By Emma Amaize
WARRI â€” GOVERNOR Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, top officials of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), led by its Managing Director, Mr. Mutiu Sumonu, Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta and community leaders from Batan area met at the weekend in Warri.
The meeting was on how to check the pipeline vandals that damaged the Shell-operated Trans-Forcados trunk line, in the last few days.
The community leaders were led to the meeting by the leader of Batan communities and chairman of host communities in Delta State, Chief James Orubu, who said the people were not in support of any act of sabotage.
A source close to the meeting said Governor Uduaghan stated emphatically that the period of amnesty was over and that any person found to be tampering with oil facility would be treated as a criminal.
He asked the JTF to do its work and arrest the culprits, saying, â€œI will not tolerate such a thing here in Delta State. Everybody knows I am one of the governors in the Niger-Delta that stood my ground that amnesty should be granted to our freedom fighters. I was even called names for defending the fact that something led to the agitation by our youths and that the issues should be addressed also.
â€œNow, the Federal Government is beginning to look at the issues, why should somebody be sabotaging pipelines when we have all said that the violent phase of the struggle is over?â€
Vanguard learnt that the trunk line had been out of use for many years due to the incessant attacks on it by militants, but on the dawn of amnesty, the company repaired it at a very huge cost and was just about resuming pumping through it after carrying out necessary tests when saboteurs visited the pipeline last week.
Sumonu, who flew in from Port-Harcourt to Warri for the meeting, told the governor that the company observed two leakage points after repairing the pipeline and, thinking it was leak points his men did not see, he authorised that they be fixed.
But that as it was being done, two more leak points were discovered and by Thursday, last week, another big leak point was found.
Sumonu said the company had no doubt the damage was an act of sabotage by some people in the communities, adding that was the reason he had to send an urgent message to the governor to look into the matter.
According to him, the company was producing 300,000 barrels per day in the state before the days of militants. He said the production dropped since then, while the present effort was to put it in order, bring more money to the Federal Government, the state and the communities.
It was gathered that community leaders at the meeting corroborated the claim of the Shell boss that the damage was an act of sabotage by some people, and not necessarily an action by militants or crude oil thieves.
They promised to tackle the matter.
However, a knowledgeable youth leader informed Vanguard that it was the SPDC that allowed the matter to degenerate to the present level, saying, â€œUnemployed youths in the area who are welders simply asked the contractor doing to the repairs to give them job and he refused.
They demanded the normal homage money; I learnt they asked for N400, 000, the contractor refused. This is not a case the company should not have handled, why did they not engage the boys, why are you doing a project that will give you money in their area and you refused to engage them.â€
â€œYes, I know we are in the post-amnesty period but even President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua made it clear that the oil companies should engage the youths, why did they allow the matter to snowball to some people sabotaging their pipelines as they claimed and now, they have rushed to the governor?
Why did they not settle this matter when it just started? I donâ€™t even want to believe that they sabotaged anything, they should settle them, it is a simple matter.
Even in Warri and Effurun, do the youths of most of the communities not ask for development fee and other homage before an individual can build a house on a land he bought from them, let alone the oil they are taking without the consent of the ownersâ€, he added.
The general manager, social performance and community affairs of SPDC, Mr. Tony Attah who spoke to newsmen at the end of the meeting with Governor Uduaghan, said the company was satisfied with the intervention of the governor and assurance of the community leaders that they would help the company to handle the matter.