Nigeria turns on oil giants over Saro-Wiwa death

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The Independent Online

The new civilian government in Nigeria is cracking down on multinational oil companies based in the Niger Delta, and has given them six weeks to produce a firm environmental clean-up plan.

The new civilian government in Nigeria is cracking down on multinational oil companies based in the Niger Delta, and has given them six weeks to produce a firm environmental clean-up plan.

Also for the first time, a Nigerian government official has blamed the oil companies for the execution of the Nigerian environmentalist and author Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists in November 1995, which attracted worldwide condemnation.

"The patience of the people has been tried to the limit," the junior environment minister, Ime Okopido, told an ecological forum during a visit to the region.

"Their mild protests and agitations for compensation and better environmental management and accounting were rebuffed. Opinion leaders were jailed. A few were murdered with the implicit support of the major operators who should have shown understanding of their plight," he said.

The government of President Olusegun Obasanjo blames the multinational companies for the continuing unrest in the Niger Delta region, which has resulted in scores of deaths.

The region accounts for more than 95 per cent of the West African country's daily crude oil production. The six major multinational oil companies operating in Nigeria are Royal Dutch/Shell, Mobil, Chevron, Elf, Agip and Texaco. Shell was at the centre of the 1995 controversy and was criticised internationally for failing to prevent the execution of Saro-Wiwa.

The crisis in the southern delta has worsened since Mr Obasanjo took office last May after the death of the military leader, General Sani Abacha. Youths have resorted to kidnapping expatriate workers in the oil fields and have stepped up disruption of oil production activities, resulting in losses of more than $1bn (£600m)to the Nigerian government.

The government, which ascribes the problems of the Niger Delta to "heinous environmental crimes" by the multinationals, says the oil companies must properly identify the decades-old ecological problems caused by the oil exploitation, and prepare a plan to restore the local ecosystems.

Parliament is currently debating a Bill that would set up a Niger Delta Development Commission to take the lead in renewing the infrastructure.

Government policy calls for "zero discharge in the oil and gas industry by the year 2003", Mr Okopido said during the forum last Thursday. The oil companies are also required to adopt poverty alleviation measures and adopt good housekeeping practices to minimise environmental pollution in the future.

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