From George Onyejiuwa Owerri
Youths and women from 19 oil-rich communities in Ohaji/ Egbema and Oguta council areas of Imo State have protested alleged neglect of their communities
The aggrieved protesters were also demanding compensation from oil exploration companies domiciled in the communities.
The protesting youths and women, under the aegis of Concerned Youths of Ohaji People’s Forum and Concerned Women of Ohaji People’s Forum respectively, blocked major roads in the area, yesterday.
The protesters displayed placards with various inscriptions such as “Oil companies treat us like your landlords or get a quit notice; ‘Enough of oil company injustice and develop our communities or leave our land.”
Addressing newsmen, president of the youth group, Victor Amadi, said the oil bearing communities in the state had suffered underdevelopment since oil exploration activities began in the area in 1958. He also pointed out that all efforts made by the people to seek compensation from the oil companies had yielded no positive results.
“The entire state and Nigeria at large are beneficiaries of the large deposits of oil and gas in our land, yet we have no electricity, good roads, health facilities, skill acquisition centres nor employment opportunities for our teeming university graduates.
“We are tired of empty promises and we call on the oil companies to match their promises with action,” he said.
Also, the women leader, Scholastica Opara, said lack of good roads had resulted in loss of farm produce which were being transported to markets in Owerri, leading to huge financial losses.
She added that some of the women had died during childbirth as a result of lack of good health facilities with the people exposed to water and environmental pollution from the exploration activities of the companies.
Speaking in the same vein, Daniel Okonji, a patron of the youth group, said efforts had been made by the communities to seek government’s intervention but without any result.
He, however, called on the state government to assist the communities in attracting compensation from the companies.
Vice President of the youth group, Jephthah Okwudili, who advised the youths not to allow themselves to be used against one another, said the communities would continue to dwell peacefully with the companies if their demands were met.
Spokesperson of the state Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, Darmian Opara, said according to the Federal Government’s exclusive list, payment of royalties to host communities was a duty of oil companies.
He said the commission had built primary schools and health facilities in some of the communities, including Asaa, Obile, Awara and Ikwerede, with ongoing construction of another primary school at Asaa.