By Egufe Yafugborhi
ROBERTKIRI—LEADERS of Robertkiri, an oil-rich community in Kula Kingdom, Akuku Toru Local Government Area, Rivers State, and officials of Belema Pipeline Nigeria Limited, an arm of Belema Oil Group, in a rare oil firm/host community affiliation, has doused unfounded claim that the company muscularly dislodged residents to expand its facilities in the area.
Belemaoil Group, owned by Jack-Rich Tein Jr, had paid ex gratia to the occupiers when it moved into the affected site to commence establishment of a Dehydration Unit, DHU, Tank Farm to control produce water, as part of the parent group’s evolving development of a Belema Industrial Island.
But there was disturbing rumors and contentions.
Nobody was forcefully ejected—Kula monarchs
At the gathering last Friday, Kula Traditional Rulers joined by beneficiaries of the compassionate payments, testified that the land belonged to the company and the Robertkiri occupiers were trespassers, as they were only granted favour to ease resettlement in some other places each deemed convenient.
Head Chief of Robertkiri, Ibroma Brown, who opened the testimonies said: “Robertkiri and its surroundings was acquired by Gulf Oil in 1964. Through canalisation, as Gulf Oil opened up the space, people decided, on their own, to occupy this idle portion over the years.
“Chevron, at the point of divesting, then bequeathed the land to the Belema Group, which acquired and now operates Oil Mining Lease, OML, 55.
“Due to the fast unfolding industrialisation focus of the current owner, Belema Pipeline approached the Robertkiri occupiers and ex gratia payments, which are not our rights, were given to the people to ease their resettlement elsewhere. We strongly believe the development is all to our favour, as the project earmarked to take place here will usher in more employment opportunities for our youths.”
Spokesman, Kula Supreme Council of Traditional Rulers, Chief Fiala Okoye-Davies, added: “With all sense of duty, no one was forcefully ejected; otherwise the atmosphere would not have been this peaceful. It was a mutual agreement and understanding towards the benefit of all.
“Today is momentous a landmark in history, where a company has come to appreciate occupiers of already long-acquired land where it is now gradually developing an industrial city of global appeal, as you find in Singapore, Dubai and other oil cities of the world.”
Also speaking, Chief Ibiosiya Nath-Sukubo, spokesman, Ayama Traditional Authority, said?: “It is fallacious if anyone has insinuated that the occupiers were forcefully displaced. Kula people cannot be forcefully evacuated. We have brought all who care to know, to hear from those who have collected money, that they appreciate the favour by the company. We will continue to support them to development our land and our people.”
We were compensated—Affected villagers
Amidst restraint by both the payer and the payees in disclosing the actual sum committed to the relocation of residents, company Director, Mufan Welsh, said: “We paid hundreds of millions of naira to several occupiers we met here.”
Beneficiaries, including Pastor Kumo Monday of the Apostolic Church, Robertkiri, Lolo Dokubo, businessman, Ekine Japus, Kula Youth Leader and Madam Mpapamiare Mpakagbuare, all chorused, “We were paid handsomely.”
Another occupier told NDV on condition of anonymity: “I received N6.5 million. What each person was given dependended on the structures and assets you had on ground. It was not just haphazard. The company did enumeration with due diligence to determine what went to who.
“Our appeal is for the authorities to deal with the challenge of lack of potable water, electricity and, possibly, medicare in the temporal settlement before we go to rebuild our lives wherever each person desires.”
Belema Pipeline Nigeria Limited
Mufan Welsh, a director and engineer with the parent company, responded: “We have asked a contractor to move in with light and water. We are ensuring that residents do not suffer social amenities and insecurity in their temporary resettlement, from where some are relocating to city centres and anywhere convenient for them.
“You can also see that the Robertkiri occupied portion, where we are to build the DHU Tank Farm, is just a small portion of the land we are developing.
“Across the canal, left of Robertkiri, we have also opened up 91 acres billed to accommodate a gas plant, pipe coating facility, residential camp, airstrip and helipad. Our founder is grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari who has approved a terminal for us, and that is the motivation given birth to these several projects towards a Belema Industrial Island.
“We are looking to have in the 91 acres a gas plant, pipe coating facility, residential camp, airstrip, helipad and more. With so many equipment expected to come in from next week, so many jobs are going to come, many gainful engagements to be made, the youths especially, will be better for it.
“Some Robertkiri residents, however, lamented greed among property owners in perceived discrimination against their tenants in the allocation of the ex gratia.”
For Broderick Godday: “I was tenant to Lady A. B. Our anger is not with the oil firm. They did well in paying the property owners and equally promised to appreciate us, the tenants.
“But even the distress appreciation to us, the property owners have also hijacked. It is not fair. We were all affected.”