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Nigeria: Shell Risks Reigniting Ogoni Crisis


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Press Release Monday June 25th 2001-Embargoed to 1100GMT

Prepared Comments for press briefing in Port Harcourt

by MOSOP President Ledum Mitee

MOSOP has responded to allegations from Shell of a threat to its eastern production by stating that SPDC has resorted to the economic blackmail which the company used to provoke the military government of General Sani Aba cha into acts of repression in Ogoni in 1993. The re-emergence of this Shell line has caused widespread alarm within Ogoni society and has led to a detailed response from MOSOP.

In a press statement dated 16th June2001, and in the following week, Shell has repeatedly alleged that several incidents represent systematic vandalisation in Ogoni which the company regards as a new and disturbing threat to their eastern division operations affecting production of 200,000 barrels of oil per day [Several serious inaccuracies and misleading statements in their release are dealt with in the background information provided a t the end of this statement].

'Shell seems determined to resurrect the economic blackmail of the Nigerian government which contributed directly to the series of crises which rocked Ogoni from late 1993. While it is sometimes difficult for outsiders to appreciate the complex chain of events which occurred at this time we are deeply alarmed that almost all of the conditions which were used to precipitate that crisis now exist in our current situation.'

'In our views events such as the Biara incident in 1993 [where protesters against a new Shell pipeline were shot] were actually used by Shell and government to force a division between traditional rulers and the local com munities. At present we have not one but two precipitating events of a very similar nature, being the exaggerated allegations of extensive vandalisation and the almost unbelievable killing of an Ogoni youth who was in a fi nancial dispute with Shell over security assistance he had provided to the company."

'We have said before that SPDC is not a company that we trust. It is for this reason that we have chosen to wait for disciplined and structured options for resolving our differences.'

'The Federal Government has already acted to provide one meaningful opportunity through meetings which are to be led by the Oputa Commission, looking into human rights violations in Nigeria. We cannot say that such approa ches should be relied upon exclusively to solve our problems but we believe that government, if it takes careful advice, can act constructively and peacefully to stabilise and improve the current situation.'

'At this point we are forced to warn that SPDC may opt to destabilise the situation in Ogoni to the point where it can claim such talks are either immaterial or impractical because once again there is a crisis in Ogoni. I ts conduct in recent days and around the Yorla oil spill leaves us with absolutely no confidence that SPDC has any sincerity in its public statements.'

'Our bitter experience is that anytime that Shell wishes to get its way in the Niger delta it emphasizes that the Nigerian government and economy are dependant on the company's operations. We have also experienced occasio ns under civilian rule where SPDC's actions have contributed to unnecessary loss of life, such as the mobile police raids on K-Dere last year [in which at least three people were killed and I was among those jailed on unsu bstantiated capital charges].'[1]

'It is for this reason that we find their recent approach so objectionable and we call the attention of the Federal government to this matter lest they are dragged into an unnecessary and damaging conflict. We cannot thin k of a deliberate statement such as that made by Shell, which threatens oil production in a country dependant at all levels of its economy on oil , which is more likely to elevate tension between communities in Ogoni and t hose in the Federal, State, and local governments.

'It is remarkable, and we believe grossly provocative, that the Shell statement on alleged vandalisation coincided with the most recent example of Shell managing to settle its problems with violence. Last weekend an unarm ed youth from Baen(in eastern Ogoni), in dispute with Shell over payment for security assistance, was shot dead by mobile police sent to recover one of their vehicle in an incident where Shell seems to have hastily circula ted information that is both misleading and damaging to the actual victims in the incident.

'Just as the Ogoni community is yet to recover from the shock of that death and even whilst the body is still being detained from the family, Shell appears to have chosen another dangerous course by calling a meeting with some local government representatives last Friday at Hotel Presidential from which other observers were specifically excluded.

'While the pretext for this meeting is the allegations of its operations being affected by vandalisation we are specifically concerned that Shell will again contribute to the polarization in which a small elite chose to a ct with SPDC in defiance of the overwhelming body of opinion across Ogoni.

'It is exactly this kind of closed meeting with a selected audience that threatens to set communities against local authorities who retain a militarised mentality in how they solve their problems. It also replicates moves that SPDC used in 1993 where some traditional rulers were set against the views of their own communities after hastily arranged meetings organised by SPDC.'

We can find no good reason for Shell to be entering into discussions at this moment with isolated representatives on the basis of the severely distorted facts of their recent statement. The company is yet to act on speci fic direction from the Oputa Commission to attend meetings which will look into the differences between Shell and the people of Ogoni.'

'Accordingly we are calling for a proper investigation of the company's claims and the urgent attention of the Justice Oputa Commission and Federal authorities lest we see the unpleasant escalation where communities which have been repeatedly abused and traumatized are faced by a new hard line approach dictated by SPDC.'

'We see a sense of desperation in Shell's public stance where SPDC officials currently seems mandated to rush to press with the most negative and distorted version of events for any incident relating to Ogoni. This stance has only served to deepen the distrust of the company that exists in communities across Ogoni.'[2]

'Our position is that Shell must openly explain its motives for any intended actions and acknowledge that it has comprehensively failed over the last two years to win the confidence of any sector of Ogoni society. Its cur rent approach makes little sense, often claims one thing and does another, and continues to alienate Ogoni indigenes.

'We had thought that with the Justice Oputa Commission hearings resuming in the next fortnight Shell would have resorted to the guidance of such respected process instead of trying to precipitate a crisis that would pres ent the Commission with a seeming fait accompli.'

'At this time we are calling on Nigeria's civilian representatives to act carefully and with the greatest possible restraint. We would also call on international observers to demand specific explanations from Royal Dutch Shell as to the reasons for its current behaviour.

'We have no desire to be drawn into a replaying of our immediate past and, although we condemn the current approach being taken by SPDC, we are determined to take any genuine opportunity to end this dangerous escalation of tensions in our area.'

Background information

MOSOP first began its campaign for social and environmental justice in Ogoni in 1990 with the Ogoni Bill of Rights. Despite repeatedly presenting the document to government and Shell MOSOP never received any meaningful re sponse from government or Shell.

Contrary to insinuations by the military government and Shell over a period of years, MOSOP has remained committed to a path of non- violence taken from its outset, an approach which took an appalling toll in later years as unarmed protesters were frequently shot and killed by security forces.[3]

In May 1993 the Ogoni crisis escalated after several Ogoni people were shot in an incident where Shell contractor Wilbros relied on mobile police to deal with protesters objecting to pipelines being laid across their farm land. This incident which began the spate of violent repression in Ogoni was preceded by Shell's written request to the government for 'the usual assistance to enable the project to proceed.'[4]

In the months which followed SPDC's then Managing Director Phil Watts, in seeking governments approval for the setting up of a special security contingent to guard their operations, had stated: ' we must emphasise that SP DC produces more than 50% of Nigeria's oil which has consequential major impact on the country's economy. To ensure a continuation of operations at the present level requires the provision of maximum protection.'

The Nigerian government took an increasingly militarised approach in Ogoni from mid 1993 with Colonel Paul Okuntimo mandated to carry out operations which would attack and destabilize opposition in the Ogoni region under the auspices of the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force - a body which has dominated over 8,000 Ogoni submissions to Nigeria's Human Rights Violations Investigation Panel [also known as the Oputa Commission].[5]

Shell ceased production of oil from Ogoni in this period, and has since claimed that it would not operate behind guns against the wishes of the local people, but has continued to operate pipelines which serve a considerab le part of its eastern division. These pipelines run across Ogoni [including a major manifold in K-Dere] between various fields and their terminal at Bonny Island.

The Yorla oil blowout referred to in this release and in statements from Shell occurred from April 30th in eastern Ogoni when a wellhead blowout continued for over seven days, requiring intervention from a team of US spec ialists to cap the well. Shell has continued to claim this was caused by vandalisation despite some statements by bodies such as the rivers State Ministry for the Environment calling this claim into question.

On 'Vandalisation'

Shell's allegations of vandalisation seem to change according to the circumstances which suit the interests of the Company.

In March 2000 I wrote to Shell International Chairman Mark Moody Stuart warning against the confrontational approach being taken by SPDC to its return to Ogoni.

In that letter I specifically stated that individuals were removing disused pipelines and in some areas seemed to operate with the assistance of mobile police. At the time pipelines seemed to be targeted according to how embarrassing they were for Shell with disused pipelines which had featured in complaints about proximity to local communities being the first to disappear(these pipes although disused were a source of irritation to SPDC a s overseas observers were now freely able t visit such sites in Ogoni). In cases where the community handed individuals caught in this trade over to the police Shell refused to prosecute or take any action.

In response to complaints about this conduct in letters exchanged in March and April 2000 international director of Royal Dutch Shell Alan Detheridge wrote back to me stating

'The claim you make about the vandalisation of pipelines by company sponsored persons was astonishing to SPDC. The company makes the point that most of its flowlines in Ogoni have already been vandalized since the company ceased its operations there [a claim apparently contradicted by recent SPDC statements where the company alleges over 200,000 barrels per day are connected to the network actively running across Ogoni]. What purpose would be served by vandalizing more of them?'

In the current situation Shell has opted to link the cutting of one of these disused pipelines in a different area (and a consequent small scale fire in Tai LGA) to a supposed campaign of vandalisation of its network runn ing across Ogoni.

Of three incidents mentioned to justify its current stance, Shell also alleged an earlier incident in K-Dere was vandalisation had nothing whatsoever to do with such claims. The K-Dere fire which the company cites was a r esult of a careless farmer burning land too close to an old oil spill. Naturally annoyed leaders in the local community handed him over to the local police and ensured the fire was extinguished without outside assistance.

This leaves only the latest ongoing fire incident in Tai Local Government area which we would not seek to minimise as it is clearly on an active pipeline. However given Shell's reckless distortions, we would encourage the most stringent and independent investigation of the cause of this incident and would encourage all persons to come forward with information.

None of the above should be taken to mean that MOSOP in any way condones vandalisation of pipelines, which is both dangerous to local communities and the environment. We would however encourage greater scrutiny of those w ho have the means and the motives to reap rewards from the cynical damaging of pipelines for profit. Too often we receive reports from across the Niger delta where the very people who are supposed to prevent these inciden ts are either implicated or mysteriously inactive.

Shell and Niger Delta Communities

In the last 6 weeks Royal Dutch Shell has faced considerable pressure over its Nigerian operation run through SPDC. Included in its problems has been a report in the Economist on an independent appraisal of its community programmes which extensively criticises the company's approach to community assistance.

Shell has refused to release the report and continues to distribute figures which seem to deliberately undermine the main findings of this investigation.

This has been followed by an investigation by the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on the Niger delta which, in a tour of the Niger delta, found evidence that oil companies behaviour ranged from fraudulent proj ects to participation in arming parts of local communities as part of 'divide and rule tactics' used to divert resistance to their own operations.

Other Issues There are a number of points raised by Shell which MOSOP feels obliged to explain alternative views or in some cases present facts which the company seems to have deliberately obscured or omitted.

Shell mentioned in its statement of June 16th that Rivers State firetrucks were hijacked by local youths. Independent observers at the scene report to MOSOP that there appeared to be some disagreement which was settled in less than 20 minutes as the trucks passed them at Eleme after they had left the scene via Bori as the disagreement was taking place.

Shell and the Mobile Police seem to be the only witnesses who do not state that Friday Nwiido was shot out of hand in Baen. Shell's statement that a clash occurred in Baen between local youths and police appear to be comp letely unfounded unless two successive raids in which mobile police shot and scattered members of the local community can be described as a 'clash'.

MOSOP has previously issued a statement(June 19th) condemning the excessive force used in Baen and while in no way condoning the seizure of property as a way of negotiating financial disputes is appalled that Shell allowe d this dispute to fall into the hands of the mobile police.

MOSOP has noted over a period of 18 months Shell moves to regain access to various facilities in Ogoni. While there are obvious issues of safety regarding some abandoned wells Shell's interest seems inevitably to lead bac
k to those areas where the company has a commercial interest. In the K-Dere area Shell seems particularly interested in access to its manifold for commercial reasons which will increase the efficiency of its pipelines runn ing across Ogoni. These moves are being resisted by local communities who experienced significant pollution the last time that Shell conducted a 'flushing' operation at the pipeline manifold in 1994.

Ledum Mitee

President MOSOP

Monday June 25th 2001

For more Information

Bari ara Kpalap

MOSOP Office Port Harcourt (+234) 84 233 907

Legal Chambers of L.A. Mitee

Ph (+234) 84 232 609


-------------------------------------------------------------------------- ------

[1] The Mobile Police raids on K-Dere, in central Ogoni, which occurred in March 2000 were reported on by MOSOP and media in Nigeria and overseas. MOSOP reported extensively on the raid which included incidents where mobi le police were seen burning houses. Local residents including myself, still face trumped up charges which the Police refuse to drop despite a complete absence of evidence.

[2] This negative and inflammatory approach was drawn to the attention of Shell MD Ron Van Den Berg in a letter we sent in early May after Shell's public response to the Yorla oil blowout began the pattern of denigrating the reputation of Ogoni communities with no regard to accuracy or common sense.

[3] Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations, and the World Council of Churches were among many organisations reporting on the systematic abuses and repression in Ogoni between 1994 and 1998.

[4] The usual assistance at this time consisted of military and par military security forces who were notorious for extrajudicial killings. For more information on this area see Human Rights Watch [] and Amnest y International reports in the period 1993 to 1998.

[5] Hearings of the Oputa Commission resume in Abuja on June 25th and Shell managing Director Ron van den berg has been required to appear on July 9th after failing to attend hearings in Port Harcourt in February.


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