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Nigeria's Ogoni People Resist Oil Companies


In Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, one area, Ogoniland in Rivers State, resists oil production. Residents there say oil companies refuse to meet their demands to redistribute wealth and protect the environment. VOA's Nico Colombant reports.

Young men walking along roads in Ogoniland stare menacingly at those they consider outsiders, thinking they may be from oil companies.

Dutch-based oil conglomerate Shell stopped operations here in the mid 1990s, amid an international uproar over the execution of anti-oil Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the military government.

Godwin Dumnu, an unemployed father of three, is one of many in Ogoniland who say they will not give up fighting for fair treatment, whatever the consequences. "The Ogoni people demand their bill of rights. When Shell refuses to give us our rights then we will stop them from operating on Ogoni land. Unless they are agreeing to comply with us and do the Ogoni bill of rights, they should develop our youth, and our communities, our area," he said.

Oil insiders say Shell is trying to resume production in Ogoniland. Nigerian authorities have warned the company they may revoke their prospecting license in the area due to inactivity.

Dumnu warns the government and Shell not to do anything without the permission of the Ogoni people. "If the federal government just signs a contract with Shell and they do not give us our rights, there will be trouble. Everybody, every youth, they will not be happy," he said.

Shell officials refused to comment, saying they did not have time to speak to reporters.

A youth leader, Atu Ledum, says the Ogoni have a tradition of non-violence, but that frustration is growing. He points to an area that recently went up in flames after a Shell pipeline burst. There is no production here, but pipelines taking oil from nearby areas still criss-cross Ogoni land. "There was a spillage recently here. There was no clean-up. Shell company just sent people to come and stop the spillage and the light (fire). There was light (fire) burning all over here," he said.

Ledum says when a Shell team came to do a clean up, angry youths nearly rioted. "When they saw the Shell people coming to stop the light (burning), they thought they were coming to drill oil again, which the Ogoni people do not want them to drill, not until they settle the problems at hand," he said.

There is commotion, but little business being done at this vegetable market in B. Dere, another main town of Ogoniland.

Here as elsewhere, Saro-Wiwa is remembered. Speaking in the Gokana language, a market woman says he was a good person, because he asked Shell to pay compensation for environmental degradation.

In the town of Wiiyaakara, while she weaves some mats, Deekor Fepea explains in the Khana language, she would accept the return of oil companies if they guaranteed development. In this small area of about one million people, at least five languages are spoken. Fepea says Ogonis feel marginalized.

But an old fisherman, Friday Ototoh, a father of 18, says he was much happier before oil production started here in the late 1950s, causing pollution in waterways.

He says there was less jealousy and anger, and many more fish in the creeks.

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