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Nigeria: Angry youths occupy oil installation in southern oil heartland

International Herald Tribune: Nigeria: Angry youths occupy oil installation in southern oil heartland

The Associated Press
Published: April 11, 2008

YENAGOA, Nigeria: Militant youths occupied an oil installation in restive southern Nigeria on Friday, shutting down its production of 5,000 barrels a day, the company said.

James Jephtah, chairman of the Bayelsa State government peace and reconciliation commission, said young men angry about energy companies’ activities in their desperately poor area seized the oil-pipeline switching station Friday morning.

The oil installation — a so-called flow station installation near Yenagoa, the capital city of Bayelsa state — is operated as a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Nigeria.

Shell spokeswoman Caroline Wittgen confirmed the incident, and said the installation’s 5,000 barrels a day had been shut down by the youths, who remained there.

Oil company staff members are rarely based at such small installations.

Nigeria pumps about 2.1 million barrels of oil per day, and its southern oil region remains desperately poor, despite the billions of dollars worth of oil flowing from the area each year. Jobless young men angry at their poverty frequently protest by occupying oil infrastructure, seeking payment from oil companies.

The companies, who operate in Nigeria in joint ventures with government agencies, say the government is responsible for the well-being of its citizens. Nigeria’s anti-graft agency says some US$400 billion in government funds have gone missing since oil began flowing from notoriously corrupt Nigeria in the late 1960s.

Groups of gunmen also roam the vast wetland area, stealing oil for resale on the black market, robbing banks and battling security forces.

Gunmen sometimes band together for political purposes as well, blowing up oil infrastructure in hope of forcing the government to send more oil-industry revenues to the region, where many lack basic services like electricity, pipe-borne water, health clinics or schools.

Militant attacks have risen in recent years, cutting about 20 percent of Nigeria’s normal petroleum output and helping send oil prices toward all-time highs. A main militant leader is on trial for treason and other crimes, and the main militant group is promising further attacks.

Associated Press writer Edward Harris in Kano, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/04/11/africa/AF-GEN-Nigeria-Oil-Unrest-1st-Ld-Writethru.php

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