*Rivers community youths attack JIV team
*For allegedly refusing to give N5m kickback
*Leaders debunk allegation
*Army invades community; razes 6 houses, beats up villagers
*We’ve no hands in invasion of community – Total
By DAVIES IHEAMNACHOR and MERCY OGUJI
ODIEMERENYI – SOME armed youths of Odiemerenyi community, Ahoada East Local Government Area, Rivers State, supposedly ambushed and attacked a team of Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited, TEPNG, who went on a Joint Inspection Visit, JIV, to assess the damage and seal the spill site. The attack came as officials of company rebuffed their illegal demand of N5 million.
The youths purportedly went wild and exchanged gunfire with soldiers attached to the team, who bravely repelled the onslaught.
The spill occurred on OML 58 pipeline belonging to Total E and P Nigeria Limited, last week, reportedly polluting Amashell stream, the major source of drinking water to the people, and also destroyed farmlands and aquatic lives in the community.
Youths attacked JIV team
A source in the village, who pleaded anonymity, told NDV that officials of the company visited the community to stop further spills from the facility, but some youths in the area molested them. He disclosed that the youths allegedly demanded the company to pay them N5 million before they would be allowed to access the site and check the spill. They went berserk and exchanged gunshots with soldiers attached to the team.
NDV gathered that when the soldiers overpowered them, the youths ran into the community. However, the soldiers took the battle to the community, razing down the house, which they alleged some of the boys ran into and beating up several persons, including an aged widow.
Oil firm lied – Agbesor
Mr. George Agbesor, who spoke on behalf the youth president of the community, Mr. Goodluck Agbasa, said that fear has gripped residents of the community since the offensive by soldiers attached to Total, last Thursday.
Agbesor urged state government, Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, and other relevant authorities to prevail on Total to follow due process to ensure a peaceful working environment in the community.
He also called on the relevant bodies to compel Total to rebuild the houses burnt by the soldiers in the community.
Agbesor said, “Immediately I heard about the spill, I sprang into action by calling Total’s Manager on Community Affairs, but he lied to me that the company is already discussing with the youth president and the CDC. Then, I called the youth president and he told me it is not true, that he and the Community Development Committee, CDC, chairman are even waiting to hear from Total.
Why youths resisted JIV team
“So, on Thursday, Total came to the community and was resisted by the youths from accessing the spill site because the community told them to follow due process. They cannot just come into a community without informing the community of what they want to do.
“This is not the first time oil spillage is happening, normally whenever there is spillage, Total normally liaise with the appropriate representatives of the community, which is the youth president, CDC and Council of Chiefs, but instead of Total to reach out to the community concerning the spillage, they came in with soldiers to beat us up and burn down our houses,” he asserted.
They came with soldiers to shoot, burn houses
Speaking to NDV on the matter, an ex-councilor in the area, Mr. Henry Mishack, condemned the invasion of the community by soldiers. Mishack regretted that instead of Total to meet with the stakeholders in the community, it rather instructed the soldiers to shoot at the protesting youths and burn down their houses.
He explained that the community youths were beaten to stupor by the army and a total of six houses in the town were razed.
2 widows, others affected
While disclosing that two of the houses belonged to aged widows, Mrs. Susanna Anwunanya and Mrs. Letem, Mishack said: “We are pained that this kind of thing is happening at this point in time.
“Even if those who were resisting Total ran into these houses, is the army supposed to set them ablaze? Why not cordon the house and bring them out? Now look at these widows, they are homeless now, they do not have where to go, they do not have where to stay and Madam Susanna just lost her husband, few months ago.”
JIV team ambushed, attacked by villagers – Oil firm
Reacting, the management of Total Exploration and Production Nigerian Limited dismissed the claims of attack on Odiemerenyi community as unfounded.
In a statement, the Deputy General Manager, Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Charles Ogan, said: “Total can never send soldiers to destroy any community. Whenever there is an oil spill, there is normally a Joint Inspection Visit to the site to ascertain the cause of the spill. So we had a JIV made up of NOSDRA, Ministry of Environment, NNPC, security agents and other experts in the industry; but on getting to the community, we were ambushed, so we had to retreat.”
The company further asserted: “Total E&P Nigeria Ltd. (TEPNG) has been made aware of incidents that reportedly occurred on Thursday, 25th August 2016 in Odiemerenyi community in Ahoada East Local Government Area of Rivers State, including destruction of properties and harassment of people. TEPNG is categorically denying any involvement in these incidents.” Adding: “On Thursday 18th August 2016, TEPNG received information from a pipeline surveillance contractor that there was a suspected leak on the crude export line from Obagi to Rumuekpe at Odiemerenyi.
“On Saturday 20th August 2016, TEPNG met with the community representatives to organize a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) to the site of the suspected leak. After obtaining the full agreement of the community, the Joint Investigation Visit was organized to the site of the suspected leak on Thursday 25th August, 2016, in accordance with industry best practices and fully abiding by Nigerian laws and regulations. The JIV involved regulators from Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Ministry of Environment, Nigerian Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and TEPNG environment and safety Teams.
“As the Joint Investigation Team was getting close to the location of the incident, the convoy was ambushed by unidentified people with gunfire. The inspection visit was immediately aborted, and TEPNG Team and the representatives of regulatory agencies were safely taken from the area.
We’ve no link with attack on community
“TEPNG is not in any way linked to any other incident reported within the community and will liaise with the relevant authorities to obtain clarifications on the reported incidents. TEPNG is fully committed to working closely with our host communities, as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility policy, and respect for Human Rights is paramount in all our activities,” the company stated.
It said: “TEPNG will continue to maintain the existing cordial relationship with Odiemerenyi community. The relationship between TEPNG and Odiemerenyi community is covered by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ekpeye Kingdom signed in 2012 for the period 2012-2016. Under this MoU, TEPNG built 6 classroom blocks and a Youth Corpers lodge for the benefit of Odiemerenyi community.”