By Davies Iheamnachor
Obite indigenes in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State have an advanced reason for shutting down a gas plant operated by Total Exploration and Producing Nigeria Limited in their domain citing alleged insensitivity of the oil multinational to their plight.
The aggrieved natives, drawn from the five villages of Obite community also lamented the alleged refusal of the oil firm to honour a Supreme Court judgement that compensation is paid to the community for the land acquired in the area for its operations.
We are being neglected
Mr Daniel Clifford Uma, one of the natives, who spoke during the community protest march to the oil firm 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 acquire this land (28.8 hectares 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 January 19, 2018, the court also ruled in our favour.”
He added: “We sent the judgement to France and we copied them here to come for negotiation. Meantime, while the matter was in court they came and acquired 98.4 hectares of land adding to the earlier 28.8 hectares. Till date, they have ignored us. Anytime we come to seek the implementation of the judgement they will use security men to intimidate us.”
According to him, “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 N2.5bn. If they do not come for negotiation we are not leaving here.”
Also speaking, Ukadike Franklin, the Public Relations Officer of Obite Youth Association, said: “Our concern is that Total should respect the Supreme Court judgement. The facility here is not built for the community; it is for the multinational, so they should compensate us.
Meanwhile, Chief S.O. Brown, who also spoke bemoaned the continued refusal of the company to dialogue with the community.
“We won them in all the courts we went to. We have told them that after the court it was time for dialogue but the company refused. We are not leaving they attend to us.
“This facility has caused a lot of people blindness. We don’t drink rainwater anymore because of contamination. Many people are sick and some dying. The worst is that they are not employing our youths. We shall be here till we get what we want.”
Taken aback by community action
However, Total E&P Nigeria Limited, in a statement, through its Ag Country Communication Manager, Senan Murray, said: “On Wednesday, December 16, 2020, some community members from Obite in Ogba Egbema/Ndoni Local Government of Rivers State, forcefully accessed our Obite Gas Plant and forced the staff on duty to shut down the operations.
Although the demand to stop operations was forced and unplanned, the staff were able to do so without harm to personnel and the environment.
“As at now the reason for committing this wanton act is yet unknown, but in line with our commitment to peaceful engagement with all stakeholders, including members of our host communities, we have requested to meet with the recognized community-based organisations in the area to amicably address the issues.
“We wish to reiterate that Total E&P Nigeria (TEPNG) Limited has formalised Partnership Agreements with the recognised and accredited community-based organisations in the OML 58 concession areas and are fully and faithfully implementing the scopes in the agreement.
“As at the time of these actions, no formal notice of breach in the agreements had been brought to the notice of the company before these wanton and grievous acts on Wednesday.
“It is our hope and desire that community members should avail themselves of the grievance procedures agreed and signed by their accredited representatives and the company to address any perceived breach without resorting to self-help and untoward acts against the staff and assets of the company in their domain.”