Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Niger Delta in the News

The Los Angeles Times reports on the "combustible" situation in the Niger Delta:

Ten years after Nigerian authorities executed Niger Delta writer and community activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, popular anger and unrest continue to grow, while warnings of a calamitous slide into violence abound. Saro-Wiwa campaigned for a greater share of oil wealth for the population and protested environmental damage, but little progress has been made since his death...

"Unless something drastic is done, there will not be peace around here. There's going to be trouble," prominent human rights activist Anyakwee Nsirimovu said.

With the decline in traditional occupations like fishing and farming because of environmental degradation, many young people are easily recruited into militias or crime cartels, which get their funding from oil "bunkering," or theft...

Ledum Mitee, spokesman for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, the group Saro-Wiwa founded, accused the company and its contractors of "divide and rule" tactics, bribing certain people or offering contracts to circumvent community opposition and get its work done in the region, which has half a million people and massive oil reserves. Mitee faced trial with Saro-Wiwa and is often seen as his successor.

One community chief in the Ogoni village of Kegbara Dere, Clement Goni Badom, said people were still so opposed to the company that calling someone an agent of Shell was like using a swear word.

The company said in e-mailed answers to questions from The Times that it would only return to the area if welcomed by the community. Despite the anger, the company argued, communities have turned to Shell to address poverty in the region instead of looking to the government. Shell said it had adopted a new approach across the delta region, abolishing ad hoc payments to communities or individuals to get access to sites.

Activist Nsirimovu said Shell's policies were "beautiful on paper. But those standards don't apply here."

Baakpa Birabil, 60, a farmer in Kegbara Dere, is angry that his small plot of land was destroyed in a spill two years ago. "My anger is toward Shell, who just came to my land and exploited it without leaving anything for me. You can see we are very poor people." He said people had expected good things when the oil companies first arrived, decades ago. "We never expected it would bring bad things," he said.
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