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Ogonis divided over Shell compensation

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Friday 5 August 2011

Shell’s admission of responsibility for two major oil spills in the Niger Delta region has provoked reactions ranging from jubilation to cynicism. The Bodo fishing community had taken the Anglo-Dutch oil giant to court in the UK, claiming oil pollution has left the environment, and their livelihood, in ruins.

By Emmanuel Mayah, Lagos

Previously Shell has always maintained that oil spills in the Niger Delta were largely caused by sabotage by crude oil thieves and pipeline vandals. However the company finally admitted that two devastating spills in 2008 and 2009 were a result of equipment failure.

This marks a turning point in the chequered relationship between oil companies and their host communities in Nigeria – and opens the way to a huge compensation settlement expected to be around 280 million euros.

A new era
Metu Sossa belongs to the Beeri communities in the Khana area of Ogoni in the Niger delta. He said the compensation means the dawn of a new era in Ogoniland. Utterly amazed by Shell’s admission, 47-year-old man Sossa says: “I never believed that I would live to see this day. Ogoni is synonymous with bad news, one of which was the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa, but now we are going to have a good story to tell our children.”

“That Shell has finally succumbed to reason just goes to show that our struggles are not in vain. It is a welcome development. The money should be used to restore the polluted rivers and other ecosystems,” Sossa says.

Unaware
The Bodo community, about 70,000 people, have seen an entire 2,000 hectares of creeks and mangroves ravaged by oil pollution. Martin Oborokiri, a schoolteacher living in the Niger Delta’s Torugbene area, believes the people of Bodo and other possible beneficiaries may be unaware of the compensation they can now expect. And may never actually receive it.

“You must remember that many of the affected communities of fishermen and farmers do not have access to newspapers,” says Oborokiri. “Some have radios but many have never seen a television set. As a result news takes days, sometimes weeks, to travel from one part of the Niger Delta to another. Do not be surprised if this compensation does not get to the people who are entitled it.”

Still no win
Another Niger Delta native, Apah Keenam of the Sogho community, says the news will spread across the Delta region. But he believes it is a no-win situation for the entire Ogoni population. “What we need is not just payments from Shell but restitution from the Nigerian government,” syas Keenam. “If you say Shell has changed for the better, would you say the same of the Nigerian government?”

He continues: “Our lands are polluted. And, as if our problems are not big enough, the little land left for subsistence farming the government wants to forcibly take away from us by attempting to relocate the Bori Camp Military Barracks – which houses the 2nd Amphibious Brigade – from Port Harcourt to Ogoni. Is a military barrack the social amenity Ogoni need?”

Doubts
Vivian Balari, an environmental journalist and Ogoni native, is in no way consoled by the news from the UK. She has not forgotten that in 2009, when Shell paid 11 million euros to the families of Ken Saro-Wiwa and nine other slain activists, about 5.7 million went to the lawyers and another large sum was put in trust.

Balari: “Some NGOs involved in the lawsuit probably took care of themselves leaving just a pittance to the victims’ dependents. You see why this new compensation may not be good news after all.”

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