By Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
the popular African proverb that when two elephants fight, the grass suffer is what is playing out in Opu Nembe and other communities in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
Opu Nembe and others are the host communities of Oil Mineral Licence (OML) 29 which have produced so much oil for Nigeria from which the host communities are to reap bountifully. However a bitter dispute over alleged diverted crude oil between Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Limited (Aiteo) is frustrating the progress of the host communities.
Aiteo had claimed that SPDC short-changed it of 1,022,029 barrels of crude while using the Bonny Crude Export Terminal operated by SPDC between 2016 and 2018. Aiteo, an indigenous oil firm had acquired OML 29 for $2.4 billion following SPDC’s 2015 divestment of its 45 per cent stake from the asset. OML 29 includes the 97-kilometer Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) which has capacity to lift up to 180,000 barrels per day of crude from oilfields in Bayelsa and Rivers to the Bonny terminal.
The recriminations over the “diverted” crude oil has seen the intervention of the Department of Petroluem Resources (DPR) and the Nigerian Courts in favour of Aiteo but SPDC refused to concede insisting that allegations it diverted crude oil from its Bonny Crude Export Terminal are misleading.
The host communities after waiting endlessly for a resolution had taken up arms against Aiteo recently shutting down its operations demanding that the oil company fulfil its obligations to it. But after the facts of the matter were laid bare, the host communities came to the realisation that Shell was the one responsible for their predicament.
On Monday, February 22, men, women and youths of the host communities armed with placards staged a peaceful protest calling on Shell to refund the ‘diverted’ crude oil to Aiteo so that the company can enter into the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) with the host communities.
The communities armed with placards with inscriptions such as ‘Shell is reducing Bayelsa revenue allocation’ and ‘Shell is shortchanging Nembe people’ called on the Federal Government prevail on the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (Shell) to respect the report of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR and the ruling of the Federal High Court demanding that they eight (2,081,678) barrels of crude oil to Aiteo and other oil producers from whom Shell had illegally diverted the crude oil.
The youth president, Mr Moses Ayerite who led the protesters in an interview explained that though the people had invaded the Aiteo platform few months ago in protest against neglect before they realised that Aiteo was not the problem.
Said he: “What we were told was that SPDC allegedly short-changed Aiteo of crude oil from 2016 till date and this has grossly affected their financial capability to enter into a GMoU with the host communities. We call on SHELL to pay Aiteo because we want our GMoU signed for corporate social responsibility to the people.”
Representatives of OML 29 Nembe Host Communities Forum, Dr Alabodite George said the host communities cannot sit on the fence over the issue because what is happening has negative impact on the communities.
“Diverting the crude oil and depriving Aiteo of the financial benefits of same has the direct impact of depriving Aiteo of funds some of which could be utilized for the benefit of the Nembe host communities.
“Whereas, like other oil and gas host communities in Nigeria, we desire that more be done by government and the oil companies to alleviate the level of economic hardship and suffering in the oil producing communities, Aiteo has been more considerate to the plight of the host communities in terms of sustainable benefits than Shell ever was.
For that reason, we commend Aiteo while we emphasize that more sustainable development efforts still require being put into the host communities.
“Having given the above background, we must state that it is with surprise that we received news of the allegation made by Aiteo that Shell has been diverting and stealing large quantities of crude oil transported by Aiteo to Shell’s Bonny Export Terminal for export. This is a most unprecedented development which calls for urgent action by Government. That is the reason as host communities providing the bulk of Aiteo’s crude oil production we have considered it imperative that we make an urgent statement on the issue,” he said.
Secretary of the forum, Mr Patrick Ndaikienyu similarly called on the government to act and save host communities.
“It goes without saying that the effect of diverting the crude oil from Aiteo’s production expunges those production figures from crude oil production figures of Bayelsa State and Nembe Local Government Area for the period of the said diversion. Thus Bayelsa State which is a major beneficiary of Aiteo’s crude oil production is also a major victim in Shell’s disgraceful business conduct.
“We are aware that till date Shell is yet to refund the crude oil to Aiteo. This is in clear disregard of the clear instructions of the DPR. The effect is that not only Aiteo but also Bayelsa State and by extension the nation of Nigeria is being short-changed in this affair by Shell. It is our duty to draw attention to the adverse effects of this entire affair on our communities and the economy of Bayelsa State”.