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Thursday, June 8, 2023
LAGOS, May 28 1996 (IPS) - Proposals by the Shell oil company to clean up oil spills caused by its operations in the south-eastern region of Ogoniland and expand its welfare programmes there have drawn a mixed response from the Ogoni people.
In a statement issued here on May 8 to coincide with the annual general meeting of the Royal/Dutch Shell, Brian Anderson, Shell Nigeria’s managing director, offered to clean up the spills as the first step towards a rapprochement that would see the company return to its Ogoniland fields, abandoned in 1993 in the face of increasing hostility from the community.
Before Shell suspended its operations in Ogoniland, located in the Niger delta, the fields yielded an average of 28,000 barrels of crude oil per day, about 2.8 percent of Shell’s entire Nigerian output of more than one million barrels daily.
However, complaints from leaders of the some 500,000 Ogonis that the oil company’s operations were polluting their villages, farms and fishing grounds whereas the area received little in return developed into open hostility against Shell, some of whose installations were sabotaged. This led to the 1993 pullout.
“The proposals are offered in the spirit of reconciliation,” said Anderson. “All we need to start the process is the assurance of all Ogoni communities that our staff can work safely in Ogoniland.”
“The Ogoni dispute has been characterised by a continuing circle of accusations and recriminations, and we want to break that circle,” he added. “Making impossible demands on Shell or ignoring the grievances of the Ogonis is not the answer. We need to find solutions.”
But the reactions the proposal has spawned show that resentment towards Shell is still alive in some quarters and that the deep wounds that have riven the community are yet to start healing.
Nwibani Nwako of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) — nine of whose members, including its then leader, writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, were hanged last November by the Nigerian authorities — was skeptical about Shell’s proposals.
“MOSOP welcomes a clean up, not a cover up of Shell’s operations in Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta,” he said in a statement last week.”While we welcome the sentiment of Shell’s plan, the timing of its release is troubling. It coincides with a military build-up in the areas neighbouring Ogoniland and the Royal/Dutch Shell annual general meetings.
“To win the trust and goodwill of the Ogoni people, Shell must be judged by their actions, not their words,” the MOSOP spokesman added.
Nwako has also written to U.N. secretary-general Boutros- Boutros Ghali, alleging that 43 MOSOP members who met a U.N. fact- finding team that visited Nigeria in April, including woman with her 15-month-old child, were being detained by the authorities.
“Our only weapon,” said Dr Owens Wiwa, younger brother of the executed writer, “is to call for an embargo against all Nigerian oil.”
“This, we believe, is the most effective way of breaking the alliance between Shell and the (military) administration,” said Wiwa, who now lives in exile in Britain. “The oil you are buying, people are dying for it.”
But some Ogonis welcome Shell’s proposals. They include Desmond Orage, whose father and uncle were among four Ogoni leaders killed by a mob of Saro-Wiwa’s supporters – for which the MOSOP leader and his eight companions were hanged after a trial widely viewed as not measuring up to international standards of justice.
According to Desmond Orage, “one of the primary concerns of the Ogoni people and all oil-producing communities is a right to live in a clean environment – free from pollution…
“I see Shell’s offer as a duty and responsibility which they owe to the Ogoni people and to their corporate integrity. I also view it as a positive step towards breaking the impasse with the Ogoni, thereby creating an atmosphere for dialogue and reconciliation.”
Indeed, all the parties seem to recognise the need for reconciliation. Even the Nigerian military authorities have set up a National Reconciliation Commission, whose brief is to get the parties involved in to all outstanding disputes nationwide to bury the hatchet.
However, the depth of hurt feelings in Ogoniland would make reconciliation a miracle at this point in time.
For instance, the late Saro-Wiwa and Samuel Orage, Desmond’s father, were married to two sisters, who are now pitched against each other in opposing camps.
The main point of Shell’s proposals appears to be to demonstrate its readiness to change its old ways in the Niger Delta, an area of about 70,000 square kilometres in south-eastern Nigeria that produces almost all of Nigeria’s oil.
“We are adamant that we will not work behind a security shield,” Anderson said.
Only six years ago Shell did not have such scruples. When another Niger Delta community, the Umuechem, became restive over Shell operations on their land, the company called in the para- military mobile police force, which attacked the community in the wee hours of one December morning and sacked a village, killing its chief along with about 80 others.
Recently, Shell publicly expressed regret for the decision to call in the police on that occasion.
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