Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Agip Is Threatened With Reprisals After Youth's Death; Shell to Pull 336 Workers Out Of Niger Delta

The Italian oil company Agip has been threatened with reprisals by influential tribal leaders after Nigerian soldiers allegedly stabbed a young man whose only crime was to warn them to slow down because a pregnant woman was crossing the street, the Guardian of Nigeria reported this morning in a long story on the klatest developments surrounding attacks on Royal Dutch Shell facilities there.

There is a distinctly ominous tone to much of the coverage of the Shell kidnappings and attacks on its flow stations, in which at least 22 people have died. The news is more ominous by virtue of an apparent urge among foes of multinational oil companies to spread the attacks to other Western firms.

Much of the Guardian's coverage provides a hitherto unheard side of the story, that some leaders charge Shell operations have impacted their communities badly but that they are left without recourse to the company or authorities except through attention-getting violence.

Here is the Guardian story from this morning's editions:

Shell to remain in Niger Delta despite attacks
By Yakubu Lawal, Taiwo Hassan (Lagos), Azimazi Momoh Jimoh (Abuja), Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt), Chido Okafor (Warri) and Sunny Ogefere (Asaba).

THE serial attacks on its flow stations notwithstanding, Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited (SPDC) has announced that it has no plans to pull out of the restive oil producing region of the Niger Delta.

A third attack within one week was carried out by militants on Sunday, resulting in the reported death of about 13 soldiers and a declaration of Force Majeure by the oil giant.

The company's Corporate External Affairs Manager, Mr. Don Boham, in a statement yesterday, however, disclosed that the management had resolved to minimise the risk to personnel by evacuating them from the Benisede Station and neighbouring fields.

SPDC had at the weekend declared a Force Majeure, an inability to honour its supply contracts on its 106,000 barrels a day of Nigerian Forcados oil, as a result of the explosion which occurred at the Trans-Ramos pipeline.

The spokesman said: "The Force Majeure is likely to result in a three- to four-day deferment of Forcados off-take schedule for the rest of January and all of the February agreed programme."

A hitherto unknown militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, had claimed responsibility for the first two attacks that cut Nigeria's oil output by 10 per cent.

It was reported that during a phone conversation yesterday, a man who identified himself as Brutus Etikpaden said he led the group and claimed responsibility for blowing up an oil pipeline and kidnapping four foreign oil workers last Thursday.

He demanded the release of a secessionist group's leader, Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who is facing treason charges.

Dokubo-Asari had led an armed campaign for greater share of oil wealth for the over eight million Ijaw that dominate the delta.

To prove his group was holding the hostages, Etikpaden, passed the phone to two of the men he said his group had abducted-one identified himself as American, the other as British.

Earlier, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ganiyu Adekeye, told reporters in Warri that security forces had located a boat carrying the gunmen in the waterways and said an attempt would be made soon to rescue the captives-a-Bulgarian, a British, an American and a Honduran.

Etikpaden warned against any rescue attempt, saying his men would fight and the hostages could die in the crossfire.

Shell said that in the previous oil explosion, it recorded about 16,000 barrels loss per day.

Nigeria is the biggest oil producer in Africa with a daily output of 2.5 million barrels, while Shell accounts for half of the nation's oil production.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the National Assembly yesterday expressed annoyance at the recurrence of kidnapping, killings and vandalisation of oil installations by armed youths in the Niger Delta.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment, Senator Victor Kassim Oyofo, in an interview with journalists at the National Assembly, said it was very wrong for those responsible to use destruction as a way of ventilating their anger.

"You do not protest by destroying what you have, it is not a protest, it is stupidity. They should know that if they destroy pipelines, it is their rivers that are polluted, it is their soil that is polluted. You don't show anger by working against yourselves. They should find more legitimate ways of making sure that their protests are heard," he said.

The chairman, House of Representatives' Committee on Petroleum, Cairo Ojougbon denied speculations that the destruction and killings were protests against the Federal Government.

His words: "This action, from the way we have seen it, is not against the Federal Government of President Olusegun Obasanjo or against the people of Nigeria. This dastardly act as condemnable as it is, we want to believe that this is an act perpetrated against Shell and its management".

The lawmaker lamented that the oil company had not been responsive enough to the plight of the immediate communities within which they operated.

He said: "Look at the issue of the value for money audit that the NNPC ordered against Shell account. Then President had given instructions that the NNPC should recover this money since 2000. Six years after, they are still dilly-dallying. Shell has only come out last week to say that they accept that N800 million of that N3.6 billion should be written back into the JV account, and that they only agreed to pay N455 million and $8 million and a paltry 150,000 British pounds."

He continued: "The people are asking: what about the balance of N2 billion and Shell is saying that they are still looking into it. What I am trying to say is that the time has come for Shell to change its attitude towards its host communities to improve on its image."

Indigenes of Oboburu community in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni council of Rivers State have threatened to shut down all oil facilities belonging to Italian oil multinational, Agip, if it fails to pay compensation for the death of youth killed by soldiers protecting its oil facilities in the area.

Exasperated by the attitude of the two oil companies over the death of a youth, Richard Monday, who was allegedly stabbed last December by soldiers providing security for Agip's facilities, the Oboburu monarch, Eze Sunday Amirize gave the firm and its contractor, Daewoo the end of this week to pay compensation or risk a total shutdown.

Eze Amirize told journalists that the late Monday, on the fateful day had gone to a nearby shop to purchase table water and as he was returning he urged the driver of the van conveying the soldiers to slow down to avoid hitting a pregnant woman and a child who were trying to cross the road.

Rather than accept the admonition in good faith, the Eze continued, the soldiers directed the driver to park the van and they alighted. The soldiers, he alleged, pounced on Monday and in the ensuing confusion, stabbed him, hopped into their van and drove away, leaving the youth in a pool of his own blood.

The Eze declared that the community had lodged a formal complaint with Agip on the incident. He however alleged that the Italian oil firm distanced itself from the crisis by shifting the blame on its contractor, Daewoo.

The monarch explained that in protest, enraged youths carried the deceased remains to a sacred section of the village, which was the first of such in the history of the community. He called for sacrifice to atone for the desecration of the sacred ground.

The monarch said Monday's death had brought sufferings to his immediate family, as he was the only son of his aged mother who now depends on the benevolence of relations to survive.

He alleged that prior to the murder of Monday, the soldiers deployed in the area had consistently harassed indigenes of Oboburu without any form of provocation.

He urged the Rivers State government and the Minister of State for Petroleum to prevail on Agip to ameliorate the sufferings of the family of the slain youth before the end of this week or risk a disruption of its operation in the area.

He described the insensitivity of the two companies as unfortunate, adding that only adequate compensation would guarantee a cordial relationship between the people and the companies.

When The Guardian contacted the public affairs office of Agip in Port Harcourt, the phone rang severally yesterday but there was no response.

The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) yesterday also confirmed the death of one of its contract staff in last Sunday's early morning attack on its Benisede Flow Station in Bayelsa State by heavily armed gunmen.

In statement yesterday by its Corporate External Affairs Manager, Don Boham, the company said that 10 persons were seriously wounded in the attack and many others sustained minor injuries. They are being treated at the Shell Hospital, Warri.

Meanwhile, troop deployment described as "massive" continued throughout yesterday at the operational base of the Joint Task Force "Operation Restore Hope" at Effurun, Delta State. The Guardian learnt the troops were being deployed to Benisede allegedly on the request of the governor of Bayelsa State.

Some of the combat-ready troop's yesterday morning boarded naval boats at the Delta Naval Base in Warri. Other soldiers were reportedly conveyed through road in buses and trucks to Yenegoa. Their destination was said to be Benisede

It was also learnt yesterday that the Chief of General Staff, Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, was being expected yesterday in Warri.

Also, the whereabouts of the four foreign oil workers kidnapped last Wednesday in the EA Field of Shell in Bayelsa State still remained a mystery as there were no reports from any quarter as to their condition of health.

Boham, however, stated that Shell had no plans presently to "pull out of the Niger Delta" adding that the oil film evacuated its staff from Benisede area to minimise the risk to personnel.

Opukushi, Ogbotobo and Tunu Flow Stations were still being shut down as a result of January 11 explosion of the Trans Ramos pipeline allegedly by hoodlums. Some 106, 000 barrels of the SPDC joint venture, according to Boham remain shut.

To check the upsurge in crime in the Niger Delta, the Police Commissioner of Delta State, Mr. Udom U. Ekpondom has relocated temporarily from the commands headquarters in Asaba to Warri.

The commissioner's relocation, which was at the instance of Governor James Ibori, was not unconnected with the recent militant attacks on oil installations and torching of boats in Bayelsa State.

According to a statement by the commands Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Miss Okuwobi Olabisi, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), yesterday in Asaba, the governor's directive was to check the spread of the ugly incidents in Bayelsa State to Delta State.

The governor's order was for the commissioner "to forestall any attempt by the youths of that area (Warri axis) to catch in on the unfortunate incident of the kidnap of some foreign nationals in Bayelsa State," she stated.

Besides, the command warned members of the public and parents in particular to caution their youths against embarking on such criminal acts in the state.

"The police will not fold its arms and watch them contravene the law and create disorder... To be forewarned is to be forearmed," the command's spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, The Guardian learnt that the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and the State Commissioner for Conflict Resolution, Ovuozomie Macaulay have been empowered to do everything legally possible to check restiveness from spreading to Delta.

Already, machinery has been put in place for mass sensitisation and mobilisation against allowing the youths from the state to join the criminal trend.

Youth and community leaders as well as traditional rulers have been the target of the sensitisation to ensure that peace in the state is not broken.

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