Cablegate: Nigerian Local Violence Causes Minimal Impact

Published: Mon 17 Mar 2003 11:58 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Summary. A violent clash between local activists
and police left seven dead in Delta state late last
week. While Shell Oil moved non-essential staff from
pockets of disturbance, there appears to be no
disruption in oil production at this time. End
2. A simmering dispute between Ijaw activists and the
government boiled over into a firefight late last week
in the swamps near the town of Warri in Delta state.
Reports indicate Ijaw youths from the village of
Okerenkoko blocked a river channel used by both local
residents and oil producers after the government failed
to meet their demands to withdraw troops from the area,
redraw electoral wards, and provide more oil revenue to
local communities. Organized loosely under the
umbrella group Ijaw Youth Council, headed by Bello
Oboko, who sources tell us is from Okerenkoko, the
youths refused to allow a military-escorted barge to
pass on its way to an oil installation. Gunfire
erupted, and various sources estimate four of the Ijaw
and three soldiers were killed. Reports that three
additional police officers were kidnapped during the
gun battle remain unconfirmed.
3. In response to this gunfight and the current tension
in outlying villages of Warri, Precious Omuku, Director
of External Relations for Shell Petroleum Development
Company of Nigeria, told Econoff that Shell has asked
workers deemed non-essential to return from field
operations to Warri for an undetermined period of time.
He stated that Shell does not feel its operations or
employees are under direct threat at this time, but
rather, the company is taking precautions to minimize
the number of its people in the field who might get
caught in the crossfire between Ijaw youths and
Nigerian police and soldiers. If violence escalates,
more personnel may be withdrawn to Warri. Because he
is away from corporate headquarters on a business trip
to Port Harcourt, Omuku would not comment with any
specificity as to whether oil production has been
impacted, but he doubted the shifting of non-essential
staff from remote locations to Warri would have any
serious effect on Shell output.
4. Sola Omole, General Manager of Government and Public
Affairs for ChevronTexaco, likewise reports that his
company is monitoring events in the region very
closely, but has taken no action in response to the
Okerenkoko clash. Over the weekend, a ChevronTexaco
vessel loaded with diesel fuel was captured and stolen,
but its crew was released unharmed. Omole attributes
this theft on the Ijaw youth blockade of Delta
waterways, but still maintains the company does not yet
feel targeted. He warns that the situation is very
fluid, but noted that even if ChevronTexaco crude
production in the area were to be disrupted, it amounts
to some fifteen percent of the company's output, and
which could be compensated for at other facilities, at
least as a short-term response.
5. Comment. In the run-up to the April elections,
incidents of inter-ethnic violence are bound to
persist, as loosely organized local groups vying for
power and money confront each other and the government,
at times with bloody consequences. While allocation of
oil revenue is a key component of many of these groups'
complaints, recent violence has not been focused
specifically on oil company facilities or their
personnel. Nonetheless, the companies will take
precautions as their facilities and workers can quickly
get caught in the midst of communal clashes or become
associated with what may be perceived as government
action or inaction. If the violence remains
decentralized and largely communal, crude oil
production should remain stable, as the GON frequently
makes up anticipated drops in any one company's monthly
production by increasing the output quota of other
companies, and none of the major producers have their
output flowing from only one region. At this time,
personal safety appears to be the greatest challenge
facing oil producers in Nigeria. End Comment.
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