By Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Nembe Ogbolomabiri and Bassambiri, both in Nembe Kingdom, Bayelsa State, are the same people with the same language, culture and way of life. Ironically, the two communities are in a sort of rivalry and they hardly agree on any issue. Over the years, crisis with monumental consequences have occurred between both communities widening the gulf of disagreement.
However, all these are set to change as the two communities unite to fight the Shell Petroluem Development Company (SPDC) over the raging battle with the Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Limited over alleged diversion of crude oil belonging to the latter.
Aiteo is reportedly seeking about $4 billion over alleged problems with the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) it bought from Shell in 2015 and over alleged claims that Shell under-counted its oil exports.
The latest protest, the first joint action by both communities in years was coming at the heels of a similar protest staged earlier by the Bassambiri people of Opu Nembe and its satellite communities.
In the protest, the youth president, Moses Ayerite, had said: “What we were told was that SPDC allegedly short-changed Aiteo of crude oil from 2016 till date and this 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.”
Casting aside their rivalry the people of the two communities in a renewed demand in the fresh protest call on Shell to refund the over two million of the alleged diverted barrels to Aiteo.
In tandem with Ayerite, members from both communities said the situation has adversely affected developmental needs and projects in Nembe. The protesters met at the bridge connecting the communities at the Nembe Road to commence the protest. They insisted that Shell must comply with a court order that ordered it to the diverted oil from the Bonny Export Terminal.
Carrying several placards with inscriptions such as ‘Shell is Cheating Nembe Communities’, ‘Stop stealing our Oil’ the protesters including, chiefs, youths and women sang amid dancing to press home their demands and demonstrate their grievances.
Two community leaders, Chief Ben Eyororokumo, a former Special Adviser to the governor on Inter Party Relations and Chief Wanemi Dadigiba, Chairman, Nembe Oil and Gas, said both towns decided to forge a common front to demand compliance to the court order to SPDC on crude oil proceeds from Oil Mining Lease, OML 29 which is one of the highest producing fields in West Africa.
Mr Albert Tons-Benebo, youth president of Ogbolomabiri joined Ayerite and the duo insisted that as host communities they are critical stakeholders who should be given their rightful place in the scheme of things.
Tons-Benebo said: “We entered a Memorandum of Understanding (M)U) with Aiteo but they pleaded that we give them time to settle down, an appeal we granted graciously.
“But along the line, they failed to meet up their obligation to us. As understanding people, we gave them more time yet they failed. So when we confronted them, they accused us of sabotaging their production.
“As a community, we invited the military to help us chase out whoever was sabotaging their activities but at the end it was discovered that it was Shell that was sabotaging the crude from Aiteo facility.
“We are protesting that Shell should refund the crude they diverted so that Aiteo can meet up its responsibility to us. Now look at Nembe today, there is no light and water for the common people. We cannot allow multinationals to come here and divert oil on our land.”
Ayerite taking a cue from the recent protest he led maintained that he stands with the communities on their demand.
He said: “We have found out that the data Shell has been presenting is not correct with regard to what they get every day.
“In other words, if Aiteo is supposed to get 100 barrels per day, the meter in Shell’s Bonny Island reads that what they should get is 50 barrels per day.
“Already the matter is in court and it has been ruled that Shell should return what they diverted to Aiteo but till now they have not done anything.”
A woman leader Mrs. Afuroyanate Beredugo, and an opinion leader, Ambassador Ebiribo Obene said the area has been denied some benefits as a result of the development.
Hear her: “When Shell was operating here in Nembe, we used to get scholarships for our children, SME training and empowerment for women and jobs for our men as part of their corporate responsibility. When they left, Aiteo came into Nembe.
“Since Aiteo came in, we have not enjoyed these benefits. Our investigation revealed that crude was being diverted from Aiteo. As a result of that, Aiteo is unable to pay us our entitlements and carry out its CSR. From the way people understand us, we have the crude oil but when you come to our communities we are suffering.
“We are begging the Federal Government to tell Shell to pay the money they are owing Aiteo or we will come out in our numbers and stand against this oppression.”
Shell’s media relations manager, Mr. Bamidele Odugbesan, said allegations of involvement in oil theft or under-reporting at its Bonny Crude Export Terminal were factually incorrect and misleading.
Another Shell official in Port Harcourt said the Nembe people were being misled by a wild allegation that has been dismissed even by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR): “The crude oil diversion allegation is factually incorrect. Industry regulator, DPR, has also dismissed the allegations as untrue.”