By Sonny Atumah
A bitter and prolonged disagreement between host communities in the island Kingdom of Kula and Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, operators of the Oil Mining Licence, OML 25 has been amicably resolved by the Group Managing Director, GMD of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Mallam Mele Kyari. The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva and Kyari, in a stakeholders visit to the host communities of OML 25 facilities in Kula Kingdom of Asari-Toru Local Government of Rivers State, assured the communities and their leaders that the Federal Government was keen on attracting investments to the area and also create jobs for the teeming youths. Highlights of the occasion included the commissioning of NNPC/Belema Joint Venture Portable Water Project as well as the groundbreaking of the 85km Kula-Degema-Port Harcourt Expressway that had been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari. The Managing Director of Shell, Osagie Okunbor said Shell had paid over N300 million in to the Joint MOU account to restart community efforts it had not done because of the dispute.
The Kula Kingdom visit was indeed not for idle talk as all the contending issues were resolved; kudos to the GMD who Timipre Sylva eulogized for the efforts he made in the peaceful resolution of the two-year conflict. What was the issue? The Oil Mining Licence, OML 25 oil field was shut down in 2017 by indigenes of the three oil producing host communities of Belema, Offoin-Ama and Ngeje in Kula Kingdom. The two-year dispute was about alleged neglect, maltreatment, impoverishment, enslavement, non-implementation of development projects and failure to comply with the memorandum of understanding, MOU by the operators, Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC that has been operating in the area for about four decades. Shell denied the allegations insisting that corporate social responsibility of host communities was of utmost concern in its operations. The belief that a company should take into account the social, ethical, and environmental effects of its activities on the community around it is often taken for granted. Corporate Social responsibility, CSR is the relationship between a corporation and local society in which it operates or resides. Where this is lacking, there is always a dispute.
In counting the loss the communities seemed to have lost nothing during the period; the case of he that is down needs fear no fall. In the last two years it was indeed a colossal loss of revenue for the investors and the government. Nigeria lost about 35,000 barrels per day of crude oil due to the shutdown of the Belema Flow Station. With the dispute resolved, there was uninhibited rejoicing in the celebration of a victory by all, that peace at last returned to the oil producing communities. The NNPC, SPDC and Balema Oil late September in Abuja, signed the dispute closure agreement to signal operations of the oil well. The SPDC operates the flow station in a consortium made up of SPDC, Total E&P, Nigeria Agip Oil Company, all controlling 32.3 percent participating interest, in a Joint Venture with NNPC that has 60 percent stake. Belema Oil Producing controls 7.3 percent interest which it inherited from Chevron. As the warring groups’ embraced peace, it was worth celebrating. The closing is an opportune time to work through any final issues and rebuild trust between the parties.
It is important that the parties obtain psychological satisfaction and have a feeling of being heard and acknowledged to move forward after the dispute. What is left now is to ramp up the gains of consolidation of peace that would reign throughout the Kula Kingdom. The Minister and the NNPC GMD should endeavour to have a checklist on the joint memorandum of understanding not to lose track of the immediate, medium and long term development of Kula Kingdom. All parties to the conflict must embrace the opportunity of peace to add value to the community, the investors and the country at large. Peace is time when a war or conflict ends and is beyond price. The peace in Kula Kingdom now is indeed, freedom from conflict among the parties and it is worth dying for. As the parties surrendered to peace in the spirit of the agreement, commitment and sincerity of purpose should be viewed with utmost good faith. Where there are perceived infractions peace is threatened.
Experts say conflict resolution is not easy especially when it involves non state actors as it relates to dividing resources or paying compensation. The greater difficulties arise when resource conflicts are embedded in disputes over other issues that governments are reluctant to negotiate. The Rivers State government tried to mediate in the conflict but it became intractable because of deeply entrenched political views. Oil is the most prominent disputed resource. The competition for oil as the resource that fuels industries and transport systems around the world. We must commend the NNPC GMD Mele Kyari who as a team player brought his arbitrational acumen to bear to resolve this protracted dispute in less than two months in office. With his puritanical disposition we call him a peacemaker. Peacemakers are not only those who live in peace with others, but also those who do their best to promote friendship and reconciliation among people or groups. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”