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Shell wants to return to Ogoni through backdoor, says Topba

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Chief Gani Topba, National Coordinator of Ken Saro Wiwa Associates, spokesman of the Ogoni people and convener of the Ogoni General Assembly, addressing the press after the event in Bori, the traditional headquarters of Ogoniland.


The National Coordinator, Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates (KSWA), Gani Topba, calls for the revocation of Shell’s oil mining license, as prerequisite to meaningful discussion on the contentious issue of planned resumption of exploration in the area. He told KELVIN EBIRI that the process to select a new operator has been devoid of transparency. As a result, the people will resist any attempt to issue an operational permit to a proxy.  

How true is the claim of planned resumption of oil production in Ogoni?
There is. Shell is doing everything possible to return to Ogoniland. The Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) wrote Robomichael, which is a proxy of Shell, giving operatorship or preliminary approval to that company. In 2012, Shell and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) entered an agreement for transferring Oil Mining Lease 11 (OML) in Ogoni back to NNPC. In 2016, NPDC wrote to Shell and entered a technical partnership agreement on OML 11. In 2017, NPDC gave preliminary approval to a company, Robomichael, which is a front for Shell. On October 16, 2017, Shell wrote an application to renew its legal license (that will expire in 2019) to Ibe Kachikwu, who is the Minister of State for Petroleum. This is to tell you that Shell is doing everything possible to return to the place. The application is supposed to be addressed to the Minister of Petroleum. But it was addressed to the Minister of State. Shell will continue to tell people that it is not interested in coming back to Ogoni. Yet, it is renewing its license on OML 11. If you don’t want to come back, why are you renewing your license? Can you renew rent on a house you don’t want to live in?

Shell left Ogoni finally on April 30, 1993. Everybody knows the incident that happened that fateful morning when Wilbros was laying the Trans-Niger pipeline, and soldiers attached to Wilbros and Shell killed Ogoni sons and daughters after bulldozing their crops. This incident led to Shell packing out of Ogoni totally. Twenty-five years after, Shell is back, to lay that pipe. We have raised concerns, yet it has not retreated. It is using all kinds of divide and rule tactics to enter the land.

Shell cannot deny it is not doing everything to return to Ogoni oilfield. There are documents to back what we are saying. What Shell has done is see how it can get a company as front, to drill oil. It still wants to hold the 30 per cent of its shares and the legal license.

What we are saying is clear. There is a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report that is dead. Ogoni people have never said you cannot take oil; that has never been the correct position. Ogoni people have always said, ‘Can we talk? Can we get a stake in what is going on in our land? There were 14 Ogoni communities destroyed and yet nobody is talking about it. The government has not even implemented the recommendations of the United Nations fact-finding team that came to Nigeria in 1996 after the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa. There were several recommendations in the report, but they have been buried by the Nigerian state. The truth is that, as a people, we will continue to be non-violent. We will continue to approach the authorities, to see how this thing can be resolved. But if Shell continues to say it doesn’t want to return to Ogoni, it is a lie. It has written to the Federal Government to renew its legal license.

But the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers is in support of the resumption of oil exploration?
Ogoni people have not said you cannot resume oil production in the land. They have continued to say, ‘We need to talk and you cannot impose any company on Ogoni’. That is the truth. The legal department of the Ministry of Petroleum wrote us a letter on April 13, 2018. They stated there that the issue of OML 11 is in court. That is conflicting information. Ogoni did not take them to court. I am not aware of such a case.

I don’t like joining issues with traditional rulers. We have communicated with the governor of Rivers State that for any traditional ruler of Ogoni extraction who fails to enhance the peace and unity of Ogoni and goes into activism or oil business, the chieftaincy certificate of such should be revoked. I can tell you that if another young man, who does not even have an office, goes to them and gives them one naira and says, ‘Write me a letter, I want to take Ogoni oil’, they will oblige him. So, their statement is irrelevant. Nobody takes it seriously. The NNPC and government know this.

If the chiefs cannot decide for the Ogoni people, who then should?
The statement of the chiefs makes no meaning and cannot be implemented. Neither any Ogoni individual nor me can bring in any company to drill oil. The decision is that of the entire people, because it was the people that moved Shell out of Ogoniland. When we want to adopt a company to take over Ogoni oilfields, we will organise a mega rally where everybody will gather and speak his or her mind and say, ‘This is the person we want’. We have declared Shell persona non-grata in Ogoni and that position stands. No person can stay in his parlour and say this company is the one.

If government does the needful by revoking Shell’s legal license, we can talk. If we say we want to discuss about Ogoni oil today, messages will be passed round and people will gather to discuss, and decisions will be taken. The first decision taken by Ogoni people is that Shell should not be allowed to return to Ogoni, and the Nigerian government has not implemented this. The late President Musa Yar’Adua made a clear statement in South Africa in June 2010 that in six month’s time, and I quote, ‘The Federal Government will revoke Shells legal license on OML 11 in Ogoni field because the community has lost confidence in Royal Dutch Shell’. If President Buhari makes a clear statement on the Shell issue today, there will be a way forward. That policy of President Yar’Adua should be implemented.

Won’t the resumption of oil production create jobs in the area and drive development?
We are not talking about the production of oil. We are talking about processes. Understand the point. It is not about resumption of oil production. What is the process in place? Who is coming to drill the oil? We have said Shell has a question to answer about the killing of our people such as Ken Saro-Wiwa and others. Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations on account of the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others. Shell sponsored the crisis that happened. The military that occupied Ogoniland was paid more that the soldiers that went for the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) operation.

I get worried when people talk about the resumption of oil production. I am one of those who believe that we should drill Ogoni oil. If the government of Nigeria revokes Shell’s legal license today on OML 11, the Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates will open talks with the Federal Government on how to drill Ogoni oil. But the first condition is that Shell’s legal license should be revoked. What the Minister of State is doing is illegal because he is not the substantive minister.

Which companies are interested in Ogoni oilfields?
How can you talk about a company that is interested when the government of Nigeria has given preliminary approval to a company? There is a company that has been given a preliminary approval that will work for Shell and the Federal Government. Shell and others have 45 per cent and the Federal Government has 55 per cent in the joint venture. So, dragging in another company is diversionary. They should withdraw the preliminary approval given to Robomichael, revoke Shell’s legal license, provide water for the people of Ogoni, and let’s talk. There will be a way forward.

There is heightened tension in Ogoni on this issue. Won’t it cause a major conflict?
What we have said over the years, even in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, is: what is the stake for the Ogoni people? Is there any stake that has been stated clearly for Ogoni in the oil production? I am for oil production but not for Shell or Robomichael. If the Federal Government is interested in taking the oil, of course, it is no longer oil but blood. They should revoke Shell’s legal license on that bloc, don’t renew it and let’s talk. The duty of the chiefs is to settle farm matters in the villages and contribute to the peace of the place.

It is sad that Shell and its agencies have continued to give small money to them to behave the way they are doing. Was it the chiefs that moved Shell out of Ogoni? It was the people. Ken Saro-Wiwa was killed wrongly in the process of demanding the rights of his people. He has not got justice, yet you are bringing a proxy of the same company, which sponsored the violence in Ogoni, to come and drill oil. It is only in Nigeria that such a barbaric thing takes place.

Has KSWA notified the state government on the brewing crisis in Ogoni?
Of all the petitions we have sent to the Federal Government, we have always copied the state government. And in one of our general meetings, while the governor was on a live radio programme, we drew his attention to the issue and he said clearly that he has communicated the President on this matter. We believe the problem is not President Buhari. The problem Ogoni people have is the Managing Director of Shell, the Minister of State for Petroleum and a cabal in the system. President Buhari is the Minister of Petroleum, but I have never seen any approval done by his office or the presidency. The Minister of State for Petroleum, instead, has made all the kangaroo approvals, which for us will not stand. We will go to court.

Why do you think Shell is interested in Ogoni oil?
The Ogoni oil is Bonny Light. You cannot get that quality of oil anywhere in Africa. The cost of production is very cheap. There is no security risk for operation. So, you gain more when you are producing in Ogoni. You won’t spend much on security because the people are peace loving. Shell makes more profit in Ogoni land and we have the best oil. Ogoni has the largest gas reserve in Africa. The record is there. Go and ask Shell and it will confirm it. Today, if go to K-Dere, people have been killed by inhaling gas while digging the ground during farming season. There is no community in Ogoni that does not have gas.


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