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Nigerian Villagers Continue Protest at Oil Facilities


In Nigeria, hundreds of villagers are occupying four oil pumping stations in the troubled Niger Delta. The protesters insist on written commitments by Shell oil company to supply jobs to the local population. The occupation is compounding the crisis in Nigeria's oil industry.

The invasion has reduced Nigeria's daily oil output by more than 100,000 barrels, in addition to 500,000 barrels lost since February, when militants increased their attacks on oil facilities in the region.

The angry villagers say Shell oil company has failed to honor previous agreements, and are demanding written and firm commitments to contracts that would have villagers supply food and speed boats to the oil platforms.

Shell owns three of the platforms, while one belongs to Chevron.

The island community of Kula says the oil companies have also failed to employ locals in the oil industry operations, in contravention of a global memorandum of understanding between the companies and the community.

Despite an agreement for the villages to end their occupation, Dan Opusingi, spokesman for the group, says the siege will continue until their demands are met, including suspension of speedboats being supplied by outside contractors.

"We will not open that place, until they give us those contracts, or they hand over those contracts," he said. "Or in the alternative, they should tell those boats to leave, while they look into this matter. Those outside contractors, they [the company officials] should tell them [outside contractors supplying boats] to take their boats, and go away, while they look into the matter, so that full operation can come up. Those are the two alternatives."

Violence in the delta has been on the rise, and analysts expect the situation to worsen in the lead-up to general elections next year.

Shell officials say some of the facilities on the platforms may have been vandalized by the angry villagers.

Peter Esele, national president of Nigeria's main oil workers' union, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association, says he expects the siege to be lifted without violence.

"It rarely goes out of hand, where you now have arms and ammunition," he said. "No, they hardly come with arms and ammunition. What they do is that they come in numbers and close the place. And the first thing in safety is that Shell has to go ahead and evacuate our members. And then government intervenes, they talk, and then in another one or two weeks, they start seeing if Shell will implement what has been agreed."

Despite being the source of Nigeria's huge oil resources, the inhabitants of the southern oil region remain among the most impoverished in the country.

Armed militia groups have intensified attacks on oil facilities and abducted foreign oil workers as hostages, either for ransom, or to back demands for more local control of the oil wealth.

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