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Shell’s fresh bid for Ogoni oilfield stirs tension

An atmosphere of unrest is looming over Ogoni land, following the renewal request by Shell Petroleum Development Company for Oil Mining Leases (OML11).

Already, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates (KSWA) have intensified mobilisation of the people for a possible showdown with authorities over the development, coming when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report for the cleanup of Ogoni is yet to be implemented.

Shell has consistently maintained it is not interested in returning to Ogoni. The Guardian, however, discovered it wrote a letter dated October 16, 2017 to the Minister of State for Petroleum, seeking the renewal of its lease, due to expire June 2019. 

Excerpts from the letter read: “By way of background, these leases are valid for 30 years from 1989 and so due for renewal before June 2019.

Our application is made pursuant to Article 13(1) first schedule of the Petroleum Act, which requires the lessee of an OML to apply for renewal of its lease not less than 12 months before expiry.”

Shell said the renewal of the lease for the Ogoni oilfields and others will enable it and joint venture partners continue contributing to the Federal Government’s agenda for the nation through oil and gas production, payment of royalties, taxes and levies, and support of local communities.

Intriguingly, Shell’s request came on the heels of a letter written to it four days earlier by the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), noting that a company, RoboMichael Limited, had expressed interest in obtaining licensing rights on the oilfields.

NAPIMS had told Shell to initiate discussions on potential partnership, with the aim of exploring possible means of resuming crude oil and gas production. Shell was also directed to inform all its partners of its engagement with RoboMichael, and also secure necessary approval should any agreement be reached.

The endorsement of RoboMichael by NAPIMS and the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, however, has continued to fuel speculation that the company is Shell’s proxy.

Former President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee, told The Guardian that Shell’s bid to renew its license in Ogoni, 23 years after Ken Saro-Wiwa and other prominent Ogoni were killed by the military, smacks of insensitivity.

Mitee explained that while Ogoni have not ruled out the resumption of oil production in the area, it would be inhumane for anyone to start contemplating this when the UNEP report has not been implemented.

He said it is heartrending that despite the UNEP 2011 recommendations, Ogoni people are still drinking water from wells contaminated with over 900 times the level of cancer-causing benzene allowed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

On his part, the national coordinator of KSWA, Gani Topba, accused some of the chiefs that endorsed the resumption as being Shell apologists.

KSWA, meanwhile, has already written to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria not to approve any foreign funding sought by RoboMichael for the development and operation of Ogoni oilfields.

Topba explained that Ogoni are fully mobilised to resist any attempt by Shell through any proxy, while the fundamental issues that led to Shell’s abrupt exit from Ogoni in 1993 remain unresolved.

MOSOP President, Legborsi Pyagbara, said the Ogoni people are vehemently against the resumption of oil production, until there is a broad-based discussion with the people, the Federal Government and Shell.

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