Anglo-Dutch multinational oil giants, Shell, has shockingly expressed regrets over its activities in the Niger Delta, saying it made mistakes it is now trying to correct. ShellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Strategy Relations Manager, Mr. Barnaby Briggs, admitted this on Friday night at the Niger Delta Post-Amnesty Conference held in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
It was organised by the Comrade Sunny Ofehe-led Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC).
It was a night in which the twin partnership of Shell and the Netherlands government came under spotlight, with a member of the Dutch Parliament, Sharon Gesthuizen, saying the Netherlands government cannot extricate itself from the firmÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unwholesome activities in NigeriaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s main oil and gas producing region.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Shell recognises the tragedy of oil in Nigeria. We know we made mistakes in the Niger Delta and we have resolved to make amends. In the last few months, there has been improvement in the situation in the region in terms of oil production. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Shell believes now is the time to use the opportunity as a catalyst for change and we are going to work with non-governmental organisations to make improvements in the region,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr. Briggs said.
He added that its subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), was working with the Nigerian government on the post-amnesty programme for former militants in the region but refused to disclose to what extent when asked to be specific. Socialist Party MP, Ms Gesthuizen, however carpeted the Dutch government for not ensuring that Shell met global best practices in Nigeria. She said visiting the Niger Delta for only five days in December 2010 was not enough to understand all the issues but what she saw was mind-boggling.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have been to the Niger Delta. I flew over the region and I saw illegal refineries and how the environment was being destroyed. I may not have stayed long enough but I saw some things and IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to say them differently.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Shell is a Dutch company. So the government cannot remain aloof when it is involved in corruption and breaching environmental standards in another country. The government cannot extricate itself from the activities of Shell in Nigeria,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said.
Gesthuizen proffered the way forward for the region, saying the Niger Delta environment must be cleaned up.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“That is the first thing for the region,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said, adding that Shell must follow strict rules on the Niger Delta environment the way it obeys rules in its home country. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Dutch government can help by paying attention to the Niger Delta and Nigeria. Let there be direct input from Nigerians on how the Dutch government can help to eradicate corruption,Ã¢â‚¬Â the MP stated.
A Dutch citizen and social worker, Marieke vander Bos, equally lambasted the government. In a brief scathing remark, she said: Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Dutch government is guilty over the Niger Delta situation and it is very said indeed.Ã¢â‚¬Â
A representative of the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mr Michiel Bierkens, however defended the government, saying it believes in dialogue and this it was doing with the Nigerian government and NGOs towards improving its relationship with Nigeria.
He said the government has provided avenues for funding of projects in Nigeria, which can be accessed by NGOs but not the Nigerian government because Netherlands does not consider it as a poor country. When asked to respond, Bierkens refused to comment on OfeheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s terrorism trial before a Dutch court, saying it was sub judice.
The HNDC president, however, said the conference was organised to consolidate the post-amnesty process in Nigeria.
He added that regardless of his travail he would not lose faith in the Netherlands judicial system or the country.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I believe in the judiciary of this country and I know at the end of the day I will be exonerated. The people of this country have shown me and my family love and I know they love me. I have stayed in this country for 16 years and have no other place,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ofehe stated.
In their separate presentations, the immediate past president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Dr Chris Ekiyor, and the leader of the Nigerian community in Netherlands, Chief Lambert igbonugo, said the situation in the Niger Delta and Nigeria was changing and there is reason to be hopeful. The conference attracted representatives of the Nigerian embassy at The Hague, civil society groups like Cordaid as well as the Nigerian Diaspora community.