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Ogoni people welcome Nigerian move against Shell

05/06/2008 15:15 

Ogoni people welcome Nigerian move against Shell

A Nigerian ethnic rights group on Thursday hailed President Umaru Yar’Adua’s announcement that he would replace oil giant Shell as an operator in part of the restive Niger Delta.

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), whose former head Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged for his stance against the effects of oil-drilling, notably by Shell, called the move “a bold step that stands the brightest chance of quickening the resumption of oil activities in Ogoni.”

Yar’Adua said Wednesday that by the end of the year a new operator will resume production in the southern oil fields of Ogoniland abandoned by the Anglo-Dutch company 15 years ago, because “there is a total loss of confidence between Shell and the Ogoni people.”

“We agree that the relationship between Shell and the Ogoni people has been damaged irreparably and therefore the president’s decision is timely and appropriate,” MOSOP said in a statement.

Community unrest sparked by poverty and pollution from oil production forced Shell to halt its activities in Ogoniland, a hotbed of civil unrest in the oil- and gas-rich Niger Delta.

Anti-pollution activist Saro-Wiwa was executed by the military regime in power in November 1995 on a trumped-up charge of killing four fellow Ogoni chiefs.

MOSOP said it will “in the days ahead seek to play a constructive and leading role in the debate over what will be required of an oil operator to win the confidence of our communities and provide a groundbreaking positive model for the Niger Delta.”

It urged the government to choose an operator who would recognise “the centrality of human rights, justice, and the environment from the outset of its operations.”

Shell said Thursday it was officially unaware of the decision to replace it and therefore unable to comment. But it added that ties with the Nigerian government are sound.

“We have good relations with the Nigerian government. We have had various meetings … this year,” Rainer Winzenried, Shell spokesman in the Netherlands told AFP.

He said Shell had operated in Ogoniland jointly with the French oil outfit Total, Italy’s Agip and the Nigerian state oil company.

“Before 1993, we used to produce only 28,000 barrels a day there, which is relatively small, only three percent of the joint venture production in Nigeria.”

Shell set up in Nigeria in 1956 when oil was first discovered there and is the country’s largest oil operator.

Oil companies and their personnel in the Niger Delta are being increasingly targeted by separatist militants who have stepped up a campaign of kidnappings and sabotage.

Total on Wednesday said it was assessing its presence in Nigeria because of unrest there which has cut production by about a quarter, contributing to the surge in world oil prices over the last two years.

Nigeria was until recently Africa’s largest producer until it was overtaken in April by Angola, according to Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) figures.

Angola produced 1.873 million barrels per day on average in April, trumping the 1.818 million bpd produced by Nigeria.

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