The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has welcomed as good news a move by Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua to replace oil giant Shell by the end of the year from operating in the Niger Delta. This comes after MOSOP described its relationship with the oil company as irreparably damaged. President Yar'Adua reportedly said a new company would resume production in the southern oil fields of Ogoniland abandoned by Shell 15 years ago. The people of Ogoniland have long expressed their lack of confidence in the oil company.

Community unrest apparently sparked by poverty and pollution from oil production forced Shell to halt its activities in Ogoniland, often described as a hotbed of civil unrest in the oil-and gas-rich Niger Delta. Lidum Mitte is the president of MOSOP. He tells reporter Peter Clottey from Port Harcourt, Nigeria that President Yar'Adua took a step in the right direction.

?We think this is quite a significant, positive and welcome development. It is most appropriate because we the Ogoni people have been campaigning non-violently against the practices of Shell, and the relationship between out people and the company has broken down in my view irreparably over the time. And to have come with this decision will in a very way signal positive process that could lead to eventual resumption of oil activities in the Ogoni region of the Niger delta,? Mitte pointed out.

He said issues of human rights are high on MOSOP?s agenda.

?I think that the issues of human rights, the issues of justice, and the issues of the environment have been at the core of the Ogonis? campaign against Shell. And what I think will happen is that any company that is centrally appointed in place of Shell will have from the onset the realization that they have to take these as the central issues at the core of their operation. And that will signal, in my view, some model approach to dealing with the issues that the peoples of the Niger Delta have been complaining about,? he said.

Mitte said there was need to differentiate between criminals and those who are peacefully protesting injustice in the Niger Delta.

?We have to discriminate between outright criminality and genuine community agitation. Yes, in terms of genuine community agitation, this would no doubt have a lot to lessen the agitations in the area because in this area, you would now know that at least the social license, which they give to the oil companies can now be merged to the legal license they get from the government.  In order words that their consent is also required in the operations of the companies,? Mitte noted.

He said President YarAdua?s move would go a long way in helping the indigenes of Ogoniland to work in tandem with the new oil company.

?This would make the companies to be more sensitive to the views of the communities. But in terms of the criminality as you know, this is a different matter all together. And what our views have always been is that genuine community agitations should be separated an identified as distinct from criminal act, and both should be told in accordance with the way that they are.  So, I believe that this will distance or separate the community agitations from the criminal elements. And that would be easier it can even partner the local communities with the government in dealing with the criminal actions. So, in some way it will greatly help to reduce the things that provide an enabling environment for violence to thrive,? he said.