Shell opens talks about a return to Nigeria's troubled Ogoni region

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The Independent Online

More than 12 years since it fled the Nigerian region of Ogoni in fear at the growing violence towards its operations from the local population, oil giant Shell has reopened talks with the people of the Ogoni about a possible return.

More than 12 years since it fled the Nigerian region of Ogoni in fear at the growing violence towards its operations from the local population, oil giant Shell has reopened talks with the people of the Ogoni about a possible return.

Representatives of the Ogoni people, the Nigerian federal and state governments, and Shell have all pledged to attempt reconciliation in an effort to bring stability to the Ogoni region. Since 1990, Ogoni has been dogged by violence, crime, corruption, and poverty.

Statements issued yesterday by the President of Nigeria, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (Mosop), the River State government, which covers the Ogoni region, and Shell mark a breakthrough towards peace. Shell pulled out in 1993 after the Mosop intensified its campaign against it for the return of $10bn (£5.5bn) in oil royalties and compensation for environmental damage. The conflict reached one of its darkest moments in 1995, when Ken Saro Wiwa, who led Mosop, was executed by the military dictatorship.

To begin a new peace process, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria has appointed a priest, Father Matthew Kukah, to lead the reconciliation. Mosop is now committed to non-violence. Ledum Mittee, president of Mosop, said: "We welcome the effort being made by the federal government to engage in dialogue which we hope will be sincere and will recognise the need to redress abuses."

A spokesman for Shell said the company did not yet have plans to resume oil production, but it wants to re-enter Ogoni to make safe its former wells and carry out maintenance on pipelines running through Ogoni.

Since it left, Shell's facilities have been looted, vandalised and used illegally. Basil Omiyi, the managing director of Shell's Nigerian business, said: "We will continue to do everything we can to ensure a lasting reconciliation between the Ogonis and Shell. We look forward to working with Father Kukah, the federal and state governments and Ogoni leaders in making reconciliation a reality."

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