By Chancel Sunday
Mr Simon Ebikebina is the general Chairman, Egbemo-Angalabiri domain in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. In this interview, he spoke on the pains of the oil-rich community in the hands of multi-national oil giants operating in the area. Excerpts:
Tell us a little about Egbemo-Angalabiri community
Egbemo-Angalabiri community is an ancient community situated along River Dodo in Ekeremor local government area of Bayelsa state. The name, River Dodo was given by an English explorer, Dr Williams Baiki. Egbemo-Angalabiri is the parent community in Egbemo-Angalabiri Domain.
As a host community, how are you relating with multi-national oil companies operating in the area?
In our domain we have Shell Nigeria Ltd and Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) Ltd as major operators. We also have Saipem handling a major project for Shell in the past five years.
We have Global Memoranda of Understanding (GMoUs) with these companies and they are trying in terms of compliance. For example, we are six communities under the GMoU with Shell. However, the yearly amount from this agreement is small after we have shared it.
Tell us some social responsibilities these companies have been able to take in the domain?
We have made several efforts to seek the intervention of these companies in issues of community development but Shell told us that it is never their duty to carry out community development projects. They said it is the duty of government to do so as their agreement with federal government is 40/60 percent.
Shell also told us that they have no other option than to have the little understanding with us as well as do what they could to avoid disturbance from the community since they are operating in our area.
How long have these companies been operating in your area?
Shell started operation in Egbemo-Angalabiri community in the early 1960s, while Agip started operation in the late 1970s.
In the issue of employment, what are your scorecards for these companies in your area?
It is appalling to say that since the early 1960s till date, no Egbemo-Angalabiri son or daughter is employed by Shell. Shell has never employed anybody in our community since the 1960s. It is an irony that no Egbemo-Angalabiri indigene is ever employed in Shell for over forty-five years of operation in the area. This may sound unbelievable but it is the raw truth.
Agip, on the other hand, has employed not more than two indigenes from the community since their operations here. We insist that our youths be employed because we have a lot of jobless youths, both graduates and skilled labour, in the community.
The issue we have with Agip is that their proposed cluster board is not according to standard and we object to be part of it. If they really want to form a cluster board, let them form it and name it Egbemo-Angalabiri Cluster, nothing else.
So, what is your appeal to these companies in the issue of employment?
We earnestly appealed that they should turn a new leaf and employ our community youths. We have qualified engineering graduates and other skilled labour staying idle in the community.
Shell trained four youths in our community some years back with a promise to employing them after the training. Two years after their training, the youths were still left jobless in the community. So, the youths protested and the community decided to delve into the case. In the long run, Shell engaged the youths as contract staff in 2008 with a promise that they would be converted to permanent staff within two years. Until this moment they are still working as contract staff.
But, what do you think is really the bane of these problems?
Shell has been taking undue advantage of Egbemo-Angalabiri community right from the inception of their operation here. You know what they are doing? As at the time they came in the early 1960s, our fathers did not have any little awareness and Shell took advantage of that and wants to still continue in it.
We are passing through pains on daily basis when seeing the natural endowment surrounding us with absolute nothingness to show for it. Egbemo-Angalabiri is peace-loving and we have never one day given headache to our visitors or government. We wish to be treated like humans by these companies and the government.
Again, Agip has a five-year MoU with us and the last five-year agreement expired since 2014 but until this moment, they have not called us to renew it.
Egbemo-Angalabiri domain is the highest in oil production in the state with over 150 oil wells and over three flow stations and with a population of over eight thousand people. We appealed that we should be treated like humans.
What are some government efforts in your community?
I tell you the fact that we are like an abandoned people. There is no state government project in Egbemo-Angalabiri domain; there is no federal or NDDC project and no state governor has ever visited this oil-rich domain except Gov Seriake Dickson during his second term campaign visit.
So, what is your call to government?
We appealed to both the federal and state governments to give us a sense of belonging; we appealed that we should be given the needed attention as we lack basic necessities for human habitation.
We heard that Seriake Dickson is a listening governor and we appealed that he should intervene and table the issues raised here because we don’t want our grievances to be misconstrued. We want Gov Dickson to call a meeting where both parties can iron out issues.