Nigeria: Ogoni Land after Shell

International Crisis Group
Dakar/Abuja/Brussels, 18 September 2008: The peace process in Ogoni land – a major test for efforts to bring stability to the oil-rich Niger Delta – is likely to fail if the Nigerian government refuses to consult local communities about new oil operations.

Nigeria: Ogoni Land after Shell,* the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the political and economic implications of the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) departure from Ogoni land and gives recommendations on resuming peaceful oil operations in the economically strategic and politically volatile region.

“If handled carefully, this transition could persuade some of the Delta’s armed groups that non-violence can produce progress on their demands”, says François Grignon, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director. “If handled poorly, it will not only intensify the Delta armed insurgency but also set the stage for a new crisis between the Ogoni tribe and SPDC’s successor oil company”.

The Nigerian government’s 4 June 2008 decision to replace Shell’s operation in Ogoni land was at first celebrated by the Ogoni as a victory for non-violent struggle and local communities over a multinational oil company. But the government soon announced the concession would be taken over by the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company. The Ogoni consider the government’s unilateral engagement of a new operator a further attempt to deny their stakeholder rights.

Additionally, very little has been done either to clean up environmental pollution resulting from over three decades of SPDC operations or to compensate the communities most adversely affected. President Umaru Yar’Adua stated that agreements have been reached on compensation, but Ogoni leaders say the issue has not even been discussed. A clean-up initiative involving the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has stalled.

The federal government should take the lead in negotiating a tripartite agreement with the new oil companies and the Ogoni representatives on the benchmarks that must be met before operations begin. Details and modalities for reinvesting a portion of oil revenues in Ogoni land should be included. Moreover, it is vital to implement concrete socio-economic measures to revamp basic infrastructure and increase local training and employment.

“Although Ogoni land produces only a small fraction of Delta oil, the environmental effects of oil exploration and production there fuelled the armed insurgency”, says Nnamdi Obasi, Crisis Group’s Senior West Africa Analyst. “The government must quickly address environmental clean-up and compensation for impacted communities and respond to the wider issues of political marginalisation and economic deprivation”.

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