and OLIVER TICKELL
Shell said last night it had no intention of pulling out of Nigeria, despite threats of an intensified international protest campaign against the oil company and widespread calls for oil sanctions against the country's military regime.
The company said it would goahead with a huge gas investment project in Nigeria, even though the World Bank said, after it learnt of the executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight Ogoni co-defendants, that it would withdraw its backing for the pounds 2.7bn scheme.
But John Major said yesterday that the British government would discuss the planned investment with Shell urgently. "Quite where they are with their plans, what obligations they have entered into and what the impact of any action would be is not something I yet know,'' the Prime Minister added.
A Shell International spokesman said: "We have a major commitment to the people of Nigeria and the Niger delta. Our withdrawal would hit the Nigerian people hardest and put our own staff there in a dangerous position".
With 14 per cent of Shell's global oil production coming from Nigeria's oilfields, the world's biggest oil corporation could ill afford to quit. In partnership with the Nigerian government and French and Italian oil companies, it produces about half of Nigeria's oil. Shell would own one quarter of the proposed liquefied natural gas plant to be built near Ogoniland, and says it would bring thousands of jobs to the impoverished delta lands.
The World Bank's International Finance Corporation announced on Friday that it would not be taking a 2 per cent stake or providing a $100m (pounds 64m) loan for the project.
Environmentalists, human rights groups and the London-based Ogoni Community Association are to meet today to decide how to take their campaign against Shell and the Nigerian government forward. They accuse the oil giant of causing environmental destruction in the Ogoni area through oil spills and the flaring of natural gas while colluding with a repressive regime.
The main groups involved are Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International and the Body Shop. They are united in the belief that there should be international oil sanctions against Nigeria.
Lazarus Tamana, the association president, said that ``individuals, having heard our story and seeing the reality of the situation, should use their own individual purchasing power to protest.''
Lord Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said there would be organised protests against Shell in Britain and many other countries.
Over the weekend five Shell petrol stations in England and Wales were closed by demonstrations organised by the group Earth First! It said it was planning more protests.
Shell said the allegations of environmental devastation were ``false and misleading''. The company had appealed to the Nigerian head of state, General Sani Abacha, for clemency for Saro-Wiwa and his co-defendants, and as a private company could not get involved in Nigerian internal affairs.