By Emma Amaize & Akpokona Omafuaire
UZERE (DELTA) — ABOUT three persons are feared dead and 100 others, including women and children, injured in a stampede, Tuesday, at Uzere in Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta, when soldiers and mobile policemen fired tear gas on protesters at a Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, flow station in the area.
Angered by the action of the soldiers and policemen, the protesters burnt a Mercedes benz car and two Hilux vehicles provided for the security agents by the oil company.
Angry villagers also razed their traditional ruler’s palace, his guest house and wife’s store. They alleged that some leaders of the community were conspiring with the oil company against them.
At the time the community youths forced their way into the company, the security agents had become jittery over the repercussion of their action and fled.
Divisional Police Officer, DPO, for Isoko South, Chief Superintendent Chris Forgbara, who led a team of policemen to quell the disturbance was also affected by the tear-gas from the security agents, who also shot indiscriminately into the air.
Vanguard gathered that the community had expressed misgivings that SPDC, which started operations in the area since 1958, had not signed a Global Memorandum of Understanding, GMOU, and, therefore, mobilised for a peaceful protest.
The protesters, numbering about 5,000, and led by members of the oil and gas committee in Uzere community, Messrs Okegbe Sam, Meshack Uge and Godspower Aluya, demanded that the barricade to the flow station be dismantled as they wanted to get to the gate and present their demands to the company.
It was alleged that the security agents insisted that they should disperse immediately and fired canisters of tear-gas into the air to scare them away. With gunshots also renting the air, the villagers ran helter-skelter, sustaining injuries in the process. The scale of the injury sustained by the protesters allegedly infuriated the entire community.
Over 500 motorcyclists, popularly known as Okada, also massed together and rode furiously, daring anybody to come out and attack them.
In a statement issued on the state of affairs between Shell and its host communities in Uzere kingdom, President-General of the community, Chief Emeakpo Owhe, said: “It is a known fact that Uzere land has been blessed with oil and gas. It is also a known fact that Shell has exploited this natural resources on our fatherland for the past 52 years (since 1958).”
He said the company did not enter into any agreement with the people, adding, “consequent upon the above, we wrote Shell since February 2011 to come to Uzere to discus and firm up the GMoU (Global Memorandum of Understanding) with Uzere communities.
“In October, we reminded Shell on the imperative of putting a framework in place for the GMoU so that we can legally know the basics for our relationship/partnering and cooperation with SPDC.
“The only hospital Shell managed to build in Uzere is not functional because it refused to fund the health insurance scheme that will enable the hospital take-off properly. SPDC funded a similar Obio Cottage hospital in River State at N24 million. Why have they refused to fund the Uzere Cottage Hospital?
“The ultimatum given to Shell on the issue of GMoU with Uzere kingdom expired months ago, but up till now Shell has not shown any interest to have a GMoU with Uzere kingdom, its host.
“We have also written to the Delta State Government on the refusal by Shell to sign the GMoU. The Uzere community has, therefore, decided that if SPDC still wants to operate in Uzere land, it should come and sign a GMOU with Uzere before carrying out further oil activities with effect from today (yesterday).”
Shell Media Officer in Warri, Mr. Joseph Obari told Vanguard: “We have confirmed that a group of youths from Uzere community this morning (Tuesday) invaded SPDC’s Uzere Flow Station and shut it down. They attacked workers and burnt two security vehicles.”
According to him, the youths were reportedly demanding the signing of a GMoU with the community.
He added: “SPDC has phased the implemen-tation of its highly successful GMoU model for sustainable develop-ment. Apart from two GMoUs tied to specific projects, the programme is already being implemented in three clusters in Delta State.
“We are working with the Delta State government to resolve the situation.”