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Shell Nigeria deal won’t end image problem-activists

Reuters

Tue Jun 9, 2009 10:44am ED

By Austin Ekeinde

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, June 9 (Reuters) – Royal Dutch Shell’s agreement to pay millions of dollars to the families of Nigerian protesters executed in the 1990s is unlikely to end local hostility towards the firm, activists said on Tuesday.

Shell (RDSa.L) on Monday agreed to pay $15.5 million to settle several lawsuits in a U.S. court accusing the firm of human rights abuses, including in connection with the 1995 hangings of prominent activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other protesters by the then-military government. [ID:nN08345423]

The Anglo-Dutch firm, which was forced to abandon its oil fields in Ogoniland in Nigeria’s Niger Delta in 1993 due to the protests, said it played no part in the violence and was providing the money as a “humanitarian gesture”.

“We are still aggrieved with Shell. Paying compensation for the blood of these innocent people will not bring Shell back again to any part of Ogoniland for oil exploitation,” said Veronica Kobani, whose husband was killed in the unrest.

Shell, the largest foreign oil producer in Nigeria until recently, agreed to pay $5 million to a trust for the benefit of the Ogoni people. The rest of the money would go to lawyers’ fees and compensation for the families.

But some Ogonis said the settlement meant the community’s grievances had not been fully aired in public.

“I’m particularly not happy about the out-of-court settlement,” said Ogoni activist Celestine Akpobari.

“I believe that if the case had been heard in the open it would have helped resolve a lot of issues in the Niger Delta because what happened in Ogoni still remains a case study for the world today,” Akpobari said.

 

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The U.S. lawsuits sought unspecified damages from Shell for backing the jailing, torturing and killing of the protesters as well as for polluting the air and water in Ogoniland, a tiny part of the Niger Delta whose people Saro-Wiwa represented.

The nine protesters, who campaigned non-violently for a fairer share of Nigeria’s oil wealth for the poor and against environmental damage by the industry, had been convicted of murder in a trial human rights groups labelled a sham.

Shell, which denied the charges, has sought to increase its contribution to the development of the Niger Delta in the years since Saro-Wiwa’s death, financing small businesses, agriculture, education and healthcare projects in the region.

Its local SPDC joint venture alone has paid more than $34 billion in taxes and royalties to Nigeria over the past four years, funds which are supposed to promote development, reduce poverty and support economic growth.

But government corruption and inefficiency mean the taxes have done little to help local people.

Former governors of states in the Niger Delta stand accused of embezzling tens of millions of dollars while in office, yet Shell — the most visible symbol of wealth to impoverished villagers — bears the brunt of local community anger.

Minister of State for Petroleum Odein Ajumogobia said the settlement should “help towards improving the perception of the company by the community”.

Ledum Mitee, president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) which was founded by Saro-Wiwa, said it should serve as a warning to foreign investors.

“Foreign oil companies that want to operate on our land will need to learn from Shell’s mistakes, avoid the same ones and clearly show they have a pedigree for respect to the community,” he told Reuters.

“People still have lots of anger and it will take much time and effort for Shell to change this.” (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ ) (Additional reporting by Randy Fabi; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

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