By Davies Iheamnachor, Port-Harcourt
Hundreds of elderly men, women, Chiefs and youths from Obite Community in Ogba Egbema Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers state have shut down a gas plant operated by Total Exploration and Producing Nigeria Limited over alleged neglect.
The protsesters, who are from the five villages of Obite community, have expressed regrets that the firm has refused to adhere to a Supreme Court judgement that mandated them to pay compensation to the community for the land they acquired in the area for their operations.
The residents of the area, who have already taken over the entrance into the Obite Gas plant acquired by Total E&P from Elf, vowed that they would vacate the area only when the firm begins discussions with them on how their N2.5bn accrued bills would be cleared.
Speaking, during the protest, Mr. Daniel Clifford Uma, one of the plaintiffs in the suit that produced the Supreme Court’s decision, noted that the firm (Total E and P) has operated in the area with total neglect of the owners of the land.
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Uma stated that Elf acquired the area and refused to pay compensation to the community, adding that the community instituted a legal actions for redress and got justice.
He said: “What you are seeing here today is as a result of total negligence from Total E and P. This thing started 22 years ago. Some of the people that started this matter have died.
“We started this matter when Elf came to aquire this land, 28.8 hecters of land. When this started we told them to pay us compensation for our land, but the Land and Claim Manager of the company said the Land Use Act does not allow multinationals to pay for land acquisition.
“The communities went to court, in 2005 we got judgement in our favour in a court in Ilorin, Kwara State. They went to court and in 2006 the Appeal Court also ruled in our favour. They proceeded to the Supreme Court. On the 19th of January 2018, the court also ruled in our favour.”
Uma noted that every time the community starts the process to get their compensation that the company would use the military to disperse them, stating that the firm forcefully added 98.4 hectares of land to the earlier acquired space with payment as well.
He said: “We sent the judgement to France and we copied them here to come for negotiation. Meanwhile, while the matter was in court they came and acquired 98.4 hecters of land adding to the earlier 28.8. Till now they have ignored us. Anytime we come to seek the implementation of the judgement they will use security men to intimidate us.
“We are here to tell the whole world what is happening to us here. They should come and pay us our land compensation. We are not interested in blocking this gate every time so, we are going to remain here until we have settled the whole issues.”
He stated that the community won the case at the three levels of courts, expressing concerns why Total has refused to pay the sum awarded to the community by the court at all attempts.
He said: “What the Supreme Court gave in their judgement is that the company should compensate us against their own claims. The court that time awarded N25 million for the 28.8 hectares. But today we are demanding N2.5 billion naira. If they do not come for negotiation we are not leaving here.
“Another aspect of it is that we do not have running MoU with the company and we pleaded it on court. Implementation of bill of command from the community and youth employment.”
However, when contacted, one of the top officials of Total, Sense Murray, in a swift reaction said the company has cordial relationship with their host communities.
Murray added that the company would not join issues with their host, adding that they would send further position of the company to the media.
He said: “We are doing a reaction on the issue. But we are a responsible organisation. We have cordial relationship with our host communities and we will not join issues with them.”