15 March 2008

Nigeria: Controversy Trails Shell's Return to Ogoniland

Port Harcourt — Controversy is trailing alleged moves by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to return to Ogoniland which it abandoned about 15 years ago following disagreements with the host community and the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Niger-Delta activist by the federal government in 1997.

The Rivers State government first and foremost, has denied giving Shell directives to return to the community, just as some youths under the aegis of the National Council of Ogoni People (NYCOP) are threatening to wage war with SPDC if it fails to vacate Ogoniland. But the oil company has said it had not resumed operations in the place.

The Rivers State government had through its Director of Press, Mr. Ogbonna Nwuke denied that it ever directed Shell to go into Ogoniland saying such an order can only come from the federal government under whose purview oil related matters falls.

Shell had claimed that it was directed by the Rivers State government to access the oil wells and do some maintenance work which were concluded in the Eleme and Tai areas of the state.

But the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) raised an alarm that the oil company had recruited thugs and military personnel with which they were intimidating their people and vowed to resist the move to forcefully return to the place.

The Rivers State government is denying ever entering into any discussion with Shell aside from appealing to all parties in the dispute to exercise restraint for peace and economic activities to return to the state, insisting it never gave any directives to Shell to enter into Ogoniland.

"We have had cause to study the said statement and we are shocked that SPDC is exercising great indiscretion in this matter and wants to arrogate to the Rivers State government, a responsibility that fully falls under the purview of the federal government and the job schedule of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces who has exclusive control over such oil exploration decisions.

"At no time, did the Rivers State government direct SPDC to resume operations in Ogoniland. On the contrary, we as a responsible and impartial government are committed to the economic prosperity of the nation, and offered to assist in helping to end the disagreement between the company and the Ogoni people which has dragged on for so long," Nwuke said.

Following the controversy generated by the issue, Shell issued a statement clarifying their position, stating it had not returned to the place to resume oil and gas production.

The statement also said the directive they quoted referred to the one granted them by the past administration in April 2006 which would have seen them securing 15 dormant wells.

"SPDC wishes to clarify that it has not returned to Ogoni land to resume oil and gas production in the area, nor has it requested or received any permission from the Rivers State government for that purpose.

"Rather, following a directive by the immediate past Rivers State administration in April 2006, SPDC commenced a programme to secure its wells in Ogoni land which have been dormant since it left the area in 1993. The first stage of the exercise has seen the securing of 15 wells in Eleme and Tai local government areas.

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