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UPI: Shell committed to Nigeria

By Carmen J. Gentile Mar 15, 2007, 4:54 GMT

MIAMI, FL, United States (UPI) — Royal Dutch Shell has no plans on leaving Nigeria despite the ongoing violence plaguing its operations in the Niger Delta, officials said Wednesday.

Although 17 Shell workers were killed in Nigeria during 2006, the company said it was committed to remaining in the country, the No. 1 African oil producer.

‘Shell is here to stay,’ said Dale Rollins, deputy managing director for Shell in Port Harcourt.

The remarks followed the release of Shell`s annual report in which the company said the fatalities were caused by militant attacks on the company`s installations, though the majority of the deaths were the result of road accidents and drowning at off-shore facilities.

Rollins said the business relationship the company has with the Nigerian government in the form of the Shell Petroleum Development Co. was important to the future of the delta.

SPDC, a Shell official said, is working on improving a number of health facilities throughout Nigeria in an effort to improve the lives of the country`s majority, many of whom live on less than $1 a day.

The extreme poverty in close proximity to the multibillion dollar oil industry in the delta has created a breeding ground for unrest in Nigeria`s petroleum epicenter and given birth to an armed militant regime known as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

Several oil companies have been forced to close some oil installations both onshore and offshore due to repeat MEND attacks in which dozens have been kidnapped and a handful killed.

The Filipino government decided to ban its citizens from working in Nigeria after 24 of its countrymen were kidnapped by gunmen identifying themselves as MEND. The group has threatened all those associated with the oil industry to leave or face a similar fate.

Though the two dozen hostages have since been released, Filipinos and others remain drawn to the Niger Delta, where drilling produces 2 million barrels per day.

MEND`s distrust of the Nigerian government is based on decades of corruption that has allowed the majority of Nigerians to remain poor while a select few grow wealthy on the more than $300 billion worth of oil and gas that`s been extracted form the country since the 1970s.

But MEND activity since its inception in late 2005 has cost the country $4.47 billion and counting, according to a recent report. The violence associated with militancy is responsible for reducing Nigerian oil production by 20 percent, according to a 2006 report. Some officials in Abuja, however, say production is down by as much as 50 percent.

MEND attacks cost the country`s oil producers anywhere between 300,000 and 400,000 bpd.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has pledged to retake control of the delta to improve oil production while attempting to make inroads and improve the lives of the region`s residents. In August, he vowed to crack down on MEND hoping it would demonstrate the government`s commitment to tackling the violence. However since then, militants have stepped up attacks and kidnappings and vowed to continue their struggle until their demands were met.

And with elections next month to chose a successor to Obasanjo, MEND has promised to step up its efforts to disrupt the flow of oil. Candidates have campaigned on a promise to succeed where the president` failed to reign in the violence, though most pledges have been short on concrete ideas for tackle a growing dilemma.

‘The Nigerian government isn`t getting a handle on the situation,’ a U.S. State Department officials told United Press International in a recent interview. ‘And the anticipation is that it isn`t going to get any better.’

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