From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The Don is a type of dress worn by the Nembe chiefs to demonstrate the sombreness of an occasion. When it is worn, people know that the chiefs are mourning a great loss.
Therefore when on Saturday, November 14, 2020, the Council of Chiefs of Opu Nembe (Nembe Bassambiri) wore the Don, it was evident that something was amiss. And it did not take long before the cat was let out of the bag.
Chairman of the council, Chief Oriaingo Ekepeleyai, said the problem is the Oil Mining License (OML) 29 being operated by AITEO Eastern Exploration and Production: According to investigations the people of the community are no longer interested in the relationship as host community and have decided to sever the relationship.
“All of us wearing black don depict that something serious has happened. and what has happened is to announce to you the ‘death and burial’ of Aiteo in Opu Nembe Land. Anytime you see Nembe people wear black don that means we have lost somebody. Today is to announce to the world that Aiteo is dead to us because of their irregularities. We are tired and no longer interested in this marriage.”
The OML 29 is a prized asset of the Nigeria Oil Industry. It a s jewel of the oil industry in terms of production volumes and its singular heritage as source of the first commercial oil production and shipment from the Oloibiri Oil Well 1, Otuabagi in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa in 1956. From available records the bloc remains till this day the most resourceful onshore bloc with its present production at 100,000 bpd. In terms of revenue considering the current price of oil in the international market OML 29 has been generating N700 billion per annum for the Federal Government of Nigeria.
OML 29 was previously being operated by the Shell Petroluem Development Company (SPDC) before it ran into troubled waters with the host community in 2014 and in order to escape alleged monumental economic rape and environmental liabilities, it divested and sold its investments to Aiteo.
Chief Ekepeleyai said “In 2014 before the divestment, we tried to engage with Shell but were brushed aside. We then brought our plight and grievances to the attention of Government via the then Minister of Petroluem Resources, the then President and other authorities including a couriered petition demanding that statutory consent to the divestment be withheld until the grave concerns of the host communities were resolved. We were snubbed. With no due diligence whatsoever conducted on these issues and without granting us fair or any hearing at all as constitutionally guaranteed, government, Shell and Aiteo went ahead with the transaction”
The people of the community were said to have taken it in its strides and they hoped for the best. But their apprehension became reality as they complained that all issues brought to the fore when Shell was operating the oil bloc became worse under Aiteo .
After several complaints to the government and regulatory agencies, and no action taken to assuage the anger of the people, they decided to take their destinies in their own hands. On November 11 women and youths of the community took over the Odeama Field Flow Station and the Sancta Barbara Flow Station in a peaceful protest.
Also aggrieved community people also took over Aiteo installations in protest. And to ensure that the matter has reached its peak, the council of Chiefs decided to express solidarity with the people to serve Aiteo quit notice.
The Chiefs did not only pour libation to signify the dissolution of the marriage between the community and Aiteo, they also took turns to pour out their minds on the neglect and suffering they have experienced in the hands of the oil company.
Chief Ekepeleyai who said the community had been subjected to ecological destruction said situation had become unbearable through the years and worst in recent months.
He said “As community we apply civilised methods of seeking redress including petitions to the Federal Ministry of Petroluem Resources, office of the Honourable Attorney- General of the Federation, National Petroluem Investment Management Services(NAPIMS), Nigeria National Petroluem Corporation(NNPC), Nigeria Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency(NOSDRA) and the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board. But none of the regulatory agencies or processes for pursuing our grievances is so distant, so aloof, so unconcerned, so unresponsive chasing shadows and best excruciating slow. Impoverished as our communities are, we are often forced to beg and borrow, put our sweat, toil and tears together just to follow up complaints with various official or legal channels involving repeated logistics, travels and other challenges to little to no avail. These frustration have now pushed our youths and women to make their case through peaceful occupation of Aiteo locations”
In a communiqué signed by Oruwari and the secretary of the council of Chiefs, Chief Ivory Fikoru, the community therefore demanded a new operator to manage OML 29 to benefit the community and its people.
The communiqué read in part “The Federal Government owned Nigerian Petroluem Development Company (NPDC) should take over the operations of OML 29 pending when a new, competent andcommunity friendly operator takes over.
“That any purported renewal of the lease after 30th of June 2019 when the present lease expired is invalid and as such Aiteo became a trespasser and persona non grata in the Opu Nembe domain and will therefore not be accorded any social license op operate going forward.
“The Government and other accountability watchdog, local and international should thoroughly investigate allegations of economic sabotage. We note with interest Mr President recent revocation of six oil licenses for non-payment to the Federal Government being against the national interest and we draw parallel with OML 29 vis-a-vis both host communities and national interests. The new operator should renegotiate lease terms for community land required for operations and terms for community content/participation, environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
“We hereby put Aiteo, the Nigerian government, Bayelsa State government and the world on notice for the survival and protection of the Opu Nembe(Nembe Bassambiri) Kingdom.”
However some people in the community have disowned the Council of Chiefs exonerating Aiteo of all allegations levelled against them.
They argued that some members of the council are on a vengeful mission because of the termination of their contracts by Aieto due to incompetence.
The people under the aegis of Concerned Sons and Daughters of Opu Nembe in a press statement expressed disappointment with the way and manner the Council of Chiefs has managed resources accrued from the operations of Aiteo in the community.
The ‘rebels’ include Mr Numoipre Dede, Mrs Love Ayebaemi, Mr Monday Ozo, Mr Moses Dambo, Mrs PeaceAmabite, MrSamuel Appolo, Mr Ololo Bara and Mr Owei Nicholas
According to them before the advent of Aiteo, the community had purchased two boats flowing from the training and orientation for the leadership of the community from the previous operator of OML 29, Shell Petroluem Development Company (SPDC) on how to reinvest funds accruing to the community from the General Memorandum of Understanding(GMoU).
Sadly they noted that the boats which were given back to the oil company for hiring for which millions of naira had accrued to the community purse had not benefitted the community as there is lack of transparent and accountability.
They alleged that persons behind the quit notice to Aiteo are desperate because of the termination of their contracts due to incompetence and its re-award to more competent indigenous contractors.
The leaders while insisting that the community should not be dragged into personal issues between some members of the Council of Chiefs and Aiteo declared that Aiteo as an oil company has done well for the community.
The statement read in part”Aito has done some commendable things which deserved our commendation as a community. This includes prompt replacement of the community 1000KVA generator, and provision of incentives through festive periods. Also before now Shell pay N2000 remuneration per day and N60, 000 per month for unskilled workers but Aiteo through dialogue with the community leadership increase it to N5000 and N150, 000 respectively which makes Aiteo to be one of the oil companies that pays higher remuneration to unskilled workers in Nigeria.
Aiteo involves more indigenous contractors than the former operator of OML 29. It is on record that the number of Indigenous contractors involve in providing services are higher than any previous time. We believed this in turn created more employment opportunities for the youths that led to reduction in social vices and other criminal activities in our waterways like sea-piracy”