Gulf Times (Qatar): Keep your promise, Nigerian villages tell Shell: “Shell is Nigeria’s biggest oil firm. Community protests cost it 5.2mn barrels in production last year and – along with continuing attacks by oil thieves and ethnic warlords – contributed to last year’s record highs on the world oil market.” (ShellNews.net) Posted 29 May 05
OTUEGILA, Nigeria: Local leaders from 13 communities in southern Nigeria’s oil-rich but restive Niger Delta accused the Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell of reneging on a promise to build them a road yesterday and demanded that the firm halt its operations in their area.
The protest was set to overshadow yesterday’s publication of Shell Nigeria’s annual People and the Environment report, which recounts the work the firm has carried out in order to relieve the crippling poverty which blights life in the villages around its multibillion-dollar facilities.
“We don’t believe in violence, but we’ve waited for too long for this road to come. We’re not going to take it lightly,” youth leader Sam Oska told reporters in the delta village of Otuegila as around 100 protesters sang ethnic Ijaw war songs and brandished banners denouncing Shell.
Traditional chiefs and politicians from communities in remote swampland south of the town of Yenagoa said local youths had been mobilised and would be sent to occupy and shut down Shell facilities if the company refuses to link their villages along a 42km (26 mile) road.
“Without the road we cannot take our farm products for sale. Every year we lose much of our produce because we have no way of storing it. This road is very important to our survival,” complained women’s leader Beauty Ineyougha.
Shell is Nigeria’s biggest oil firm. Community protests cost it 5.2mn barrels in production last year and – along with continuing attacks by oil thieves and ethnic warlords – contributed to last year’s record highs on the world oil market.
Shell has a longstanding commitment to build a road connecting Nigeria’s main road network to the delta town of Nembe, which is currently accessible only by riverboat, but the firm insists that it never promised to connect the 13 villages in question, despite advertising the route to contractors in 2001.
Instead, the company said, a shorter and more direct 28km route will be built in conjunction with the Nigerian government in order to connect Nembe to the villages of Oloibiri and Ogbia, the site of the first oil wells in Nigeria, without passing through the more remote communities further east.
According to local lawyer and traditional chief Damfebo Derri, however, the decision not to build a longer $76mn road south from Otuegila through several small villages to Nembe marks an unacceptable betrayal of those living along the abandoned route.
“We demand peacefully but with resolute determination that there should by no further development of oil and gas facilities on our territory unless and until the construction of the road actually begins,” Derri said, warning that in particular that protesters would target Shell’s main eastern gas pipeline.
The local member of Bayelsa’s state house of assembly, Otobo Opus, branded Shell a “corporate sham” and demanded they cease production in Nembe region.
Speaking from London, Shell spokesman Simon Buerk said: “We aim to engage in dialogue with all our stakeholders.”
The protest came on the same day as the publication of Shell Nigeria’s 2004 People and Environment report, which described the shorter Ogbia to Nembe road as the firm’s “single largest community development project” and promised that construction would begin this year.
Shell had initially planned to begin construction on a Nembe road in 2002, but says the project has been delayed by a lack of funds. According to Buerk it has been planning to take the shorter route since before it published a previous annual report in the first half of 2003. The demonstrators, however, insist that they were promised a road.
In October 2001 Shell advertised for contractors to build the longer road. Surveyors have studied the route and in October 2003 the Bayelsa State government revoked land ownership rights along the route in order to allow building work to begin.
Until at Thursday last week, when AFP contacted the firm to inquire about the project, Shell’s corporate website listed the 42km Otuegila-Nembe route as the firm’s most important community road project. The reference has now been removed. – AFP
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