*Women lay siege on facility
*We’re considering joining Bayelsa – Monarchs
From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
Two years after Oil Mining Lease (OML) 25 also known as Belema Flow Station was shut down by it Host Communities in Kula kingdom, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, hundreds of aggrieved women of the community are still laying siege and occupying the oil facility in protest, resisting Shell Petroleum Development Company, (SPDC), operator of the said OML to resume operation.
The shutdown of the Flow Station is currently the most topical issue in Rivers State and Niger Delta in general. The OML is located in the swampy and shallow water land of Kula territory, in the riverine axis of the State
Belema Flow Station is operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC with 32.3% stake, in Joint Venture with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC which controls 60% stake while an indigenous oil company known as Belemaoil Producing Limited has about 7.7% participating interest in the facility which it inherited from Chevron Nigeria Limited.
The facility consist of a Gas Plant and an oil Flow Station which accounts for over 45,000 barrels of crude oil per day and over 135,000 metric tons of gas per day amounting to billions of petrol dollars revenue accruing to the federation accounts of the Nigerian Government.
The oil facility was shutdown by the host Communities of Belema, Offoin-Ama and Ngeje on August 11, 2017 in protest over unresolved issues with the oil multinational company ranging from sheer neglect, marginalization, impoverishment, enslavement, degradation of the environment by oil pollution as a result of unfriendly environmental practices of the company, alleged failure of Shell to provide basic amenities such as Potable Water, Access Road, Health Facility, Education Infrastructure, Landing Jetty and Lack of Employment since the oil multinational company commenced operation in the area over 40years ago.
The oil multinational company allegedly claimed that it has spent over 300 Million Dollars in the development of the Host Communities, a position the people described as false and provocative. The Host Communities demanded for a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) to the area with officials of the NNPC and Shell as well as other stakeholders including the media to ascertain the veracity of the claim by Shell but that was not carried out till date as the company allegedly failed to honour the invitation.
The Host Communities accused Shell of refusing to come for the JIV because it cannot verify and justify its claim of spending 300 Million Dollars in the area.
They had also accused Shell of secretly wanting to divest the oil facility to its ally, an oil company known as Crystar Oil and Gas.
Since the shutdown of the facility for almost 2years now, several attempts by the oil multinational company to re-open the facility have been unsuccessful.
Efforts by the NNPC which regulates Nigeria’s oil industry to resolve the protracted dispute between Shell and the Host Communities have not yielded any result as a meeting called by the NNPC in Abuja between the disputing parties in August 2017 ended in a deadlock.
Recent effort by the Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike to resolve the lingering dispute between Shell and the Host Communities with a view to re-opening the oil facility have further deepened the oil crisis as the move by the Governor was rejected by the people.
The Host Communities say the intervention of the Rivers State Government in the protracted oil dispute is unconstitutional and unpopular arguing that oil related matters are on the Exclusive List and not on the Concurrent List of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The Rivers State Governor had issued a 7 day ultimatum for the disputing parties to resolve all contentious issues with a view to re-opening the facility for normal oil production to resume, said that as a responsible government it cannot fold its arms and allow the dispute to continue to linger as according to him all tiers of governments are losing revenue daily as a result of the continuous shutdown of the oil facility.
The Governor had also constituted a committee chaired by the Secretary to the State Government Dr Tammy Danagogo, with a mandate to meet with all contending parties in the dispute within the 7 days ultimatum and come up with a template for the resolution of the oil crisis and re-opening of the facility.
The Host Communities boycotted meetings called by the Rivers State Government where a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to re-open the oil facility.
Their refusal to participate in the signing of the MOU was based on the reason that the matter was already been handled by the Presidency and the NNPC, hence the communities wondered why the State Government was delving into a matter that they claimed does not fall within its purview.
The Host Communities are accusing the State Government of bias, insincerity and taking sides with Shell.
They described as provocative, cruel and more insensitive to their plight, the action of the Governor, overlooking the injustice of 40years by Shell against them.
Weeks after the purported signing of the MOU as was supervised by the state government, the Host Communities are insisting that they will not vacate the oil facility unless their demands are met. They said they do not want Shell anymore in the area, that they want a peaceful negotiation of the exit of Shell from the area, divestment of the oil facility to an indigenous oil company which has stake in the facility and that they should be given the right of first refusal in the divestment of the oil facility.
However, The AUTHORITY recent visit to the host communities of OML 25 was not palatable as the area, Offoin-Ama and Belema community were found in worst impoverish condition not expected in this present century.
The only shallow primary school seen in the Offoin-Ama community was built by the community people to encourage education in the area. Medical facilities were not noticed in the area, as residents complained of mortality rate following alleged neglect by the federal, state government and the multinational operating in the area.
People in the area, ignorant of the polluted environment with no other option still drinks contaminated water by spills in the area, this it was discovered has also resulted to high rate of death as people contract incurable diseases from intake of the contaminated water and food in the area.
A medical doctor from Cross River state, Dr Augustine Joseph, who spoke with our correspondent at Offoin-Ama, narrated how he was invited by some persons of the community to come and render help, he said he was not sponsored by any individuals from the community or government officials as his service are free.
He said: “The people here are living in a terrible condition as there is no proficient care for them that is the reason you see ordinary malaria killing them. There is no health facility at all, health officials usually complain that this place is too far as there is no accommodation for them to stay and do their job.
“It was a friend of mine who invited me to come down here and help, I also feel that am also from the Niger Delta that’s why I also took it upon myself to do the best I could in terms of saving lives but I can only afford to spend two weeks here after then no health worker will visit this place again until after maybe the next six months when am less busy in Enugu that’s when I will come down here again”.
Also speaking on the poor condition of the Offoin-Ama community primary school, the headmaster, Mr Boro Saturday, expressed concern over the poor condition of the school doubting if any Government official or Shell official would allow their children to study in the school.
“The condition of our teaching is that we don’t have a good structure put in place at all, there is no accommodation a situation which have often hindered staffs will to come down here, we are suffering we are begging shell or any other company coming to take over activities to please consider putting a good educational system on ground”.
The Traditional ruler of the community, Chief Ibiosiya Nath-Sukubo, said their pitiable condition has made them to consider joining Bayelsa state, seeking for creation of their own state out from Rivers.
“We should recall that our communities via the Santababara towards Soku to the entuaries of the Atlantic Ocean are technically under Bayelsa state from the Goodluck Jonathan administration of which the Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi as a governor took the federal government to court case is pending at the Supreme Court. Se we and OML 25 are technically in Bayelsa State, hence actions by the Rivers State government is amounting to a malapropism adjudication, which could lead to contempt of court.
“We are now considering joining Bayelsa state or demand for the creation of our state because we are no longer safe in Rivers state. People should know that this is not fight for 2019 for it is reparation war from the inception of oil production to legacy four future generations. They cannot kill us again as they killed Ken Saro-Wiwa our hero and Isaac Adaka Boro”, Chief warned.
President Belema Central Women Association, Mrs Dinah Aboko on her part said they are tired of promise and fail and he however advised Shell or whosoever is coming to operate on the facility to ensure that they bring development to the area.
“All these years we have been hearing stories from Shell yet we have not seen any physical here, we just want Shell to leave our land and go, any company coming in should ensure that they bring development to our communities”.
On the other hand the paramount ruler of Kula kingdom, HRH, Kroma Amabibi, who also spoke on the role he played during the signing of the MOU by SPDC as well as other purported representatives from the host communities in Government House, said “As a Government recognized monarch am supposed to attend such meetings and also advised the government on the way forward, I did attend and there was a settlement agreement signed and I did signed but before I signed I mentioned to the government and the whole public that the signing of that agreement will not lead to the opening of OML25, that in any case shell has been owing us for several years and signing that MOU was basically to only access that money.
“Secondly I told them that the people they were negotiating with at that meeting were not in a position to opening OML25 and that the real stakeholders were not in that meeting and I also advice them to make sure that they meet with the correct people and especially to come home to Kula kingdom to see things for themselves before they would be able to broker peace that was my stand.
“Personally I cannot go against the wishes of my people I must go with them to witness what they are suffering, I would not like Shell to come back to operate OML25 or if possible give operations to Belema oil production limited our own son”, the king added.
Meanwhile, effort to get officials of SPDC reacts to the allegations proved abortive.