Protesters occupy oil facilities in troubled Niger Delta

Hundreds of angry villagers, including women and children, overran three facilities operated by oil giants Royal Dutch/Shell and ChevronTexaco in southern Nigeria, shutting off more than 90,000 barrels per day of production, officials said on Monday.

Men, women and children from the Kula community in Rivers State turned out in large numbers on Sunday morning and stormed two of Shell’s Ekulama facilities as well as ChevronTexaco’s Robert-Kiri platform, preventing scores of staff from leaving.

More than 100 oil workers have been trapped on the platforms since, with villagers occupying helipads and boat jetties, which are the only way to leave the facilities in the swamps of the oil-rich delta that pump crude oil to export terminals in Atlantic Ocean.

“It’s not really a hostage situation, they’re just not allowing people to leave,” a Shell spokesman in Lagos told IRIN.

ChevronTexaco spokesman, Deji Haastrup, said the occupations had been reported to Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, who had promised to
intervene.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer, pumping some 2.5 million barrels a day. Shell’s Ekulama accounts for about 70,000 barrels daily, while Robert-Kiri has a capacity of around 20,000 barrels a day.

The spokesman for the Rivers State governor, Emma Okah, said government officials met with leaders of the protest and officials of the two oil companies in the state capital, Port Harcourt.

Villagers attending the meeting accused the two oil companies of failing to abide by an agreement to provide jobs and amenities in return for operating in the community.

A committee was set up to consider the demands tabled by the protesters and to end the impasse, Okah said.

But the talks did not end the siege. Shell said most of the protesters had left its Ekulama facilities on Monday, but that around 20 stayed behind to ensure oil workers did not resume production.

Oil company officials who were continuing negotiations with the protesters were demanding access to evacuate trapped staff, Shell said.

The incident is the second such standoff between locals and oil multinationals in the last five days. Only last Thursday, angry villagers set spilled crude on fire, preventing repair teams from reaching another site in Rivers State.

Forced disruptions, hostage-taking and militia violence are frequent occurrences in the Niger Delta and are thought to be responsible for the deaths of at least 1,000 people a year.

The crux of the problem is that impoverished communities in the Delta feel they are not getting their fair share of the immense wealth pumped out of the land on their doorstep.

Pollution of streams and farmland by oil is another constant bone of contention between the villagers and the oil conglomerates. Villagers claim the companies leave pipes to corrode and refuse to pay compensation for damage to farmland and fishing waters while companies allege many of the spills are sabotage aimed at extorting compensation.