company was using the oil spill at K-Dere to attempt reworking on its facilities, it also accused Shell of entering its Yorla Field in the cover of darkness on April 13, 2006 for the same purpose.

 

The move to contain the spill at K-Dere even generated much controversy as about 13 Shell staff that went to the site for assessment of the damage were prevented from going there and were later detained. Besides, the Ogoni umbrella group appears to be acting on information that Shell had presented a detailed plan to the Kukah Committee on the need for it to move into its territory to secure its oil sites.

 

The organisation seems to have no problem with such a plan except that it is accusing Shell of attempting to commence the inspection of its facilities with the aim of securing it to prevent further environmental disaster without a go ahead from the peace committee.

 

“If Shell was not up to something, why did it not wait for the outcome of the reconciliation dialogue, especially as the reason for her so-called inspection mission in Ogoni on the date mentioned above is the core of its agenda items submitted for discussion at the Father Kukah-led Government/Shell Ogoni Peace Process?” it queried.

 

There is also the issue of the alleged torture of two youths from the Ban-Ogoi Community on the orders of Shell. The youths were reportedly escorting human rights activists and foreign journalists to the company’s sites in the area when trouble erupted.

 

Before now, Shell and MOSOP had been engaged in a running battle in the area over the Afam Power Plant project, which the company is handling but which the Ogoni group claims is located within its territory. The issue of the abuse and torture of the youths, which Shell denied vehemently, only added up to the dispute. “SPDC abandoned the acquisition of an additional parcel of land in the community after it was wrongly accused of undermining the Federal Government-initiated reconciliation process in Ogoniland,” Shell explained in the statement, claiming that the situation concerning the two youths was handled by its subcontractor and not Shell directly.

 

All these scenarios appear to add up to the existing frustration faced by the company in Ogoniland. And one cannot rule out the fact that Shell had been desperate to find its way back into the area not just to resume oil production but also to secure its installations. Since 1993 when the company was forced to pull out from the area, many of the oil sites remain at risk.

 

The situation has not been helped by the activities of vandals who excavate the abandoned oil pipes for sale to its buyers. In fact, Shell blames most of the oil spills and the fire accidents experienced in the area on continuing sabotage and deterioration of facilities. “SPDC has been seeking access from Ogoni leaders to return to the area to secure these facilities and clean-up the spills and the environment, but without success,” it said.  

 

A lot of meanings are already been read into the deepening disagreements between both parties. Over time, Shell appeared to have put up a powerful lobby in the area to sway the people’s opinion and to further its re-entry plan. MOSOP also claims a lot of people in the area are benefiting from huge contracts from the company.

 

Such strategy, which many claim is true, seems to have caught only the fancy of politicians and those who want to be identified on the side of the government.

 

The truth, however, is that Shell appears unable to convince none of the mainstream Ogoni activists involved in the more than one decade of struggle for the control of their oil resources that it should be welcome back.

 

Many believe this uncompromising posture on Shell permeates the entire Ogoni society.  Such fears was given meaning by the militant youth wing of MOSOP in a statement signed by one Kaka Kabari, which called on the body to withdraw from the peace deal. “Since Shell’s behaviour so far has clearly shown gross lack of commitment to the reconciliation efforts, the Ogoni people should have no business with the process until there is proven evidence that the company’s conduct has positively changed,” it said. 

 

Many people are fast to brand such posture as a pre-conceived agenda by the Ogoni, but the reality is that Shell will have to work harder in order to win more serious-minded converts to the peace process.

 

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