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Nigeria’s Ogoni hope Shell ouster brings prosperity

 

Reuters UK

INTERVIEW-Nigeria’s Ogoni hope Shell ouster brings prosperity

Thu Jun 5, 2008 5:59pm BST
 
By Nick Tattersall

 

LAGOS, June 5 (Reuters) – The planned removal of oil giant Shell (RDSa.L: Quote,ProfileResearch) from southern Nigeria’s Ogoniland will finally give the impoverished region a chance to develop, the son of executed activist Ken Saro-Wiwa said on Thursday.

Saro-Wiwa was hanged in 1995 by Nigeria’s then-military government for leading protests against Royal Dutch Shell over pollution and a lack of development, provoking an international outcry and turning Nigeria into a pariah state.

The protests forced the Anglo-Dutch giant to abandon its oil fields in Ogoniland, a tiny part of the Niger Delta, in 1993.

President Umaru Yar’Adua announced on Wednesday that the oil fields Shell abandoned would be given to another operator acceptable to Ogoni communities this year. Shell has said it has not been informed and declined to comment.

“Ever since Shell pulled out of the acreage in 1993 they have not been able to find a re-entry plan that is workable, that has the agreement of the community,” Ken Saro-Wiwa Junior told Reuters.

“It has taken so long to find a solution to this we might as well start again with a new operator,” Saro-Wiwa, special assistant to the president on international affairs, said by telephone from London.

The protests in the early 1990s led by Saro-Wiwa’s father were the first of their kind in Nigeria to reach international prominence. The methods advocated by his Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) were largely peaceful.

Since then, militants in the Niger Delta have led increasingly violent campaigns, kidnapping oil workers and blowing up facilities while funding themselves largely through “bunkering”, or illegally tapping into pipelines.

The unrest has cut a fifth of oil output from Nigeria, the world’s eighth-biggest exporter, helping push global oil prices to record highs.

 

“STRATEGIC SITE”

The current president of MOSOP, Ledum Mitee, welcomed Yar’Adua’s plans to hand Ogoni’s fields to another operator, saying it would allow local communities to start with a clean sheet and derive greater benefit from the region’s resources.

“What this offers is the opportunity for us to agree on the ground rules from the start … on issues of human rights, justice and the environment,” he said.

“The message is very clear to any operator: if you operate outside these areas, if you operate in a way that damages people’s rights, clearly you can be shown the way out.”

He said the decision also demonstrated to other areas of the Niger Delta, where militants are locked in a campaign of violent sabotage, that peaceful demonstration could succeed.

Analysts said that losing the right to operate in Ogoniland was unlikely to have much impact on Shell’s business but that the move was important symbolically, particularly at a time when the company is engaged in other negotiations with Nigeria.

Yar’Adua last month ordered state oil firm NNPC to recover more than $1.26 billion from Shell which he said was owed under the terms of production sharing contracts.

Saro-Wiwa said there were “trillions of cubic feet” of natural gas in Ogoniland which it was vital for the country — suffering from crippling power shortages — to exploit.

“It is a very strategically important acreage and it is in the national interest that we develop those resources, not just for Nigeria, but also for the local community,” he said. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ )

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

 

 

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