Wednesday, July 17, 2019 8:32 am
… Resolute on rejecting Shell as operator for next 20 years
…Insists Rivers Govt has no power to meddle.
Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
Over 40 Nigerian an foreign journalists were confronted with the deprivations and utter neglect that were the lot of many oil producing communities in Nigeria during a one day, tortous tour of the Offoin-Ama, Belema and Ngeje communities in Akuku-Toru local government area of Rivers State on Friday, 12 July.
The three communities were the host of the contentious of the flowstation and production facilities of Oil Mining Lease, OML-25 operated by the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC.
The oilwell had been shut since August 21, 2017 as a result of massive protest by members of the host communities.
Inhabitants of the hos communities claimed that they shutdown the flowstation because SPDC’s over 40 years’ exploration of oil in their areas had not in anyway resulted in improvement in their welfare and overall social-economic well being.
However, working with the Rivers State Government, Shell had been making attempts to resume oil production at the facility in the past few months.
Indeed, the State government had brought individuals who claimed to be leaders of the communities and top officials of the multinational oil company together in Port Harcourt about two weeks ago for signing of a Memorandum of Understanding that was expected to faciliate resumption of oil production at the flow station.
But other leaders of the host communities of OML 25 had disowned the MOU, while also describing their supposed respresentatives at the meeting between Shell and Rivers State Government as impostors.
The opposing leaders, mostly made up of traditional rulers, had in the past few weeks also held series of press conferences in Port Harcourt to reiterate their opposition to the return of Shell to their communities, even as they asked the State Governor, Nyesom Wike to stop meddling in their dispute with the multinational oil firm.
Last Friday, the the traditional rulers felt they were done with addressing the press in Port Harcourt on why they are opposed to resumption of oil production in their communities by Shell.
They decided to take journalists on a fact-finding tour with the aim of exposing the media practitioners to the squalor and poverty which have been the lot of the residents of the host communities despite over 40 years of oil exploration in their areas.
As coastal communities living within the fringes of the tributaries of the Atlantic Ocean, the first challenge for the visit was that the only means of accessing the area was by boats.
Therefore, the over 40 journalists were transported by road from the state capital, to Abonnema Jetty in Akuku-Toru local government area, about 45 minutes drive by road from Port Harcourt, the Rivers State Capital for the commemcement of the trip.
Initially, there were concerns about security because of the regular incidents of pirate attacks on seafarers on the waterway. But the facillitaors assured journalists not to entetain any fear about their safety because they were on guided tour intended to beam the deplorable situation, ecological degradation and abject poverty in the oil producing communities to the world. True to this promise, the journey was incident – free.
The first point of call for the journalists after disembarking from their speedboat was the Offoin-Ama community. Journalists were shocked to find out there was no potable water, standard health facility or school in the community despite its over 40 years association with oil production.
The only semblance of “a primary school”, in the community was a makeshift structure made of wood and partitioned into tiny spaces as classrooms. The structure, which, as the journalists were told, was built through community efforts, serves the community as a primary and secondary school.
Our correspondent counted three benches and three desks in one partion. The floor was damp and there were traces of water seeping into the classrooms from the underground of the structure. There was no standard blackboard in any of the classes and as such, the teachers improvised with the wooden partition as the writing board.
It was also learnt that on a typical school day, over 40 pupils take classes while standing as a result of shortage of furniture in the classrooms.
For healthcare, there was only one-room private patent medicine store managed by a “female nurse”, who gave her name as Miss Happiness Giogu.
The nurse who could barely speak English, stated the common ailments patients present to her for treatment are malaria, typhoid and diarrhea.
She revealed that she also undertook delivery of babies at the facility, while pregnant women with complications are usually referred to hospitals in Port Harcourt, which was over two hours journey by a speedboat.
Needless to say that mortality rate for mothers and children are unimaginably high in the area.
Members of the community rely on generators for their electricity needs. Sir Ibiosiya Nath-Sokubo, Chairman and spokesman, Offoin-Ama Council Chiefs told the visiting journalists at a press conference that Offoin-Ama is a co-host to the shutdown Belema flow station, as well as the injection and booster gas plant for the OML-25.
He also noted that the community is host to six and eight inches delivery lines of the flow station, many oil wells, the Sego creek manifold and the Eastern Gas Gathering lines.
As such, he said the community is contributing to over 200,000 barrels of oil and over 1.5 million cubic feet of gas being explored in the area by Shell.
But he noted that the exploration and exploitation of the crude oil and gas by SPDC has had adverse negative impact on their environment while making the community prone to ecological disasters like earthquake.
He added that the traditional occupation and natural resources for income for his people which is fishing is virtually dead as a result of oil exploration.
He explained that due to the neglect of the community by SPDC, at expiration of the lease granted to company, the people of Offoin-Ama in concert with the inhabitants of Belema and Ngeje, the two other host communities of OML-25 shutdown the oil production facility during a mass protest on August 21, 2017.
According to him, the people are opposed to plans by Shell to divest the oil field to a non-indigenous company known as Crester Energy Resources.
He said the people prefer the divestment of OML 25 to Belema oil and Gas Company, an indigenous oil company owned by an indigene of the area “with good track record and antecedents of providing needed amenities for host Communities just as it doing to host Communities of Robert Kiri field OML-55.”
The journalists left Offoin-Ama to Belema community where they were allowed to interact with the rural dwellers, mostly women, youths and children who have been sleeping in makeshift tents, keeping 24 hours vigil at the shut flow station.
Addressing journalists on behalf of the community, Engr. Fiala Okoye-Davies, the spokesman of Kula Supreme Council of Chiefs and Secretary of Belema Council of Chiefs, reaffirmed the resolve of the host communities not to vacate the Belema Flow station.
He insisted that SPDC must divest management of the oil facility to another operator that will be community-friendly and provide jobs, healthcare, and other social amenities to empower members of the host communities.
Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, an elder statesman, and spokesman for Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF told our correspondent in Kula that it is regrettable that some people who he described as ‘opportunists’ were carried away by the allure of quick money to fall for the ‘divide-and-rule’ tactics of SPDC and the state government by signing agreement with multinational oil firm.
According to him, the MOU was intended to break the resolve of the host communities to stop the retun of Shell to the flowstation.
“They pretended to Shell and the state government that they are the true representatives of the host communities and by signing the agreement, the three host communities would vacate the shut down flow station of OML-25. Let them come and reopen the flowstation. The people are saying no to another 20 years of slavery with Shell. We want another indigenous company, not the uncaring company like Shell.”
Even then, King Kroma Eleki, Sara XIV, the traditional ruler of Kula Kingdom who was alleged to be one of prominent paramount rulers who took part in the signing of the agreement with Shell for resumption of production at the flowstation has also come out to describe the way the oil company operated the OML-25 as ‘demonic.’
King Sara told journalists at his Palace in Kula that there was no significant development to associate with SPDC after 40 years of operation in the area. He also denied being part of the agreement for SPDC to resume operations.
He said that the shutting down of OML-25 facility operated by SPDC was as a result of accumulated manipulation of the people over the years.
“My position is, I don’t want SPDC to come back to Kula because there is nothing of significance that as a Kingdom we can appreciate them for.
“If the licence of OML-25 has been renewed in favour of SPDC, I urged government to give revoke it and give the license to an indigenous oil company, preferably, Belema Oil Producing,” he said.
According to King Sara, as a recognised traditional ruler, he attended the meeting convened by the Rivers Government to resolve issues related to OML-25.
“I attended the meeting as a recognised traditional ruler in the state to render advice for the purpose of brokering peace. In the meeting, before I signed the Memorandum of Understanding ( MoU), I told them that it will not lead to opening of the OML-25 facility that has been shutdown because most the signatories are not the real stakeholders.
I advised the government and SPDC to tarry a bit and visit the area and see the level of underdevelopment,” he added.
By the time the journalists concluded the press conference at King’s palace it was about 7.30 pm. The boat drivers insisted they would not ply their boats back to Abonnema jetty, a journey of about 2 hours 45 minutes because it was already beyond the 6 p.m approved time for sailing on the waterways.
After negotiations with the protesting boat drivers, the journalists set sail for Port Harcourt at about 7.50 pm with scary, diverse thoughts on their minds. But with youths from the communities on Waterways surveillance contract providing escort, the journalists cruised to safety at Abonnema jetty at about 10.30 pm and disembarked into waiting buses as they headed to Port Harcourt.
What is however clear to juournlaists on the trip was that the three host communities of OML-25 are resolute on their rejection of Shell.