Tony John, Port Harcourt
In their struggle against international oil companies, the three federated host communities of Offion-Ama, Belema and Ngele in Kula Kingdom, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, recently took their agitation to the international community, particularly the United Nations (UN), where they sought intervention in their bid to stop Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) from operating in the shut oil field.
The shutdown of the flow station a few months ago was the most topical issue in the state and the Niger Delta in general. Still, the agitation has not stopped.
OML 25 is an abbreviation of Oil Mining Lease 25, located in the swampy and shallow water acreage of Kula territory, in the riverine axis of Rivers, the heart of the oil-rich Niger Delta. The OML 25, known as the Belema Flow Station, is operated by SPDC as a consortium with 32.3 per cent stake on behalf of SPDC, Total E&P and Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), in a joint-venture operation with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which controls 60 per cent stake. An indigenous company, Belemaoil Producing, has 7.7 per cent participating interest, inherited from Chevron Nigeria.
The facility consists of a gas plant and an oil flow station, accounting for over 45,000 barrels of crude oil per day and over 135,000 metric tonnes of gas per day, amounting to billions of petrodollars revenue accruing to the Federation Account of the Nigerian government.
The oil facility was shut down by the host communities (HOSTCOMS) of Belema, Offoin-Ama and Ngeje on August 11, 2017, in protest over unresolved issues with the multinational oil company, ranging from unmitigated neglect, marginalisation, impoverishment, enslavement, and degradation of the environment by oil pollution as a result of unfriendly environmental practices of the company.
The HOSTCOMS were not happy about their lack of basic amenities such as potable water, access road, health facilities, education infrastructure, landing jetty and unemployment, since the oil company commenced operation in the area over 40 years ago.
Community sources alleged that the multi-national claimed that it had spent over $300 million in the development of the HOSTCOMS, which the people described as false, unfounded and provocative. Some individuals from the communities told Daily Sun that the natives demanded for a joint investigation visit (JIV) to the area with officials of the NNPC and Shell, as well as other stakeholders, including the media, to ascertain the veracity of the claim. But that has not been carried out till date.
Sources said: “The JIV could not take place because the firm knew that it could not justify its claim in the area. There is a plot to divest the oil facility to another oil and gas company.”
Since the shutdown of the facility for almost two years now, Nigeria has lost over $2 billion. Several attempts by the oil company to re-open the facility have been unsuccessful.
Efforts by the NNPC, which regulates Nigeria’s oil industry, to resolve the protracted issue have not yielded any result. A meeting called by the NNPC in Abuja between the disputing parties in August 2017 ended in a stalemate.
However, a team of civil organisations, recently, embarked on a fact-finding visit to the HOSTCOMS and oil field. Members of the team were amazed at the level of poverty and neglect in the communities. They expressed surprise when they saw a makeshift structure, which residents said was one of the community’s primary schools.
Chief Mpakabuari Welsch, a community leader, spokesperson and chief-elect of the Offion-Ama Council of Chiefs, said there was nothing positive to show the presence of an oil firm in their area. He called on the UN to intervene on their behalf, stressing that the three federated communities in Kula were opposed to resumption of oil exploration by the oil firm.
Welsch expressed concerns that the residents, who were predominantly fishermen, have been forced out of their business due to water and environmental pollution: “They have neglected us and failed to carry out their corporate social responsibility. We are using this opportunity to call on the United Nations to come to our aid. We cannot do this alone.
“I am worried about the fate of our men, who are majorly fishermen. They have been chased out of business because our water is highly polluted and our environment destroyed,” he said.
He noted that oil exploration has existed in the Kula Kingdom for more than four decades, but the communities still lacked development, which led to the shutting down of the oil field by the aggrieved natives:
“They have polluted our environment. We will not fold our arms, sit on the fence and watch it. These are the activities that led to the shutdown of their operations. They have never thought it wise to see the people. We are saying, come let us reason together, so that at the end of the day, these communities will not go into extinction.
“This is the third time we are shutting down this facility because of their neglect. We still live in total neglect, we have entered a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with them more than three times and they have not implemented any. We should be given the right of first refusal and we want the facility to be diverted to an indigenous firm, Belemaoil, that has a better template for the communities.”
Vice president of Belema Women Community, Mrs. Olu Ekine, said: “Since the oil company took this place, they have never employed any of our children. No hospital, no water, nothing! When our daughters are due for delivery, we put the expectant mother on a boat to Abonnema.
“In the process, she could die in the boat leaving us to mourn both the mother and child. That is the kind of suffering they have subjected us to. We are annoyed with them.”
However, leader of the delegation, Dr. Tam George, urged the communities to remain peaceful in their quest for justice and not resort to violence. He assured them that their demands would be channelled to the appropriate authorities and their rights would be protected.