Subject: East Timorese return from Nigeria exchange

East Timorese NGOs return from Nigeria: “There Must be Public Participation in East Timor’s Oil and Gas Development Process”

Based on a Tetum-language statement given at a press conference Dili, East Timor 4 February 2004.

For further information contact: Jesuina Soares (+670-7234337) or João Sarmento (+670-7235043) or

Last month, from 11 to 31 January 2004, seven East Timorese from non governmental organizations visited Nigeria, an African nation that has experienced more than 40 years of oil exploitation and exploration.

East Timor is just beginning to develop oil and gas resources from the Timor Sea. This new nation needs revenues from oil and gas in order to reduce poverty and also to expand its domestic economy.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, and it has many oil and gas deposits in the Niger Delta in the southern part of the country. Since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1960, the Nigerian government has received approximately US$300 billion from oil and gas. However the Nigerian people are among the poorest in the world.

East Timor is also a very poor country, and hopes to rely on revenues from oil and gas to improve the lives of our people. Oil and gas bring money, but on the other hand they bring long-term political, economic, cultural and environmental problems. Although oil and gas exploration in East Timor is about to start in 2006, starting today civil society and government in East Timor must work together to develop mechanisms to guarantee public participation in the process and to ensure that the revenues are used to benefit the people.

The East Timorese delegation visiting Nigeria witnessed damage inflicted by multinational oil and gas companies upon the environment, politics, economy, ecology, health, education and other areas. We saw with our own eyes how the Shell Petroleum Development Company built pipelines in the land more than 40 years ago, which have leaked, causing a massive fire in Rukpokwu, Rivers State, that burned around 200 hectares, killed 200 local residents, and destroyed everything living on this land. Although the fire started on 3 December, it is still burning.

The group saw how ground-level gas flares destroy the farmland of people living around the sites. We also visited places where crude oil spills in the river and sea killed aquatic and marine life, leading to the destruction of fishermen’s livelihoods. Other negative impacts on culture are the high cost of living in the areas where there are many internationals working for the oil and gas companies, which weakens existing traditional hierarchies. The use of armed soldiers to protect oil and facilities from the local population leads to many human rights violations, killings and rapes. Prostitution also results, and pollution causes many women to have problems with childbearing; pollution-related respiratory diseases are very common.

We were surprised and terribly shocked by the huge negative impact suffered by the people in Nigeria’s oil-producing areas. We therefore condemn the oil and gas companies operating there. We hope that East Timor, which will rely on oil and gas under the Timor Sea, can learn lessons from the experience of countries such as Nigeria who have been producing oil and gas for decades, and take precautions to ensure that such negative impacts are not part of our country’s future.

Now that we have returned to East Timor, we plan to pass our findings to people across our country, through radio programs, public meetings, workshops, reports, videos and discussions with public officials. For further information contact La’o Hamutuk at or +670-3325013.

The seven-member delegation included Jesuina Soares and João da Silva Sarmento (La’o Hamutuk), Carlos A. B. Florindo (ETADEP), Julino Ximenes da Silva (HAK Association), Liliana E. A. C. Hei (Women’s Group of Oecussi Enclave), Aurelio Freitas Ribeiro (KSI), and Justino da Silva (NGO Forum). It was organized by La’o Hamutuk (East Timor) and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (Nigeria), and facilitated by grants from Hivos and CAFOD.


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