- Title: NIGERIA: Activists in Niger Delta hold demonstration against oil giant Shell
- Date: 26th November 2008
- Summary: BAYELSA, NIGERIA (RECENT - NOVEMBER 17, 2008) (REUTERS) BOYS DIVING INTO POLLUTED RIVER
- Embargoed: 11th December 2008 12:00
- Location: Nigeria
- Country: Nigeria
- Topics: Energy
- Reuters ID: LVAAG61KDLZ19501G5SD6RU16M9X
- Story Text: A demonstration by the Ogoni community in the Niger Delta to mark the anniversary of the execution of human rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa highlights the group's ongoing problems with oil companies and the Nigerian government.
Activists from the Niger Delta's Ogoni community marked the 13th anniversary of the execution of human rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa with a staged protest against Shell.
Saro-Wiwa founded local rights group the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and was hanged by the then-military government in 1995.
The protesters, mainly unemployed youth, marched to Shell's regional offices in Ogoni carrying placards and a mock coffin which they later handed over to some of the company's officials.
Royal Dutch Shell abandoned its oilfields in Ogoniland 15 years ago because of popular protests over pollution and a lack of development, but the area is still criss-crossed by pipelines.
While addressing protesters and Shell officials alike, Odion Thomson, the group's leader, accused the government and the oil company of continued neglect, even after Ken Saro-Wiwa's death.
"We want to commit to the eternal destruction of this symbolic coffin representing the atrocities of the Shell company, not only in Ogoni land but all over the world," Thomson told protesters and officials.
Ever since Saro-Wiwa's execution, which reflected badly on Shell in the eyes of many environmental and human rights activists around the world, the company has been trying to mend ties with MOSOP and with the broader Ogoni community.
But a government-sponsored peace process has failed to quell protests and discontent in the area.
Analysts say that the failure by the government and oil companies to develop the region, home to Africa's biggest oil and gas industry, has spawned several armed groups who are intent on violently sabotaging production.
Attacks by militants on oil facilities in the Niger Delta have shut down around a fifth of Nigerian output since early 2006. Nigeria currently pumps around 2 million barrels per day.
"There's a serious relationship between what Ken Saro-Wiwa did and what is going on now, but I would think that the violent aspect of it would have been as a result of non-proper addressing of the issues even as at the time of Ken Saro-Wiwa till to date," said McCarthy Mbadugha, a human rights lawyer based in Lagos.
Experts say many parts of the Niger Delta are polluted by oil spills and gas flares. Despite persistent warnings from environmentalists, they say relatively little has been done to protect people living there.
"On the aspect of the neglect, the oil companies and the federal government are to be condemned and blamed. The question is that, originally when oil was discovered in Nigeria, Nigerians may not have had the expertise both in terms of engineering, lawyers and what have you. And there were no provisions made for contamination remediation in most of the concessions and oil rights granted to oil companies," Mbadugha added.
Mbadugha also said that the government's contracts with oil companies should have included penalities and monitoring mechanisms in order to guard against pollution.
On 25 January the chairman of the government's National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, Bamidele Ajakaiye, told Nigeria's Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology that there are 1,150 abandoned oil spill sites in the Niger Delta region.
Regardless of the cause, companies are required to notify the Nigerian government within 24 hours, and oil spills are to be cleaned up immediately, an obligation oil companies say is often impossible because they are denied access by hostile communities.
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