Ogoni: Comeback for Shell in Nigeria’s Ogoniland?
Is Royal Dutch Shell planning to return to the Ogoni region it abandoned 17 years ago amid widespread protest, violence and insecurity?
Below is an article published by Radio Netherlands Worldwide:
“We wouldn’t mind returning to Ogoni - if the situation is safe,” says a spokesman for Shell.
The oil giant’s announcement this week that it has finished capping almost all the 112 oil wells it left behind in 1993 seemed to suggest that Shell was preparing the grounds for the resumption of its activities in that part of the Niger Delta. A company spokesman denies this, saying the situation there is still too “sensitive”.
Shell International spokesman Wim van de Wiel told Radio Netherlands Worldwide the company wants to leave the region as “nice and tidy as possible”, to demonstrate its “corporate social responsibility.”
In a press statement, Shell, the largest oil company in Nigeria, said the operation would make the wells less vulnerable to oil theft and sabotage, and reduce the number of oil spills and fires. According to the company, theft and sabotage explain 96% of all oil spills in its operations in Ogoni and 98% of spills across the Niger Delta.
Shell Nigeria’s Managing Director, Mutiu Sunmonu, commended local governments and traditional rulers “for their efforts in securing access” to the wells.
The capping of the wells, says Shell, is a reversible operation that does not close down wells permanently. However, there are rumours in the Delta that it’s trying to “kill” the wells in order make it difficult for others to take over the concessions.
It is not yet known what will happen to the abandoned wells. The Nigerian government has announced that it was looking for a new partner with whom to resume oil pumping in Ogoni, in a joint venture with Nigeria’s National Petroleum Corporation. Speculation is rife in the region on possible - including Chinese - candidates.
A spokesman at Shell Petroleum’s Dutch headquarters in The Hague told RNW it has no immediate plans to return to the region, but “wouldn’t mind returning to Ogoni if the situation is safe”.
Shell’s announcement that it had secured its abandoned wells comes in a climate of distrust toward the company among local and international environmental organisations.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is due to publish a potentially explosive report on the environmental impact of oil exploration in Ogoni shortly. Leaked information provoked the ire of environmentalists who said that Shell was dictating the results.
At the same time, Ogoni organisations at home and abroad are preparing to mark the 15th anniversary of the execution of their leader Ken Saro-Wiwa. The writer and president of MOSP, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, led a campaign against environmental damage caused by the oil industry.
In 1995, he was tried and hanged by the then Nigerian military government. Shell was accused of collaborating in his execution and that of eight other Ogoni leaders. The company dismissed the charges and in 2009 settled out to pay 15.5m US dollars to their families.
Ledum Mitee, MOSOP’s current chairman, was charged with Saro-Wiwa and others in 1995, but narrowly escaped execution. He says he doubts that Shell will be invited to resume operations, ‘because the trust between them and the Ogoni people has broken down irretrievably. MOSP has asked to be involved in talks leading to new oil concessions in Ogoni.
“We do not want them to replace Shell with something worse or the same as Shell. We’ve told the government at every level that this is the view of the Ogoni people.”
Mitee told RNW that his organisation was interested in companies with “a proven record of respect of rights of people, especially their environmental rights.”