Royal Dutch Shell Group .com Shell's Oily Troubles: "most Nigerians are not swayed by Shell's new desperate public relations stunt"


By Sylvester Asoya

Posted 16 June 2004


In the Niger Delta, oil remains the major cause of crisis since the inception of this administration five years ago. A 93-page report that was released in December 2003 gave credence to this as it indicted the Royal Dutch/Shell Group. The survey which was conducted by a Lagos-based WAC Global Services which comprised conflict resolution experts, also criticized Shell for escalating civil strife in the region.


Until 2002, Nigeria provides Shell's fourth largest oil production as it got 215,000 barrels daily and maintained an enviable status in the oil market. All these have now changed as there are speculations that the oil giant might quit the region in 2009. Although Shell spokesman, Simon Buerk disagreed when he insisted that his company would "help reduce conflict by changing our operating, security and community development practices." But the real problem in Niger Delta centres on neglect, divide and rule, high-handedness, corruption and dictatorial tendencies which are all features of the present administration. Even, Edmund Daukoro, Senior Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo and Nigeria's delegate to OPEC meeting in Beirut, confirmed this when he spoke with reporters.


According to Daukoro, "even as we maintain discipline and fight basic criminality, you have to also tackle the underlying problems that lead to youths being part of this thing. So poverty is involved. Sometimes, it's just disenchantment, inter-communal problems are involved.


It's a number of linked issues and we are looking at it comprehensively," he said.


Beyond the immediate problem of oil, the people of Niger Delta, like their compatriots across the country, are also clamouring for the immediate restructuring of the Nigerian federation. According to a report by Amnesty International, over 5,000 lives have been lost since 2000. There have also been killings and destructions in major flash points like Plateau, Kano, Kaduna and Delta States among others.


All these have also come with its toll. Aside deaths which the country suffers during crisis periods, there is also the economic angle to the nation's crisis. For instance, oil bunkering costs Nigeria as much as $6 billion every year.


On their part, the youths of Niger Delta have taken solace in violence as a way of life. They have now graduated from "hostage taking" 'to hostage killing." In April, seven people, including two expatriate oil workers from the United States, two boatmen and three Nigerian Navy troopers, were killed at Olero creek in the area and this had an adverse effect on oil production just like in March 2003.


During the period, Warri was set ablaze as youths of Itsekiri and Ijaw began another round of war. Again, this affected the activities of the oil companies as they withdrew non-essential staff from the creeks. For example Shell and Chevron Texaco suspended 37 per cent of Nigerian output for two weeks. And the vandalisation that followed last year's crisis is still preventing Shell from pumping 29,000 barrels per day while Chevron is still struggling to restart its 140,000 barrels.


Shell, like other oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, is already excited by the prospects of this new report on their activities. According to Buek, "the fieldwork highlighted how conflict makes it difficult for us to operate safely and with integrity, how we sometimes feed conflict by the way we award contracts, gain access to land and deal with community representatives.


"But most Nigerians are not swayed by Shell's new desperate public relations stunt. They are usually quick to draw attention to the brutal murder of playwright and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa by General Sani Abacha's government in 1995. Saro-Wiwa was a critic of the oil giant and Nigerians at the time believed that Shell endorsed the murder.


In the last 50 years, the Royal Dutch/Shell Group has operated in Nigeria without significantly affecting the socio-economic lives of the people. In fact, a recent report revealed that over 70 per cent of Nigeria's 130 million people live on less that $1 a day and Nigerians have had to bear the brunt of degradation from oil activities.


Oronto Douglas, an environmental lawyer expressed fears about this new report. "The report may be too late, and I don't see how Shell can change before what it predicts come true. Unless good reasoning and counsel prevail on the government and Shell, the violence will only skyrocket, because the necessary combustible materials are there.

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