By Victor Young
Details have emerged how 22 offshore staff of Exxon Mobil were Thursday night arrested by Rivers State Government.
21 of the workers are members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, while the remaining staff is the company’s Chief Security Officer, CSO.
Vanguard gathered that the affected personnel “left Eket Mopol camp at about 2.45pm with full convoy of security escort for 14 days Quarantine at Intels Camp. Two buses, everybody inside maintaining social distances. On getting to Bori (Akwa Ibom/Rivers boundary), we were stopped by police blockade comprising Rivers State Police commissioner and a top army commander.
“Our security personnel started making calls to the Police commissioner, CP, who had left immediately with his convoy after stopping us. The Commissioner we were told asked us to come in on condition that we would be taken to Elekaya stadium at Port Harcourt, PH, for Coronavirus, COVID-19 test by National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
“The State’s Police vehicle led our convoy and arrived at Elekaya stadium at about 5pm. At the stadium, where an Isolation Center is being constructed by the state Government , there was no NCDC official or anybody to conduct any test on us, and we were left hanging.
“The Mobil Chief Security Officer, CSO, kept talking to the Government officials including the CP, Attorney General and the Commissioner for Health who came to the stadium in person, but no directive for us to be released. Police troops then started arriving the stadium, and their leader came a and questioned us on what brought us to Rivers State. Our CSO explained everything on our behalf, stating that we are on essential business and that we had permission to move. The police left us after his valid explanation.
“The police later returned with printed forms for each of us to write statement (as if we are under arrest). We refused to oblige on individual basis, and our CSO also refused to write. At that point they resorted to harassment, asking us to enter the vehicles and seized the CSO phone. But our CSO kept explaining and talking to their leaders, and after sometimes his phone was returned to him. They later left but went to write statement on a form for the CSO to sign which he equally refused.”
Vanguard gathered that at the time of this report, the workers are still at Elekaya Stadium, Port Harcourt, where they have been detained without food or water.
Meanwhile, PENGASSAN in a statement by its Exxon Mobil branch, has called on all stakeholders to prevail on the Rivers State Government to immediately release the detained workers and end the unpleasant drama.
The statement by its Chairman and Secretary, Razaq Obe, and Kingsley Udoidua, respectively, reads in part, “ExxonMobil Nigeria, like other responsible organizations, has adopted 14 days isolation of all personnel as a prerequisite for offshore travels in order to mitigate COVID-19 risk. It has facilities in Akwa Ibom State and one in Port Harcourt (Intels) to achieve (1) above.
“Recall the federal government of Nigeria exempted oil and gas workers on essential service from COVID-19 restrictions in Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Lagos State and Ogun State. The same was mirrored in various communications from Rivers State government which have permitted unfettered movements of other IOCs’ essential service personnel and critical materials.
“At about 3:30pm on Thursday April 16, 2020, Rivers State commissioner of police with his team and a top Army commander intercepted the convoy (protected by the police) conveying 21 ExxonMobil personnel who are PENGASSAN members on their way to Intels, Port Harcourt, at Bori (Akwa Ibom/Rivers boundary).
“The commissioner rebuffed all explanations and forced them to move to Elekaya Stadium, Port Harcourt, where they have been detained, verbally assaulted and starved. The original pretext for sending them to the stadium was to test for COVID-19 but there was no such possibility at the location; it is a construction site. They rather served them papers to write statements. It is appalling that Rivers State authorities have turned the global effort to tame COVID-19 to a tool of muscle-flexing and petty oppression of oilfield workers.
“We condemn the continued detention of the 21 members of our Union who stake everything to produce the oil the country depends on for survival. We call on all stakeholders to prevail on the government of Rivers State to end this most unpleasant drama. Our members have broken no law.”