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allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Shell, Ijaw Truce

Daily Champion (Lagos)
EDITORIAL
December 4, 2006
Posted to the web December 5, 2006

Lagos

The protracted face-off between the oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), and its host communities in the Niger Delta region may have produced more human blood than oil. This is because virtually every week the crisis in the region increasingly assumes a dangerous dimension, often resulting in hostage-taking, outright killings, aerial bombardment and general insecurity.

Indeed, since the crisis in the Niger Delta region began, the nation’s crude oil production level has gone down considerably. Some oil companies operating there have been forced to shut down production. The Royal Dutch oil company Shell has had cause not long ago to shut down its western division operation and declared force majeure. Only last October, Shell announced that its annual profit has dropped by 34 percent to $5.94 bn, while revenue rose by 10 percent to $84.25 bn. The company also has lost 455, 000 barrel per day and revenue in excess of $3.2 bn since February this year as a result of the rift between it and the Ijaw communities.

Other oil companies operating in the region such as Chevron and Agip have suffered similar losses in both human and revenue but Shell, undoubtedly has been the biggest casualty in the violence in the Niger Delta region. It is in the light of this that we welcome the recent peace agreement between Shell and its Ijaw communities (FNDIC). The truce which was brokered by the Delta State government was remarkable in more than one respect.

In addition to the peace deal, the Managing Director of Shell Mr. Basil Omiyi, the first Nigerian in that position in the history of the company, had tendered unreserved apology to the Ijaw communities over the killing of dozens of the Ijaw by the Federal Security operatives. Under the agreement reached November 26, Shell can resume operations in the area, even though it says it will not rush into that now.

The deal with the Ijaw communities includes plans by the Federal government, Delta State government and the authorities of Shell to hasten the implementation of a N30 bn development projects earmarked for the Ijaw communities. These projects include road network, health centres and power generating sets. All of this, we understand, is contained in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two major parties.

We find as more profound in the healing the wounds of the crisis, the apology tendered by the SPDC MD, Mr Omiyi. In the letter he expressed the company’s “deepest condolences” to the entire Ijaw nation over the unfortunate death of nine Ijaw youths in August 2006. The incident took place at Brass Creek, a hotbed of the crisis between the oil companies and the militants.

There is no doubt that the agreement between Shell and its hosts, the Ijaw communities, is worthy of note, perhaps it would have come much earlier than now. All the same, it should serve as a starting point for all the oil companies operating in the troubled spots of the Niger Delta region. There is urgent need for all the oil companies to initiate concrete steps to normalize relations with their estranged host communities. For Shell, the lesson in the present truce with its Ijaw host communities is instructive: that little is gained but much is lost in atmosphere of violence. Intransigence and use of force as had been hitherto exhibited by Shell and the Federal Security forces deployed to the Niger Delta region have not solved any problem. Instead it has worsened it.

Also, we want to see the apology of Shell to mean a contrition and a signal to turn a new leaf in its dealings with its host oil communities who had their natural resources devastated as a result of oil exploitation. Let the truce be the beginning of genuine efforts towards reconciliation. It must not be perfunctory. It must be sustained with constant dialogue.
 
Beyond that, we urge Shell to use the truce and address other grievances of its host communities especially the case of the Ogoni community which has been festering for over a decade now. Such is the gravity of anger of the Ogoni community as championed by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) that many oil wells belonging to Shell have been shut down for years. Even now in spite of the existence of the presidential committee on reconciliation headed by Rev. Fr. Matthew Kukah, little progress has been made in reconciling Shell with the Ogoni people. There should be a new thinking on both sides.

In that connection, it is time for Shell and other oil companies in the country to reappraise their social responsibility and their relationship with their host communities. We know for a fact that at the moment, the oil companies are not doing much in relieving the pains of their host communities. This attitude has not been helped by the federal government’s apparent negligent manner of dealing with some obvious lapses by the oil companies. In other countries, oil companies are compelled to adhere to best business ethics. The same cannot be said of the Nigerian government in dealing with oil companies in the country.

The truce will achieve its objectives only if both Shell and Ijaw communities abide by the agreement reached on November 26. No party to the agreement should allow anything to disrupt its implementation or enforcement, which is to restore peace to the region and the rest of the country.

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