From Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
Niger Delta oil and gas bearing communities have decried the heavy military presence in the region.
Community members raised the concern as part of challenges in oil and gas activities in their area at a four-day training on “The Right to Say No” organized in Port Harcourt by Kebetkache Women Development and Research Center, as a WOMIN project to educate extractive communities on their right to choice and negotiation.
The community leaders mainly women and some traditional rulers, said oil and gas activities continue to pose serious challenges to their lives, pointing out that heavy military presence has placed youths and children under an atmosphere of constant tension and fear with many running into the bush each time the security personnel storm the communities.
The military personnel were sent there to guard oil and gas pipelines following years of pipelines vandalism and theft of crude oil. The people called for the protection of the people.
They decried in particular, marginalization by all tiers of government stressing that despite the huge resources drawn from their soil, many communities lack very basic and essential social amenities, especially water and electricity.
They watch helplessly as the oil companies bask in these amenities while community members wallow in darkness and they further stated.
“Heavy military presence is one of our major challenges; it puts fear in our children and youth. As the military men approach, you see our children dashing into the bush. This causes tension and some communities have been destroyed because of friction between them and our people. Government is more concerned in protecting pipelines than the citizens.
“Government has also seriously marginalized oil and gas communities despite all we contribute. There are no facilities; we watch oil companies enjoying these amenities. They enjoy 24- hour light, constant clean water and still import bottled water but they will not allow us to enjoy even the borehole. The difference between us is like black and white, the rich and the poor.
“Even the13 percent derivation fund is not used for us; NDDC , Niger Delta Ministry we do not see in our communities“, they pointed out.
The community leaders listed other challenges as, failure of the oil companies to honour promises, failure to engage communities in the implementation of projects, use of divide and rule tactics by oil companies to weaken community resolve on issues ,fueling conflict; land grabbing, political interference, destruction of community livelihood from seismic blasting to oil spills and gas flaring, loss of biodiversity and degradation of land and waterways leading to poor agricultural yield, hunger and poverty.
Welcoming participants to the programme, Executive Director of Kebetkache, Emem Okon said the programme is designed to educate community people on their right to choice; their right to speak out against any form of injustice or action not considered right or beneficial to their communities, especially in relation to oil and gas operations.