Tony John, Port Harcourt
Oil exploration has been a serious issue of discourse between the operators and host communities (HOSTCOMS or landlords). In the Niger Delta region, to specific, HOSTCOMS and international oil companies (IOCs) have been at loggerheads for one reason or the other.
The landlords, in most cases, have accused oil operators of not implementing the General Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU). They usually alleged that, instead of the IOCs uniting the HOSTCOMS, they created disharmony among the natives, thereby causing crises.
In most oil-bearing and oil-producing communities, it has been a tale of woe. Lack of social amenities and employment always top the list of agitations. Some communities would even lament that the presence of oil in their areas has become a curse.
That is the situation in Rivers State and Abia State. They are the owners of the Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11. For some time now, the OML-25, reportedly owned by Kula Kingdom in Rivers State, has been a household name.
But this time around, the OML-11, which covers Imo River, Isimiri, Etche, Nkali, Oyigbo and Afam Onshore oil wells (East Hub), has taken the centre stage. The struggle against economic strangulation and environmental degradation is championed by the Conscience of Ogoni People (COP), led by its national coordinator, Chief Gani Topba.
Recently, the traditional rulers of HOSTCOMS and COP leader met in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State to strengthen their struggle. They spoke with one voice that the presence of Shell Petroleum Development Company wasno longer needed in OML-11. They urged the Federal Government to allow the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) to take over operation of the oil well.
The communities stated that the decision followed alleged marginalisation against them by the oil giant, noting that the firm has taken the HOSTCOMS for granted. They alleged that for the past 60 years of operation of the firm, particularly in Owaza, there has been nothing to show for it.
Topba called on the Federal Government to prevail on the United Nations to conduct an environmental report on other communities of OML-11, adding that the closure of the oil well was as a result of environmental issues.
He urged the communities to come together to ensure that the firm is sacked, noting that if the company fails to bow out the communities would occupy all the facilities: “We are calling on the Federal Government to bring back UNEP to carry out report in these other communities of OML-11. We want to work against resumption of Shell to our area.
“You must stand and shut all their facilities in your land. We want the NNPC to take over 100 per cent of the oil well, so that we can come back and discuss who operates our oil.
“We are part of the same struggle for justice for OML-11. No community under this OML-11 has benefitted from the multi-national oil company. It is quite unfortunate that there is nothing at all to show in these communities. Federal Government should direct NNPC to take over operations of the oil well.”
Chief Tochi Ogbonna, who spoke on behalf of Ayama community in Oyibo LGA of Rivers State, said the Federal Government should take over the operation of OML-11 and hand it over to NNPC to operate the oil field.
He said, “Since the company started here, no single individual has been given employment. We don’t have any of our persons. We are so neglected. I don’t think they regards us as anything. That is why we are saying let us try another oil company.
“This is an opportunity to let the Federal Government know that we are suffering. We are calling on NNPC to take over the oil field. They should hold it and invite us for a meeting. We want to try another company and see.”
Meanwhile, in a statement that Chief Morgan Ulunwa signed on behalf of the Traditional Rulers Council of OML-11, director-general of the body, His Royal Majesty, King Obioma Nworgu, the king of Etiti-Owaza, and the president of youths of OML-11, Dimgba Destiny, the host communities alleged neglect.
Reading the statement, Ulunwa said the communities have tolerated the multinational oil company long enough. He said the company had failed in its corporate social responsibility (CSR).
“They take us for granted, unduly, and we declare, today, enough is enough. It is unsuspecting, latest obnoxious bid to regain the expired OML-11 license after long unproductive sojourn, as far as host communities are concerned, for six decades in OML-11 soil is a covert display of tendencies of uncommon foreign trader-tenant that dwells on fostering greed, reminiscent of the dark days of apartheid South Africa.
“We shall resist the forceful further sojourning among us aggressively and threateningly, too. Accordingly, a committee to work out modalities to this effect is in the pipeline. We shall occupy and take over our natural oil assets, the OML-11 oil fields.
“You should leave us alone. We can no longer contain with your obnoxious antics, namely, divide and rule, double standard and unrepentant cheat,” the statement said.
However, Mr. Bamidele Odugbesan, media relations manager of Shell, told Daily Sun: “SPDC and its joint venture partners are delighted with our contributions to the revenue and development of Nigeria and our host communities. The contributions from our operations provide critical revenue that enable government to drive socio-economic growth in the host communities and in the country.
“SPDC JV has operated the OML for over 50 years and has significantly invested not only in assets related to the OML, but also in assets that are important to other SPDC JV operations located within the OML, such as the Afam VI power plant, which, in 2018, provided 13 per cent of electricity to the national grid.
“The SPDC JV has fulfilled its obligations under the Petroleum Act for the renewal of OML 11 and hence has a right to renew the lease. That has been upheld by the court’s ruling. Our preference, of course, remains to engage with the authorities on options available for the amicable resolution of issues around the lease renewal.
“In 2012, SPDC handed over the operatorship of the Ogoni field, a part of OML 11, to National Petroleum Development Company (NPDC). The recent court ruling upholding the right of the SPDC JV to the renewal of OML 11 does not change the operatorship of the Ogoni field by NPDC, the exploration and production subsidiary of NNPC. SPDC formally ceased oil and gas exploration in Ogoni in 1993 with no plans to return.”