Hundreds of protesters have occupied a Nigerian oil facility owned by Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell, demanding that a local company take over its operations, a community leader said Saturday.
"We want Shell to hand over the operations of the flow station to Belema Oil Company because it appreciates our challenges and needs," community leader Godson Egbelekro said.
Protesters from the Kula and Belema community in Nigeria's restive southern Rivers state said the community has suffered through decades of poverty and neglect.
At the same time they say the owners and workers of multinational oil firms operating in the area are living a life of affluence thanks to abundant oil and gas resources.
"We will be here for as long as it takes until Shell meets our demands," youth leader Alfred Epedi said, adding that "over 800 protesters" were occupying the flow station.
Security guards at the facility did not try to disperse the crowd as it entered the flow station on Friday.
The station, operated by Shell subsidiary the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), feeds crude oil into its Bonny Light export terminal, which has a production capacity of 225 000 barrels per day of oil. The flow station's output remained slow on Saturday.
Company officials "have been engaging representatives of the community (in) talks but nothing tangible has come out from the said talks," Epedi said.
In a statement, SPDC spokesman Joseph Obari denied the protesters' allegations of neglect and said the company was working to resolve the situation. The company "has spent several millions of naira on social investment projects and university scholarship programmes for students of the area," Obari said.
"SPDC has informed the authorities of the illegal occupation and is working towards resuming safe operations," he added.
Community unrest in Ogoniland, in Nigeria's oil rich south, is not uncommon. Although Shell was forced to quit oil production in the area in 1993, the company still runs a network of pipelines criss-crossing the area.
In July, SPDC had to shut down its Trans Niger pipeline because of a "leak" – the preferred euphemism in Nigeria for crude oil theft.
Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer and exporter, accounting for some two million barrels per day. It relies on the sector for 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings and 70 percent of government revenue.