Yenagoa- For almost one week, the women of Koroama community in the Gbarain Kingdom laid siege to the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) facility in their community disrupting operations.
Koroama community in the Gbarain Kingdom has been host to SPDC since 1970s and the area is blessed with oil and gas reserve.
The action was basically championed by the Koroama women protesting against the alleged insensitivity of the company to their plight.
Though it was not a placard carrying protest, the women of the community in their hundreds both young and aged abandoned their farming and fishing activities to form human shield around the right of way SPDC facility where staff were laying pipelines from one of the wells to the Central Processing Plant of the Gbaran-Ubie Integrated Oil and Gas Project.
The decision of the women to come out alone Sweet Crude gathered was not only strategic to give meaning to the community cause but also prevent a situation where the military personnel attached to the company facility would not descend on the community the youth and men.
True to their strategy, the picketing of the company facility created the desired impact as no casualty was recorded with the military personnel on guard duty only maintaining order. The women action succeeded in drawing the attention of the state government which timely intervention prevented heightening tension from snowballing in open confrontation.
Apart from the heavy presence of military personnel in the community and the women who were alert and determined to continue their protest, the community looked calm. Shell’s heavy duty equipment were seen though not in use and no signs of any worker within the community environment when this reporter visited.
The determination of the women to remain resolute in their demands, even for months was clearly notice from their utterances and actions.
Their spokesperson, Mrs. Mercy James said they took the action against Shell because the company refused to heed to their demands.
She explained that they all agreed to abandon their farms, fishing and other activities to cluster around the company to press home their demand.
â€œIt is a sacrifice to achieve our goal. But if Shell agrees to all our demands, then we will also reciprocate by opening their sites and allowing them to work; we will then go back to our normal social and economic activities. As you see us here, we are very alert and, from time to time we move round all the sites to see if anything is happening to ensure that we finish what we have started,â€ she had said
The women were demanding among others construction of internal roads within the community.
The 500 meters road Shell constructed in their community they claimed was not enough and as such should extend the road to cover the entire community.
â€œWe are also demanding for potable water. Shell’s activity in our environment, including the dredging of sand, has polluted the Taylor Creek; our only source of drinking water. We use the water from the Taylor Creek to meet all our water needs, but Shell has polluted it.
â€œWe also demanded for a Health Centre. We don’t have any health centre, yet we suffer health related hazards occasioned by Shell’s activities in our environment.
The school building which was built through community self help has deteriorated; the roof is gone. We demand that Shell change the roof for us. We, the women, also need empowerment. We should be given employment and we also need vehicle, buses like other communities in Gbaran kingdom.
They also complained that due to the construction of new pipelines by Shell in their environment, some natural water paths have been blocked, hence the flooding of farmlands even within the community.
According to them, areas that had never experienced flood in the community were now experiencing flooding adding that this has impacted negatively on their plants and livelihood.
Besides, they claimed SPDC dredging activities had impacted negatively on the community with several houses being threatened by erosion and would want the company to address the issue.
An indigene of the area who is a environmentalist, Dickson Achimota lamenting the plight of his people described Okoroama situation as pathetic.
Achimota who spoke to the field monitors of Environmental Rights Action ERA led by Alagoa Morris who was in the community in company with journalists said â€œYou can imagine the women from a community, without the prompting of any person or group, go into this level of action against Shell. If it were men, the authorities and Shell would have drafted the military to crush the action. Actually the women of Koroama saw that the community men cannot do anything to save them from the destruction coming from the activities of Shell.
â€œThey see the men as having lost out, being cowed down. And so the women took it upon themselves to do this thing they are doing for the past two weeks or so. The women have abandoned their other responsibilities to face this problem. And I see their sacrifice and effort as worthwhile, because in every struggle sacrifices are expected.
â€œI expect Shell , with their new slogan of corporate social responsibility, the new Shell [that has changed] to have responded long ago to the action of the women. I must draw the attention of the authorities to the indiscriminate dredging of sand in our environment and the state as a whole. The health implications are huge especially looking at it from the angle that most of our communities have no medical facilities and there are no alternative sources of drinking water. â€œThe Creeks and rivers are the main sources of water for our people and, when these water courses are polluted and the without minding the increase in the turbidity level of the water, this is really worrisome and alarming. Like I said in my opening statement, I am a practicing environmentalist. In this connecting, I have had some written correspondence with Shell on the environmental issues posed by the company’s activities in our environment.â€
But an insider from a sister community said blame should not be heaped squarely on the doorsteps of SPDC adding the company had been committed to its social corporate responsibility by providing funds to mitigate some of its activities in the area.
â€œHow do you expect the company to held liable for projects poorly executed. The communities were made to recommend their own contractors and they have been silent on the shoddy jobs executed for them,â€ the source said.
â€œThe company is faithfully implementing the GMouU signed with the communities as part of the Gbaran-Ubie project,â€ another source said adding â€œthe GMoU has procedure for handling grievances, but, the clearly, these was not followed.â€