From Joe Effiong, Uyo
Norfin Offshore Shipyard, a shipbuilding company valued at N1.6 billion, located at the coastal town of Ikot Ukpong in Oruk Anam Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom risks being abandoned due to incessant attacks by militants and kidnappers allegedly from the neighbouring Ogoni communities of Rivers State.
Many of the company’s staff are said to be victims of kidnapping, released only after huge ransoms are paid to the militants.
Sunday Sun learned that the militants have now resorted to destroying facilities and equipment at the shipyard after their demand for a N20 million security allowance could not be met by the company.
At their last attack on Monday, it was gathered that they destroyed equipment worth N60 million in reaction to the management of the company’s inability to pay the demanded N20 million security fees.
Company Chairman Mr Iniekong Udonwa, who spoke to our correspondent, said armed men stormed arrived the yard at about 5 am on Monday shooting sporadically to scare off security agents around the site before unleashing their explosives into the multimillion naira dredging facility of the company.
‘They said we can’t start any business if the government of Akwa Ibom does not settle them. They kept telling our staff to tell the government of Akwa Ibom to reach out to them since they are in charge of both Rivers and Akwa Ibom State. Where do they expect me to get N20 million for them after destroying our machine worth N60 million? If I were to have N20 million a month, then I will be sitting down doing nothing,’ Mr Udonwa said.
‘They have been coming and even kidnapping my staff and extorting money from me, but it has not been this bad because they didn’t destroy our properties. I think because Akwa Ibom State has not really done something about the militancy, so they disturb a lot, and it seems militancy is reigning in this part of the state. And there is a lot of unemployment. It is the first time they have seen a company and everyone is trying to cash in on that.
‘They feel every company is making resources. But we are not. We are here for human and technology development so that we help people to make a living. But they have the mindset that every company is an oil company and is taking resources from the place.’
Apart from the militants, Udonwa said the host communities were also giving them pressure for employment, in addition to the location of the company generating proprietary disputes among three communities.
‘Three communities are struggling for the ownership of the land. We are appealing to the state government to intervene because we cannot come and solve a communal problem. That is what the government should do.’
The chairman said if allowed to operate at the expected capacity, Norfin Offshore Shipyard can employ up to 2,000 people in the next five years. ‘We have a similar shipyard in Singapore and we employ between 2,000 and 3,000,’ he said. ‘So here we expect that to happen when fully developed.’
Mr Udonwa thanked the state government for a swift response to ensure that peace reigns in the area especially as the company plans its official opening and launch of its first ship, MV Norfin Swift, built at the facilities.