Suamakparaman Ethel Onyimbo, President, Oloibiri Women Association
From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
Oloibiri Community in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa state has ended a six months training/sensitization programme targeted at promoting good relationship with companies operating in the area for quality development of the host communities.
It would be recalledl that in 1958, oil was discovered in 12 areas in the Niger Delta of which Oloibiri was the first. The Royal Dutch Shel company laid the first crude oil pipeline in the country from the Oloibiri field to Port Harcourt on Bonny River to access export facilities. Nigeria exported its first crude oil in February 1958 from the Oloibiri oil field. The last well, Oloibiri 18 was drilled in April 1979, but the field was already depleted at that time and the field was abandoned the same year. The Oloibiri which made way for Nigerian in the international market is as well as abandoned.
Despite the neglect, the host communities never involved in violent activities to protest their right as done in other oil impacted areas across the globe.
To maintain the existing peace in the area, Oloibiri Women Association (OWA), a local non-governmental group facilitated the six months training-based programme, in partnership with other groups: Green Media for Development (GMD) as technical partner, and Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) as fiscal sponsorship, with funding support of US based Global Greengrants Fund (GGF) carried out the programme.
Twelve communities around the Oloibiri areas benefited from the project, which includes representatives from: Otuabagi, Opume, Otuogidi, Otuabo, Akipelai, Emakalakala, Ogbia Town, and Oloibiri town.
Other participant communities are; Otuabi, Otakeme, Okoroba (all of the Oloibiri clan), and Emago-Kugbo (of Abua/Odual local government area of Rivers State (one of the impacted communities of the Oloibiri Oil Fields).
Speaking with The AUTHORITY on the benefit of the training, Suamakparaman Ethel Onyimbo, President, Oloibiri Women Association, explained that the programme has exposed them on non violent way to protect their right while in good relationship with companies in their land.
She noted that for the community to experience speedy development, there must be an existing cordial relationship between the communities and any company operating in the area.
She said: “There is the need to let our communities to know what is going on. Sometime ago I was traveling from Bayelsa to Port Harcourt, I overheard people discussing that SPDC has divested the oil well in Oloibiri to an indigenous company.
“Since people do not know who has taken over and when they will resume operations, our various communities hosting the oil well may want to revolt to disrupt their activities, so we decided to follow the way of peace by being part of the just ended workshop.
“Just the way we have right on our land, the company by the virtue of their operational licence issued to them by the federal government also have right to operate on our land but not on our detriment. For us to achieve success we the host communities should have an understanding with any company that will be coming to stay in Oloibiri.
“There were no previous violent conflict in the area between the communities and the company but the fear is that with the field haven been sold to indigenous companies, their coming might open a different chapter where violence may be experienced.
“Shell Petroleum Development Company divested to indigenous company. We think that the coming of the indigenous company might not be free from violence and conflict as it trend in any other places. So part of the training was to prepare the communities ahead of the time so that there will be a peaceful environment”, OWA President added.
Earlier, Menidin Egbo, Technical Coordinator, Green Media for Development, said the communities were well trained on how to relate with companies operating in their area.
Mr Egbo narrated: “The programme started with raising awareness for communities to know their rights as related to extractive industries operations. And doing that the programme also educated the communities of Oloibiri on the Cooperate Rights of the operating companies.
“Now, the companies are registered companies in Nigeria, they are corporate citizens of Nigeria enjoying the full rights of corporate citizens protected by the government. Secondary, the companies have a licence to operate as extractive industries and that also gives them the rights to operate in any place licenced by the government for the to operate. Most communities don’t know this and we also discovered that the Oloibiri communities do not know all of these rights of the companies.
“The focus is to enable communities take decisions and actions that will not jeopardise their demands especially when they violates or abuse the right of the companies which may invoke the wrath of government.
“The second layer was on Community planning and action. Community needs to take time and plan their acts not when to without planning takes law into their hands. We also taught them on effective communication, they were able to understand the element of communication, the processes of effective communication, the stakeholders as audience in communication, partners in communicating their demands and they were also able to understand who and who can represent the community in communicating demands or issues affecting the community to avoid spreading false information that can set the community on war.”