•New operator to take over
From Juliana Taiwo in Cape Town, South Africa, 06.05.2008
Indications emerged yesterday in far away South Africa that the Federal Government will soon revoke Royal Dutch Shell's oil operating license in Ogoniland as President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua during his state visit disclosed that a new operator will take over the company's oild fields in the area by the end of the year.
But in a swift reaction yesterday, a Shell spokesman, Mr. Tony Okonedo said the Federal Government has not formally communicated the said planned take-over to the company. He admitted that Shell has seen series of reports regarding the issue in the newspapers but would not make further comments until it is formally notified.
Addressing Nigerian Community in Cape Town, South Africa, the President said since there is a total loss of confidence between the Ogoni people and Shell, government believe it would be wise to allow another operator acceptable to the Ogonis to take over exploration activities in the area.
“There is a total loss of confidence between Shell and the Ogoni people”, and so “another operator acceptable to the Ogonis will take over. Nobody is gaining from the conflict and stalemate, so this is the best solution,” he said.
The President further told the gathering that agreements have already been reached for compensation to be paid by Shell for the environmental degradation arising from the spillage of crude petroleum resulting from their operations.
It was learnt that the Federal Government had threatened to withdraw the company's operating license, should it fail to resume operations in Ogoniland at the end of May 2008.
To make good the threat, government was said to have opened discussion with the new operator after due consultation with the Ogoni people.
Shell's activities in the area had suffered set backs due to strained relations between it and the Ogoni people who often complained that the company failed to pay compensation for damages done to their environment as a result of exploration activities.
The relationship between Shell and the Ogonis hit rock bottom in 1995, when the military government of the late General Sani Abacha hanged nine Ogoni activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP).
The development halt Shell's activities in the area as the company's infrastructure, the oil wells, the flow lines which bring crude oil to the flow stations, and the pipelines - all of which require routine maintenance continue to rot away because the Ogonis denied the company access to the facilities.
Also, in his reaction to the escalating crude oil prices, President Yar'Adua said it was erroneous to blame the current surge on crisis in Iraq, Venezuela and Nigeria. Rather, he said the development was attributable to increasing energy demands by strong, emerging economies as well as the activities of market speculators.
He said his government was determined to focus on the development of "economic growth enablers", which he said would trigger the Nigerian economy towards irreversible development.
He challenged Nigerians all over the world to identify with the country's vision to build a strong economy by 2020.
Responding to complaints from Nigerians in South Africa about the shabby treatment by other nations, especially regarding issuance of visas, the President said the issue is currently being discussed with the South African government. He assured the audience that the visa problem would be properly addressed.
He, however charged Nigerians "to project a good image of the country in all their activities", in order to attract respect from other nations.
He pledged his administration's commitment to protect all Nigerians in all circumstances, adding that the Ministry of Transport has been directed to look into the incident of alleged maltreatment of Nigerians by the British Airways and that sanctions would be imposed if need be.
Meanwhile, Presidents Yar’Adua and Mbeki have assured investors intending to invest in both countries of their political will to safeguard investments. They gave the assurance yesterday at the Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town, venue of the South Africa- Nigeria Business Forum in honour of the Nigerian leader who is on a three-day state visit.
Yar’Adua told the conference hall which was filled to capacity with notable personalities in Nigeria including Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola and Mr Tony Elumelu of United Bank for Africa that Nigeria has put in place the enabling environment and legislations that would safeguard investments and ensure investors have good returns in good time.
“This business interaction has been exciting and interesting. The two ministers (Minister and Deputy Chairman, National Planning Commission, Senator Mohammed Sanusi Daggash and the South African Minister of Trade and Industry, Mandisi Mpahlwa) have provided us in detail business opportunities existing in Nigeria and South Africa.
“I want to summarise in the slogan that I had coined, in our effort as a government to provide a clear and enabling environment for business in Nigeria and that is ‘what is good for business is good for Nigeria’.
“We have various sectors that can be described as just beginning to develop like the power energy, restructuring the petroleum sector, that is the oil and gas sector, transport and generally getting the private sector to come into the development of infrastructure in the country.
"The infrastructure concessioning Act is in place now and we have appointed the Infrastructure Concessioning Commission which will be inaugurated within the next few weeks so that private sectors investors who want to go into infrastructural development can under this Act get concessions for roads, railways, airports, ports, all form of infrastructure.
"That means you can go to Nigeria, look at the facilities, come up with any project in terms of infrastructural development and you can negotiate concession for 20 years, 25 years 30 years on BOT or PPP basis”, he said.
“Let me say to our South African brothers that I personally will like to see investors from South Africa going to take opportunities that exist in our country. I know that the environment we have created today, the reforms we have carried out and the restructuring and repositioning of the national economy to ensure that government provide the enabling environment that would ensure the private sector sit in the driving seat.
“Senator Daggash has just explained the kind of estimation we have made as regards the kind of investment we expect into every critical aspect of the national economy. I will be most delighted to see that the partnership that we develop becomes strategic and that we have the greatest partnership between Nigeria and South Africa so that we ensure we keep the wealth within the family”.
President Yar’Adua further said he would henceforth personally monitor developments in the Nigeria-South Africa cooperations to reassure investors that his administration is determined to strengthen business relations between both nations.
In his response at the conference, President Mbeki said “our political relations are long standing and has survived the ups and downs that must have been. So we are able to speak with one voice. On the political front, we have continued to work together very closely and will continue. We share the same perspective about the needs of our people.
“We are indeed keenly interested that we must make all these advances that we have identified with regards to the continent, advances of democracy, of peace, of economic development, of benefits growth, stability, struggle against poverty, this matter about the placement of the African continent in its own rightful place globally as a result of our development in economy, technology, education and so on.
“But critically important in that regard in terms of our ability to make an impact on these matters in the continent as a whole is what happens between the two of us. It is not difficult for us to make very good speeches about the Nigerian South African cooperation, but in the end because people are looking, listening, watching critically, they will ask the question but what are those two countries actually doing to ensure that what they are preaching can in fact be done.
“It is these practical things that can and must happen between Nigeria and South Africa that will give substance to what in many instances is on the African continent’s hope, vision. To translate that into something actually really practical is clearly what is required and this cooperation that we have been talking about should happen.
“That is why the question that was posed that where do we go from here is clearly critical, as President Yar’Adua was saying, is indeed very correct. So what I’ll like to say and to confirm what the President has said, we will both be keenly interested to see what happens. Like the Mpahlwa said, we are establishing the president advisory group on investments, we are doing that in other to translate these common positions into some platform for future engagements so that we can indeed achieve these things that must be achieve.
“In the end, what I am saying is that the governments of Nigeria and that of South Africa from the president downwards are committed in assisting to ensure that indeed these cooperations we are talking about happens. And we are quite convinced that, that matter is critical not only to Nigeria and South Africa but also important to the future of the continent. So I do think that therefore, that we are committed and as business people we want to say at the end all these opportunities that have been identified in both countries, here are all the problems that we must overcome in other to transform those opportunities into actual cooperations among ourselves.
“And indeed you can look closely as you want and you will not find any other partnership on the continent other than that of the South African and Nigerian partnership which has the capacity to lead the continent in the directions which I think we all agree. So here is the challenge, like the American Secretary of State who published a biography which had a rather brave entitle, ‘present at the creation’, we shouldn’t say we were present at the creation because only God was present at the creation, but at least we should say we participated in the process of creating this new Africa and we have the possibility to do that”, he said.