Ogoni: World Council of Churches Appeals Nigerian President
Geneva, 7 June 2005
The World Council of Churches is delighted at the appointment of Father Mathew Hassan Kukah by the Federal Government of Nigeria as a facilitator of the peace process aimed at reconciliation of the people of Ogoni in Rivers State and Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). Through the years the Council has followed with much concern and despair the developments in Ogoniland. The years of conflict in the region have left many people dead and property worth millions of Nairas have been lost. There have also been grave and systematic violations of human rights by the Security forces and destruction to the environment as a result of the operations carried on by SPDC.
In December 1996 the World Council of Churches published a report “Ogoni: The Struggle Continues” that contained a detailed description of the plight of the people of Ogoniland in the oil rich Niger delta, and criticised international oil companies -specifically Shell International Limited - for the environmental impact of their operations on the Ogoni people. The report was prepared as a result of the visit of an ecumenical delegation to the region and in cooperation with and support of the Movement for Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and the churches in Nigeria. Amongst others the Report recommended that Shell should enter into a direct dialogue with MOSOP to find a just and peaceful settlement of the conflict. We are glad that this will now take place.
The WCC report was widely circulated and well received by the churches in Nigeria and by the international community. As a result, the leadership of Shell International Limited sought a meeting with the leadership of the WCC. This meeting took place at the Ecumenical Centre on 14 March 1997. In September 1997, the WCC through its Central Committee urged Shell International Limited to negotiate in good faith with representatives of civil society organisations in Ogoniland with respect to its corporate responsibility in the country, including reparations for environmental destruction for which it is responsible. The Council welcomed the “Statement of General Business Principles” and the commitment made by Shell International Limited to provide support for human rights. It called on the member churches, especially churches of Nigeria, to monitor closely the implementation of the policies and principles.
My predecessor, Dr Konrad Raiser, was invited by the churches in October 2000 to visit Nigeria. The situation of the people of Ogoniland and WCC’s support for their struggle were raised in the meeting with Your Excellency. We also deliberated with the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Prelate Sunday Mbang, whose wise counsel we also valued greatly. We were assured that the government was aware of the situation and was giving it due consideration. At the time we were also informed of the government’s initiative for the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission that was expected to mobilise further funds for economic, ecological and social development in the region.
In view of the World Council of Churches’ longstanding commitment to the people of Ogoniland we welcome and appreciate the initiative taken by Your Excellency to restore normalcy and just peace for the people of Ogoniland. We are encouraged by the words of Mr Ledum Mitte, President of MOSOP, and Mr Basil Omiyi, Managing Director of SPDC, welcoming the initiative and hoping for its success.
We are encouraged by the appointment of Father Mathew Hassan Kukah, who we have known for several years, as a facilitator of the peace process. Fr Mathew Hassan Kukah has all the qualities of a patient and capable negotiator who is well aware of the situation of the Ogoni people and the issues facing them. We assure Father Mathew Hassan Kukah of our prayers and support as he embarks on his mission of reconciliation and peace. May our Lord’s guidance and blessings be with him.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia