By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
CHEVRON Nigeria Limited, CNL, whose most important operations are in oil-rich Delta state have had it rough in recent times with the people of Kokodiagbene, an Ijaw community in Warri South-West Local Government Area, laying siege to the company’s Otunana Flow Station.
This was shortly after natives of Ugborodo, an Itsekiri town in Escravos area, also held the firm to ransom over age-long demands for social amenities.
The incongruity between Chevron and Kokodiagbene, which had raged for many years, is that workers of the American oil company working at its flow station, a little distance from the settlement, enjoy 24-hour electricity, but the people from whose land the resources emanate lived in darkness. Successive governments of Delta state and even the Nigerian Army, had intervened in the dispute with no resolution.
Last month (May), unknown to Chevron, affected oil communities “ganged up” to give the firm “truckload of trouble” with Kokodiagbene as the arrowhead. The plan was to cripple the company’s operations in the state since it allegedly did not want to provide succor to the people.
Consequently, on May 22, residents of Kokodigbene kick-started the plot by shutting down operations of the company’s Otunana flow station in its territory.
The demands of the women and youths, who took over the facility, were extension of electricity from the flow station to the community, provision of potable water and healthcare facilities.
Other Ijaw communities were to follow suit, but the game plan leaked to the Deputy Governor of the state, Barr Kingsley Otuaro, who chairs the Delta State Advocacy Committee Against Vandalism of Oil and Gas Facilities.
Botched 2017 attempt
It was not the first time Kokodiagbene people fell out with the company. In fact, it had become a regular occurrence. Sometime in February 2017, the villagers served what they termed a final notice to the state government of their plan to occupy the flow station, citing the company’s inability to supply them electricity.
The villagers had stormed the flow station on February 1, that year, and given the company a 14-day ultimatum to commence the process of extending electricity to the host community.
They also threatened to relocate to the flow station to enjoy electricity together with the staff of the company.
Concerned by the crisis which escalated rather than ebb, the Commanding Officer, 19 Battalion, Nigerian Army, Koko, Warri North local government area, Lieutenant Colonel M. A Maaji, waded into the protracted affair.
However, the state government through the then Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Mr. Festus Agas, invited community leaders and CNL to a meeting at Asaba, February 20.
Former chair of the community, Comrade Sheriff Mulade, told Saturday Vanguard, that the people were not happy with the manner the state government was handling the matter.
”Enough is enough, we, the peace loving people of Kokodiagbene community have been pushed to the wall hence we are giving a final notice of relocation to Utonana flow station to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the Chief of Army Staff.”
”We sincerely, once again, appeal to Chevron to respect the agreement and kindly connect us to electricity. We are also aware that Chevron is planning to give us a bad name in order to tarnish our image as a peace loving people.
“We have honoured and respected all constituted authorities in respect of our peaceful demand for electricity from Chevron, but it is now very clear that all efforts to make the American oil company do the needful peacefully had failed. Therefore, we have no option than to relocate and join Chevron staff at Utonana flow station to enjoy light with them because light is life.
“It is unfortunate that multinationals operating in Nigeria dictate the pace for our government as a result of lack of political will and corruption and it is very clear that he who pays the piper dictates the tune.
”There is no political will to develop core oil producing host communities, particularly in the riverside communities like Kokodiagbene. It is very sad to note that government never encouraged those maintaining and creating conducive environment for sustainable peace in Delta State, rather government is playing politics with host communities’ development.
”We call on Governor Okowa to specifically focus on core riverine host communities’ development because we have been shortchanged for too long with the insensitivity of government to our plight,” he added.
Otuaro takes over negotiations
This time around, May 22, 2019, the people perfected their action plan and were not ready to leave the flow station unless CNL and government attended to their demands and they kept secret the plan of other communities to join by shutting down more flow stations.
The state governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, sent his deputy, Barr Otuaro to resolve the dispute, which came at a time some militants threatened to declare a Republic of Niger Delta.
Otuaro, who relocated to Warri for the time being first held a peace meeting, May 31, with leaders of the warring communities from Egbema and Gbaramatu kingdoms, not just Kokodiagbene at Governor’s Office Annex, Warri
He said at the meeting, ”I want to appeal to Kokodiagbene community to please oblige us a re-opening of the flow station. What we now need afterwards is strategic engagement to be able to achieve demands of the oil- bearing communities.”
”We would have to set up a platform for dialogue with all stakeholders in attendance. We would have to look into this employment, infrastructure demands one after the other and benchmark each on possibilities and delivery time-lines to make headway, and all of these will require time and patience”
Chevron’s representative, Mr Brikin Esimaje, however said the oil company was open to dialogue on the demands of the community.
Chair of protesting Kokodiagbene community, Mr Uyadongha Poweide, had earlier listed demands of his community to include electricity, pipe-borne water, cottage hospital, foreshore protection, conversion of casual workers to permanent staff, royalty for land acquisition among others.
The community chair said his people had shut down and occupied the Otunana flow station due to CNL’s adamant posture to their demands.
Kokodiagbene people, however, acceded to the deputy governor’s plea to vacate the company to enable it resume operations.
Findings by Saturday Vanguard showed that Chevron was hamstrung, over the years, on extension of electricity to Kokodiagbene and other communities demanding for it because it was a huge capital project that the federal government has to take a lion share, but which the government had not showed enough commitment.
After discussions with CNL on its dilemma, Otuaro took up the matter with the federal government through the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo.
At a follow-up meeting with the community and other stakeholders, penultimate Thursday, the deputy governor announced to the delight of the communities that the federal government had approved a new power project that will address the electricity demand of over 50 riverine communities in Escravos and environs in Warri South-West and Warri North local government areas of the state.
He said the state government facilitated the process, adding, “The two projects for Egbema and Gbaramatu Kingdoms are in addition to what the Delta State Government had already done in the riverine areas as a responsible and responsive government.”
Ambush by Ijaw communities
Before the meeting, the deputy governor had to settle the grievances of Kpalakpalabou and Polobubor, two Ijaw communities in Warri North, whose natives took over the gate of the Governor’s Office Annexe, Warri, on that Thursday morning, spitting fire against Chevron.
They complained that billows of smoke from a Chevron well-head that caught fire, killed an asthma patient earlier in the day even as the resultant oil spill polluted drinking waters and made children sick in the communities.
National President of Polobubor, Mr Ebilate Mac-Yoroki, who led what the Deputy Governor described as “a peaceful and mature protest and articulation of demands”, said the community wants the intervention of the Delta State government.
He bemoaned, “Chevron remained adamant to the fires raging since April 18, 2019 with no visit to assess damages, no relief materials to the people who were getting critically ill daily with no medical team sent to attend to health needs”.
Otuaro, who said the Delta State government was a listening one, promised that government would constitute a delegation with Chevron to visit the site on or before Tuesday (four days ago) to see things and look into the issues with a view to addressing them.
Chevron relieved, commends Delta govt
General Manager, Policy and Government Affairs, CNL, Mr Brikins Esimaje, who attended the meeting, said the company would keep faith with and increase funding for the its Regional Development Councils, including the Egbema/Gbaramatu Development Council/Foundation, to enable it deliver more projects for the communities.
Esimaje explained Chevron may not do a duplication in power projects in the area, stressing it was already a 40 per cent financial sponsor of the Federal Government-approved Power project for Escravos and environs billed to benefit over 50 communities.
He thanked the Delta State government, which through Otuaro facilitated the Federal Government’s approval of the project.
The CNL manager noted that if previous state governments had intervened in the manner of the Okowa/Otuaro administration, the crises and meetings over it would have been unnecessary. Chevron tasked the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) on its development obligations in the company’s host communities in the Warri area even as the general manager hinted that the company would engage leadership of the communities to fill employment chances.
Esimaje boasted that the company’s ”RDC model, now being recommended by the Federal Government (FG) for companies in their areas of operation, has seen the Comrade Jude Ukori-led Egbema Gbaramatu Regional Development Council/Foundation (EGRDCF) achieve 18 projects in 2018 alone”.
The company tasked the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, regarding its development obligations in its host communities in the Warri area, saying that it would engage leadership of the communities to fill employment chances.
Pinch of salt
Some community leaders, who reacted to the promises, took them with a pinch of sale, saying they bore no specifics, describing them “as the usual talk and no results from the company.”
Spokesman of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbenekama, while urging the Delta State government to be urgent about more projects for the oil- bearing area, advised communities still threatening to pull out of EGRDCF to remain as same was one good thing from Chevron.