- Test for efforts to bring stability in disputed oil-rich Niger Delta might fail should Nigerian government refuse to consult local communities about new oil operations.
After examining political and economic implications of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) departure from Ogoni land, International Crisis Group (ICG) has made recommendations on resuming peaceful oil operations in economically strategic and politically volatile region.
"If handled carefully, this transition could persuade some of Delta's armed groups that non-violence could produce progress on their demands", says François Grignon, Crisis Group's Africa program director.
But if handled poorly, Mr Grignon says it will not only deepen Delta armed revolt, but also "set stage for a new crisis between Ogoni tribe and SPDC's successor oil company."
Nigerian government's 4 June decision to replace Shell's operation in Ogoni land was at first reportedly celebrated by Ogoni as a victory for non-violent struggle and local communities over a multinational oil company.
However, government is said to have immediately announced that concession would be taken over by the Nigerian petroleum development company.
According to SPDC, Ogoni considers government's unilateral engagement of a new operator as a further attempt to deny their stakeholder rights.
Group states that very little has been done either to clean up environmental pollution resulting from over three decades of SPDC operations or to compensate the communities most adversely affected.
Reports show that Nigerian president Umaru Yar'Adua has stated that agreements have been reached on compensation, but Ogoni leaders say issue has not even been discussed.
ICG further recommends that federal government should take lead in negotiating a tripartite agreement with new oil companies and Ogoni representatives on benchmarks that must be met before operations begin.
It shows that details and modalities for reinvesting a portion of oil revenues in Ogoni land should be included.
"Moreover, it is vital to implement concrete socio-economic measures to revamp basic infrastructure and increase local training and employment, " group adds.
ICG's senior west Africa analyst Nnamdi Obasi, has said, "although Ogoni land produces only a small fraction of Delta oil, environmental effects of oil exploration and production there fuelled armed insurgency."
Obasi added that government must quickly address environmental clean up and compensation for impacted communities and respond to wider issues of political marginalisation and economic deprivation.
ICG is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.
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