Sunday, February 06, 2005

Death Toll Now 25, 45 Injured At ChevronTexaco Terminal

The UpstreamOnline news site reported Friday that six protestors died after being shot by Nigerian security forces today at a protest at a ChevronTexaco terminal in Nigeria, but a Saturday report in the Champion newspaper says the death toll has now risen to 25 and two warships and heavily-armed soldiers have moved in to restore peace.

The Saturday Champion reported Saturday:
Soldiers kill 25 youths in Warri

WARRI -- CRISIS in the Niger Delta region assumed a deadlier dimension as men of the Nigerian Armed Forces killed 25 youths and wounded 45 others who laid siege to Texaco’s Escravos Tank Farm and Oil Terminal at Ugborodo, Warri, Delta State.

Already, over 300 troops from the joint military task force on Warri crisis, Operation Restore Hope, have been deployed to restore sanity.

Saturday Champion gathered that youths from the community, Ugborodo, which hosts Chevron Texaco’s Escravos Tank Farm and Oil Terminal, decided to invade the Terminal following a breakdown in negotiation between the community leaders and Chevron Texaco management over a number of community development and employment issues.

The youths who are very familiar with the facilities successfully overran them despite the presence of the heavily armed men of the Joint Military Task Force.

Numbering over 500 they took over the Airstrip and other key installations before the military, made up of men of the Nigerian Army, Navy and Mobile policemen, mobilised and attacked.

Saturday Champion gathered that the youths were not armed, but the daring manner with which they outflanked the military men must have been the reason why the soldiers opened fire on them, killing 25 instantly while the others sustained bullet wounds.

Some of the wounded are now lying critically at the Warri Central Hospital with various degree of injuries.

Five of the wounded are very critical as they were about to be whisked to the operating theatre when this reporter visited the hospital.

It was learnt that the youths had invaded the terminal at about 3.30 am and had taken position without the knowledge of the military who were drafted to the facility for protection.

But the situation became critical when the first sets of workers were stopped at their duty points from performing any operation.

Someone then alerted the security, which raced down to the Airstrip Control area where most of the youths were to confront them.

Among them were some women, a number of whom were injured in the pandemonium that followed the shoot out.

Spokesperson for the Ugborodo community, Mr Victor Omunu who confirmed the incident said that his people are ready to confront Chevron Texaco for the injustice done them.

According to him, the youths were not armed and their protest was peaceful.

Omunu said what they were asking from Chevron was the implementation of an earlier agreed Memorandum of Understanding (Mou) which the company suddenly jettisoned without any reason.

All efforts to get Chevron’s spokesman Mr Odumabo proved abortive while the commanding officer of the Warri Naval Base Captain Jacob Afam was said to have travelled out of town when Saturday Champion called at the Warri Naval base, NNS, Delta.

Meanwhile, the heavily armed soldiers posted to restore peace to the area are under the personal command of the Commander of the Task Force Brigadier-General Elias Zamani.

Loaded in over eight trucks, the soldiers arrived the Warri Naval base, NNS Delta’s jetty at about 12.00 noon.

The contingent which is made up of Naval, Army and Mobile policemen were later transported to Escravos by Naval gun boats at about 1.00pm

Also, the two naval war ships stationed at the Warri port were ordered to Escravos.

Saturday Champion learnt the task force had successfully taken over the Escravos Airstrip from the youths when a combat jet of the Nigerian Airforce and two combat Helicopter landed on the airstrip.

As at the time of writing the report, all military formations in Warri have become "no go area" for civilian including journalists.

When Saturday Champion called the phone line of Gen. Zamani, someone who refused to identify himself said that the General will not be available until 6.00pm for comments.

Updates will be posted as details become available. Initial details from UpstreamOnline on Friday were scarce:

Oil terminal protesters shot

Nigerian security forces shot dead about six protesters at an oil export terminal operated by US energy giant ChevronTexaco today, a community leader said.

The UpstreamOnline story had not been updated as of Sunday morning.

It is not known how the shootings may impact a wide variety of projects ChevronTexaco has underway in Nigeria, including a $6 billion LNG processing facility and numerous land and offshore oil wells.

The company just inked a $123 million contract with the Nigeria-Sao Tome and Principe Joint Development Zone on Monday.

Violence surrounding ChevronTexaco and, more frequently, Royal Dutch/Shell facilities in Nigeria has been frequent, and both companies regularly suffer substantial losses to output - sometimes more than 100,000bpd, due to clashes with Nigerian community activists over employment of foreign workers, pollution and other issues.

Update: More details have become available at the Website, which attributes the following story to the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks, which does not carry the imprimatur of the United Nations:

Nigeria: Soldiers Kill Four Protesters At Oil Terminal, Activists Say
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
February 4, 2005

WARRI -- Nigerian troops on Friday shot and killed four villagers who were protesting at the main export terminal run by ChevronTexaco in the Niger Delta, one of the demonstration's organisers said.

More than 200 protesters from the village of Ugborodo near Warri stormed the Escravos plant just before dawn to demand a fairer share of the 300,000 barrels of crude oil that are pumped out every day.

"Soldiers shot at them, killing four and injuring three others," Helen Joe, one of the activists' leaders, told IRIN by phone.

ChevronTexaco's Nigerian subsidiary said in a statement that its Escravos facilities had been "forcibly entered" and they had reported the incident to the security forces "who have since contained it."

The company declined to give further details and did not confirm the deaths or the injuries.

The ethnic Itsekiri villagers from Ugborodo accuse ChevronTexaco of reneging on promises of amenities and jobs that were made in the wake of a similar protest in July 2002. During that protest, disgruntled locals camped out at the terminal, stopping oil exports for 10 days.

"Whatever they promised they never fulfilled, that's why the community is very angry," said Helen Joe.

Oil operations in the 70,000 sq km Niger Delta, which accounts for nearly all of Nigeria's daily oil exports of 2.5 million barrels, have increasingly become the target of attacks.

Since the July 2002 protest, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has deployed thousands of troops to guard vital oil facilities, which are classed as assets vital to economic security.

More than 90 percent of oil production in Nigeria is generated by joint ventures with international oil companies in which the government has the majority stake.

The government has a 60 percent stake in ChevronTexaco holdings in Nigeria, the third biggest operator in the country. Similar joint ventures are run with Royal Dutch/Shell, ExxonMobil, Total and Agip.

Since 1970, the country has earned US$320 billion from oil sucked out of the Niger Delta, but its seven million residents are among the poorest in Nigeria.

In the face of mismanagement of oil wealth by a succession of Nigerian regimes, restive inhabitants have tended to target the oil companies as the only visible face of government in their remote districts.

In 1998, two unarmed protestors were shot and killed by soldiers at another ChevronTexaco oil platform. A lawsuit has been filed in the US charging ChevronTexaco with responsibility for the deaths because they had invited the troops onto the site to quell the disturbance.

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

Just yesterday, Human Rights Watch released a report on violence in the Niger Delta surrounding the distribution of oil revenues to states that harbor crude oil reserves.

The toll has been horrific, the worldwide rights organization reports:

Nigeria: Fight for Oil Wealth Fuels Violence in Delta
Government Must Combat Impunity; Oil Industry Should Ensure Transparency
Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)
Posted to the Web February 4, 2005

LONDON -- In the oil-rich Niger Delta, the struggle among local leaders for oil revenue and government funds has fueled violent clashes between rival armed groups, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. An escalation in violence last year killed dozens of innocent people and disrupted oil production, pushing global crude futures over a record $50 a barrel.

The 22-page report, "Rivers and Blood: Guns, Oil and Power in Nigeria's Rivers State," based on a December fact-finding mission to the region, documents fighting between armed groups in the southeastern oil-producing state that escalated in late 2003 and continued throughout 2004. The clashes resulted in the indiscriminate killing of local people, displaced tens of thousands of villagers from their homes, and forced the oil industry to evacuate staff and scale back its production.

On October 1, the federal government brokered a peace agreement between the two main rival armed groups. The federal and state governments then granted an amnesty to the fighters. While commending the government's effort to end the conflict, Human Rights Watch said that the perpetrators of grave human rights abuses must not be given immunity from prosecution.

"The Nigerian authorities must end the culture of impunity fueling this deadly cycle of violence in the oil-rich Delta," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "And the oil industry needs to ensure the funding that it earmarks for local communities does not end up in the hands of those fueling this violence."

Unemployed and frustrated youth remain vulnerable for recruitment by leaders of armed groups and unscrupulous politicians. During the 1999 and 2003 elections, local politicians from the country's ruling People's Democratic Party hired youths to secure their victory through violence and intimidation.

These youths have also become involved in local conflicts over traditional leadership positions, which are a channel for the payments that oil company make to local communities. Contenders to these highly sought-after traditional titles, which guarantee the office holder access to significant financial resources, have recruited local youths to wage their increasingly violent battles. The oil companies operating in the region, including Shell's joint-venture with the Nigerian government, should ensure the transparency of payments to local communities so that funds are not used to further the violence, Human Rights Watch said.

Similarly, those involved in the theft of crude oil have used the same youths to assist them in struggles to control the profits of stolen crude.

The violence has become ever more deadly due to the high proliferation of small arms which are recycled and imported from other conflicts in the region or stolen from the security forces.

Human Rights Watch identified the main perpetrators of the violence in the Niger Delta as two armed groups, the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF), led by Asari Dokubo, and the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), led by Ateke Tom. Both leaders have drawn support from hundreds of smaller groups in Rivers state, and both were originally backed by members of the state government. Asari's loss of political patronage in mid-2003 led him into violent conflict with Tom over control of territory and access to lucrative routes for oil theft.

The report documents a number of attacks by both armed groups. In Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers state and the country's hub for oil operations, attacks by the NDPVF in August killed at least 16 bystanders. In one incident, a NDPVF gunman opened fire on a busy restaurant in the heart of the city, indiscriminately killing a waitress and four customers.

When the federal government deployed troops in response, NDPVF leader Asari Dokubo on September 27 declared "all-out war" on the Nigerian state. The threat of disrupted oil production sent shockwaves through the global futures markets.

In January, a raid by the NDV on the waterfront community of Amadi Ama left as many as four bystanders dead in a shootout with rival fighters.

Terrified villagers told Human Rights Watch how the NDV arrived by boat in the middle of the night and began firing at houses. A local woman trader said, "If you peep through the window it was like stars, there were gunshots everywhere.

So we just sat in the house and prayed. That was all we could do."

Human Rights Watch called on the Nigerian government to pursue a comprehensive strategy to tackle theft of oil and stop the flow of small arms into the Niger Delta. The authorities should also provide urgent assistance to the tens of thousands of people who have been displaced, and deploy adequate numbers of police to protect the local population from future violence.

"The government's failure to protect the local population and ensure justice does not bode well for the future stability of Rivers state," said Takirambudde. "Unless justice is done, further bloodshed is likely as politicians remobilize frustrated youth ahead of the 2007 presidential Death Toll Now 25, 45 Injured At ChevronTexaco Terminal elections."

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