May 19, 2001

Ogoni: Renewed tensions in Ogoni

It was reported recently that Shell participated in an investigation team visit to a major oil spill at the Yorla oil field in the Ogoni region. The team comprised of Nigerian Department of Petroleum Resources, Federal and the Rivers State Ministries of Environment officials, Shell experts and representatives from 17 local communities claiming to be affected by the spill. Shell described their participation as a significant step in the multinational's efforts to obtain access to facilities it abandoned in Ogoniland. The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) opposed the visit on the grounds that it was not consulted, despite the fact that it represents a significant part of the Ogoni people.

MOSOP - Shell relations on the latter's involvement in Ogoniland continue to be problematic. In e-mail reports (15 and 16 May 2001) received by the UNPO Secretariat MOSOP claimed that the Yori oil spill occurred much closer to Ogoni settlements than was indicated by Shell, while its emergency relieve assistance to those inhabitants affected by the spill was far less significant than claimed. MOSOP mentioned the fact that the fishing village of Yaataa is situated less than 200 metres from Well 10 of the area.

In an e-mail message (dated 14 May 2001), Shell Nederland's External Relations Department emphasised the fact that Shell continues to seek reconciliation with all shades of the Ogoni, including MOSOP, and has welcomed the Oputa Panel human rights hearings in Port Harcourt and elsewhere. Shell Nigeria has already submitted its account to the hearings on gross human rights violations. While Shell has clearly stated that there have been no attempts to resume oil production in Ogoniland, MOSOP nevertheless questions the role of Shell's Ogoni Re-Entry unit based in Port Harcourt in this regard. In a strongly worded press release of 25 June 2001, MOSOP reacted to the recent shooting of an Ogoni youth involved in a dispute with Shell Nigeria, portraying the latter's statement on alleged systematic vandalization of oil pipelines in Ogoni as provocative and sometimes unfounded. According to MOSOP, Shell Nigeria seems to ”manage its problems with violence”, and is out to weaken the Ogoni people's resistance by having “closed meetings with a selected audience”, in “defiance of the overwhelming body of opinion across Ogoni” (pp.2-3).

It should be stressed that the UNPO is committed towards promoting the human rights of the Ogoni. We welcome any positive and meaningful dialogue serving this objective, and call on MOSOP and Shell to continue exploring such possibility. Obviously confidence building and goodwill are essential elements in this regard.