THE WASHINGTON POST: Nigeria's Oil Fuels Anger, Bloodshed In Delta Region, Villagers Reap Few Rewards Despite Surging Profits: “There are seven freshly dug graves in this Niger Delta village. Local leaders say they contain the remains of protesters who died violently last month when they attempted to mount a protest at an oil rig operated by the Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria, the region's largest oil firm.”: “Spokesman for Shell and the Nigerian army disputed these accounts…”: “…report, by WAC Global Services, also concluded that Shell was in part responsible for the rampant violence and criminality in the Niger Delta.”: “Caught in the middle of these struggles are people like Gior Neebee, a small woman in her thirties…”: “To her, the oil coursing through the delta has become a curse…”: "Look at the environment I live in... For myself and my children, it's like the world ended." (ShellNews.net) 9 Dec 04
By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page A22
OJOBO, Nigeria -- There are seven freshly dug graves in this Niger Delta village. Local leaders say they contain the remains of protesters who died violently last month when they attempted to mount a protest at an oil rig operated by the Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria, the region's largest oil firm.
According to the villagers, more than 100 men traveled by motorboat down a creek toward the rig, where they gathered on a barge and sent leaders to demand a meeting with company officials to discuss languishing development projects.
Instead, they said, army troops appeared in three boats and opened fire on the barge. Stanley Pakemi, a survivor, said the soldiers detained him for more than two days and whipped him repeatedly with wires. Now, like many delta residents, he said he was ready to see Shell and the other oil companies leave.
"If this is the way they are going to treat us, I don't want them here," said Pakemi, 28, who rose limply from his bed in a village hospital to reveal deep gashes healing on his arms and back.
Spokesman for Shell and the Nigerian army disputed these accounts, saying they knew of no deaths in the Nov. 20 incident. Simon Buerk, a Shell spokesman, said that violence broke out after one of the protesters attempted to disarm a soldier and that 17 people were injured in the clash. He said the company was reopening an investigation into the incident.
What is beyond dispute, however, is the volatility of the delta region as Nigerians scramble for a share of oil wealth. In villages across the region, frustration at the persistence of poverty within sight of vast wealth is boiling over, leading to bloody clashes, calls for revolution and more than 1,000 deaths a year, according to a report prepared for Shell by consultants.
While surging oil prices have swollen government accounts and business profits in Nigeria and across the continent, the boom has offered few benefits to people living near the wells, while damaging the environment and giving rise to violent struggles among competing groups, say residents and watchdog groups.
Ojobo, located amid oil reserves worth many millions of dollars, has neither paved roads nor power. Toilets are latrines built over the creek, and a community well, built by an oil company, produces no water.
Nigeria is the United States' fifth-largest supplier of foreign oil and the largest oil producer in Africa. The industry generates billions of dollars a year for the Nigerian government, which owns all oil rights in the country and has a majority interest in every oil company operating here, including its joint venture with Royal Dutch/Shell Group.
Oil is so central to Nigerian identity that an image of an offshore rig appears on the 500 naira bill, the nation's largest denomination.
Yet there is little evidence that prosperity is reaching the people of the Niger Delta. Although its largest city, Port Harcourt, has foreign-owned hotels and a busy prostitution trade, the inhabitants of villages throughout the vast region of mangrove swamps and twisting waterways struggle to survive at subsistence levels.
At the same time, violence is increasing in a region already awash in weapons and riven by tribal tensions. Militias controlled by community leaders attack one another with often deadly results, and assaults on civilians by the army and police are common, according to human rights groups and residents.
Armed gangs also thrive, stealing hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil straight from the delta's pipelines each day. Less sophisticated criminals cut into the pipelines with hacksaws, creating cleanup work for local contractors. Of the 221 oil spills reported by Shell last year, two-thirds were the result of sabotage, the company said.
The Shell consultants' report said conditions were deteriorating so rapidly that the company might have to move all of its operations offshore by 2009. The report, by WAC Global Services, also concluded that Shell was in part responsible for the rampant violence and criminality in the Niger Delta.
It is clear that [Shell] is part of Niger Delta conflict dynamics and that its social license to operate is fast eroding," said the report, copies of which have been obtained by The Washington Post and other news organizations.
Shell officials dispute that conclusion, saying they remain welcome in the region and intend to stay. Yet they acknowledge a legacy of flawed efforts to promote community development, despite investments that reached $84 million last year alone. "We are oil and gas people. We are not really strong in development," said Basil Omiyi, the top Shell official in Nigeria. He added, "If the government was doing their role properly, we would have to do much, much, much less."
The consultants' report also found that Shell and government officials rarely responded to peaceful complaints, such as protests or letter-writing campaigns, generally paying high-level attention to the demands of disgruntled people only after attacks, threats and kidnappings.
Molori College, 70, a resident of Ojobo who said his son was killed in the oil rig clash, said Shell should pay him 500 million naira -- more than $3.5 million. "Let Shell come and compensate me," he said.
One militant leader in the delta, Moujahid Dokubo-Asari, has called for the region's secession as the only way to gain control of the oil wealth it contains. In September, he declared war on the region's oil companies, interrupting flows for several days and sending world oil prices above $50 a barrel.
The result was direct talks with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and other senior government officials in Abuja, the capital. A tentative peace deal has been reached and negotiations continue, but Dokubo-Asari, who says he commands thousands of men, warns he could shut off the delta's oil flow by making a few strategic phone calls.
"The Nigerian state has deliberately impoverished our people," said Dokubo-Asari, a descendant of a prosperous family of slave traders, as he traveled with a reporter on a tour of the delta. "It is only violence that makes the tyrant listen."
Caught in the middle of these struggles are people like Gior Neebee, a small woman in her thirties, with tightly coiled braids and diagonal tribal scars slashed into each cheek.
After a day of fishing in October, she was paddling her canoe back to her village in the northern delta when she saw a plume of black smoke rising near the two-room cinder-block house where she had left her three children.
Neebee paddled frantically, jumped out and found the children safe. But in those few moments, flames began consuming her canoe. It was one of her few possessions, worth more than six months' wages for the average Nigerian.
The oil-spill fire, which Shell blamed on sabotage, left the creek with a stench of oil. Today the banks are black, the creek bottom dead, the water without fish and shimmering with a greasy rainbow sheen. The palm trees look like giant charred matchsticks.
Neebee's family must now carry buckets of water from a tap nearly a mile away. For food, she paddles a borrowed canoe several hours to another river to collect periwinkle -- shellfish about the size of her thumb -- to feed her family and sell at a nearby market. She earns about $1.50 a day.
To her, the oil coursing through the delta has become a curse.
"Look at the kind of clothes I'm wearing," she said, gesturing in disgust to the piece of yellow cloth wrapped around her body. "Look at the environment I live in. . . . For myself and my children, it's like the world ended."
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE CONFIDENTIAL REPORT MENTIONED IN THE ABOVE ARTICLE: ShellNews.net: LEAKED SHELL CONFIDENTIAL INTERNAL REPORT ON SHELL’S ACTIVITIES IN NIGERIA BY WAC Global Services Dec 03: “PEACE AND SECURITY IN THE NIGER DELTA”.