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Oil communities cry: We have been left in poverty!

•Nigerian youth leaders report Shell to FG, international community
•SPDC harps on people, dialogue to resolve issues

By Yinka Ajayi

NIGERIAN youth leaders are drawing the attention of the international community and the Federal Government to the alleged neglect of oil communities in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State by international oil companies (IOCs) operating there, especially Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

•Source of drinking water in Belemo.

The youth leaders were shocked by what they saw on Friday at Kula, one of the communities during a visit to the area.

Consequently, they promised to support the community in the fight to secure justice against the alleged neglect by the IOCs by petitioning the international community and the Federal Government.

The team, led by Ambassador Sukubo Sara-Igbe Sukubo, President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), also had the Presidents of Ijaw Youth Council, Arewa Youth Forum, Egbe Igbimo Odo Yoruba (Afenifere), Greener Nigeria Movement among other youth leaders from across the federation.

The team was told by the natives that the communities in Kula Kingdom had, for the past two years, engaged in an agitation to get Shell to divest from OML 25 it operates in the area and vacate for lack of social amenities.

The delegation visited Kile Ama 1, Offoinama, Belema and Kula Town, expressing grave concern over the lack of development in the area.

The communities had, in August 2017, shut down the operations of SPDC on OML 25 over alleged neglect by the oil giant.

•A well in Kuta

 

The women of the communities also mounted surveillance against the alleged bid by the SPDC to sell the OML 25 to a foreign company on the grounds that it negates their demand for a right of first refusal and the need for an indigenous company to be considered.

The women, who spoke to the team on arrival at the OML 25 facility, noted that their continuous occupation of the facility was to tell SPDC to leave the area.

Mrs. Olu Ekine, one of the women leaders, said: “We are here and we have stayed for one year and three months at this facility because of how SPDC is treating us. Since SPDC started operating here over 37 years ago, they have not done any meaningful infrastructural development here; no school, no employment for indigenes who are graduates and no hospitals.

“When our women want to give birth, they travel to do so. In the process, sometimes the boats will spoil and the women will deliver inside the boats. Sometimes the babies or the mothers will die.”

Solomon Gilbert, the leader of Offoinama, who conducted the team round the community, said the natives had not benefitted from SPDC for over 37 years of their operation in the area. Gilbert said: “Since Shell started operating here, we have not benefitted. You can see the kind of school we have here. We built the school on our own. You can see that it is a substandard school with mud used to do the floor. They should come and show us and the public the project they have done in our community. We do not have water, in fact we have nothing. This is the reason we are saying that Shell should leave our land.”

Another native, Ene Jackrich, told the team: “We did our land reclamation on our own. We do not have landing jetty.   “The water we have was done by UNICEF in collaboration with government. Since I was born, I have not seen any project done by SPDC.

•A classroom in Offoinama

There is poverty everywhere – Youths

Addressing the natives, Dr. Udengs Eradiri, a former President of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Worldwide, and Uzoh Ifeanyi, President of Ndigbo Youth Organisation (19 Northern States), who were in the delegation, said the team had seen the level of poverty in the oil producing communities, adding that the team would make a report to the FG.

Eradiri said: “We are a fact-finding team. We have come and we have seen things for ourselves and we will do a formal report to the Federal Government.

“We will not just write the Federal Government, we will also meet the international community and the parent body of SPDC.

“There is need to inform them of the level of injustice perpetrated against a people producing oil. We will come up with a working document based on what we have seen on the ground in the communities.

“It is unheard of, based on what we saw today, that people who host a big oil firm like Shell do not have good hospital. They do not have schools, not even pipe borne water.”

The team urged the Federal Government to issue the license to operate OML25 to an indigenous firm, Belemaoil Producing Limited, saying it understands the plight of the people of the region.

“We heard that SPDC has spent $300 million but there is no sign of it here. There is no part of the community that you see anything that shows that Shell has spent such sum”, Sukubo, the leader of the team, said.

“It is time for our people to do oil business. We are calling on the Federal Government to give our people the opportunity to do this business because they will do it better. “Our people must be given the first right of refusal. Belemaoil Producing has shown capacity and should be given the opportunity. Kula should be given right of first refusal”.

On his part, the President of Greener Nigeria Movement, Comrade AbdulRahman Agboola, expressed concern over the neglect in the area, adding that the host community should eject Shell.

•Some residents protesting their plight.

Agboola said: “What I have seen does not befit the people who contribute heavily to the nation’s economy.

“Our call to the government is that the people of Kula should be given the right of first refusal on OML 25 because they do not need Shell again in their environment.”

Meanwhile, the Secretary of Offoinama Council of Chiefs, Chief Fiala Tubolabo Fiala, who thanked the team for the intervention, noted that Kula people were living in abject poverty because of the alleged activities of SPDC.

“We are in abject poverty. That is how the IOCs left us. Everything we have is by our own efforts. We are happy for your intervention and we will support you to ensure that we have justice”, Fiala said.

“We have no land to build. We know that we will succeed in this fight. We know that you will take up this matter so that Shell will know that we have youths in Nigeria.”

•Cross section of youths leaders who visited

SPDC seeks peace, dialogue

Meanwhile, Shell has described the allegations by the women and leaders of Kula as false, but stated the need for dialogue. This was contained in a statement by the Media Relations Manager, Bamidele Odugbesan, on behalf of SPDC’s External Relations General Manager, Igo Weli.

The statement read: “SPDC has also restated its commitment to dialogue and peaceful resolution of disagreements with the invaders. A group of people invaded the facilities on August 11, 2017, ejected the staff on duty and have illegally remained in occupation of the facilities since then.

“The group has so far rebuffed all entreaties to resolve their grievances through dialogue but has instead demanded immediate transfer of ownership and operatorship of the facilities to their preferred indigenous oil firm, under the pretext that SPDC has over the years neglected the interests of the local community.

“SPDC believes that all stakeholders in the matter should give the Rivers State Government-initiated mediation process the chance to resolve the disagreement peacefully.

“Our primary goal is the safe and peaceful resolution of this dispute, and we encourage all parties to return to dialogue to protect the safety and security of all concerned including those occupying the facility, community members, SPDC staff and contractors.

“SPDC and its Joint Venture partners continue to implement multi-million Naira social investment programmes to the benefit of the people of Kula Kingdom, in Akuku Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, notwithstanding that the company has not been allowed to operate the facilities since the illegal occupation began 13 months ago.”

 

 


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