By Chioma Onuegbu
UYO—FORMER Minister of Housing and Urban Development and Atta of Ekid, Eket Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State, Chief Nduese Essien, says that for about 46 years, Exxon Mobil Oil Company had never paid compensation for oil spills to any community in the state, instead, it ran around to pay token money as palliative.
Chief Essien and other leaders of oil producing communities, who spoke to NDV, described the antics of the oil conglomerate, continuously beating around the bush over tallying of damage caused by oil spills, as disturbing and exploitative to host communities.
They said given Mobil’s previous records, they were not surprised that it denied responsibility for the massive oil spill, penultimate Tuesday, that affected farmlands and aquatic lives at Inuaeyet Ikot, Iwokpom, Okposo, Okposo 2, Ndito Ekaiba, Utan, and Ine Akpautong communities in Ibeno local government area.
Angry youths from the area had blockaded the entrances to Que Iboe Terminal, Mkpanak, preventing the workers from duties throughout last week because of the company’s denial of responsibility.
The former minister lamented that Mobil has been in the habit of dodging the computation of the damage caused by its oil spills, adding that the people were fed up with the antics of a firm wanting to exploit and destroy its host communities.
“Since 1969, Mobil has never paid compensation for oil spills. They do not even allow the process to be completed for the payment of compensation. Each time, there is oil spill, they run round and find some token money which they call palliatives and give to the people, as a way of placating them to jettison pursuing payment for the actual oil spill.
“It is unfortunate that oil producing communities are left at the mercy of the federal government, which protects the oil companies against the occupants of the areas of their operation. This is because government interest is to ensure that oil flows and brings revenue for them to share without minding the condition of the people living in those the areas of operation.
“And this has resulted from the Land Use Act which deprives the occupants of the area rights to their lands once oil is found in the land. Once oil is found in the land, the land no longer belongs to anybody, but belongs to the Federal Government. That is why the Land Use Act should have been expunged,” he said.
He wondered why Mobil would claim that the current oil spill did not come from its pipeline, but from a washed tank, stressing, however, that it was possible that company had washed its tank, which contained oil and emptied it into the ocean since it was the only major oil producer in the area.
NOSDRA dragsMobil to court
Similarly, president general of Akwa Ibom Oil Producing Community Development Network (AKIPCON), Mr. Ufot Phenson, asserted: “Yes Mobil has again denied the massive oil spill of last Tuesday but I am not surprised because the company has never paid compensation for oil spills for the many decades that it started oil exploration. We have the records of incessant oil spills in the state. This is what oil producing states of the Niger Delta region have been going through.
“That is why AKIPCON was established. The NGO works towards the realization of compensations and other socio-economic benefits as a result of decades of oil spillages, and environmental pollution. And studies have proved that all nine states of Niger Delta are affected, so we are extending the struggle to all the oil producing states.
“Even the National Oil spill, Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) had to sue Mobil recently because of their refusal to pay compensation and carry out clean up for the Oil spill of June, 29, 2014 as directed by NOSDRA. The matter is in the Appeal Court, Calabar,” he disclosed.
He said he his organization has observed that multinational companies like Mobil have been succeeding in getting away with the neglect of issues in their host communities because they have internal collaborators that defend them and speak in their favour.
“These internal collaborations are found in government and in communities. So we are saying for oil producing states to make headway in the struggle to get the socio-economic rights and privileges due to them, the manipulations of the internal collaborations must seize”, he asserted.
Mobil not responsible for spill—Udeagha
When NDV had contacted the Head of Media and Communications, Mobil, Mr. Ogechukwu Udeagha, at the wake of the current oil spill, last Wednesday, he simply said that no oil was spilled from any of its facilities, adding that MPN remains committed to providing environmentally safe operations and ensuring that health and environment of neighbouring communities were protected.
Akanusoh takes matter to parliament
Member representing Ibeno/Esit Eket in the state House of Assembly, Dr. Usoro Akpanusoh, who brought the issue on the floor of the House during last Thursday’s plenary under matters of urgent public importance, had urged the House to direct the governor to ask ExxonMobil to clean up the affected communities and also put machinery in place to pay compensation the communities.
He expressed worry that the company refused to visit the scenes of the spillage even when relevant officials of NOSDRA, the state Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Transport and Petroleum Resources had gone and confirmed that the spillage actually came from company.
His words: “I have always complained about the unfriendly operational activities of ExxonMobil on the floor of this House and that they should adopt international best practices in its operations in order to checkmate incessant oil spillage. They should also engage the youths of their host communities meaningfully.”