•Open up to Ogoriba-led PANDEF delegation •Plead with FG to rescind SPDC’s operational licence •We’re unwavering in devt of Kula, Belema host communities – SPDC
Offoin-Ama inhabitants and other communities in oil-rich Kula Kingdom, Akuru-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, have accused the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, of destroying their lands, causing poverty and instigating conflict among the people in the last 40 years.
They are, therefore, urging the Federal Government not to renew the operational licence of Shell, operator of OML 25 in the area, but transfer it to an indigenous oil firm, Belema, which has greatly impacted them in its only two years of operation of OML 65.
The villagers bared their minds to a Pan Niger-Delta Forum, PANDEF, fact-finding team sent to the kingdom by South-South leader and National Convener of the regional body, Chief Edwin Clark, following complaints by some indigenes that Shell has abandoned host communities in the area of operation.
However, SPDC spokesperson, Joseph Obari, dismissed the allegations as groundless, saying: “SPDC JV restates commitment to development of host communities, as it debunks allegations of neglect of Kula, Belema communities.”
Paramount ruler of Kula Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, King Bourdillon Ekue, maintained that Shell was a curse, rather than a blessing to the people, saying: “Government should not renew its operational licence; rather, it should give opportunity to indigenous companies to operate here.”
Also speaking, a prominent community leader from Offoin-Ama community, High Chief Ibosiya Sukubo, who bemoaned the presence of SPDC in Kula, said the company has only rewarded the people with disunity, hardship and poverty, regretting that over 40 years of Shell’s operation in the area, it has not provided basic infrastructure for the people.
Sukubo said: “SPDC has operated here for over 40 years and there is nothing to show for it. We lack basic amenities. We do not have potable water, no good school, no good health facilities.
“Life is practically unbearable in this environment. We know the hazards associated with oil and gas operation; the Benzene components of crude oil, the Mercury it produces and all other chemicals associated with oil and gas exploration.
“Our community also hosts gas injection plant and its booster stations. Offoin-Ama hosts the 6&8” pipeline, delivery link, Eastern gathering line and the Trans Niger-Delta/Nembe trunk pipeline.
“But as vital as these assets situated here both for oil and gas exploration are, the communities around the facility are suffering.
“That was the essence of inviting PANDEF for the verification exercise as mandated by the Federal Government,” he asserted.
High Chief Sukubo added: “That is why when the companies say they spent millions of dollars on the community, it is not a matter of lip service, it is better the Federal Government and its agencies come and see things for themselves.”
A leader of PANDEF fact-finding team, Elder Timi Kaiser-Wilhelm Ogoriba, noted that they were on a mission based on reported cases of devastation, negligence and alleged plan to renew the lease licence to Shell in Kula community.
The team included High Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe and Olorogun Vincent Oyibode.
Ogoriba noted that the people of the area were suffering poverty, adding that over 45, 000 barrels of oil are produced from the land on daily basis.
He said: “The things you have said here are not strange to us, but we appreciate you very much, that we have the likes of you that are leading communities like this.
“The facts are very clear. I would not have come here but because one elder, who is over 90 years and who is championing the cause of Ijaw people, the downtrodden people in our own Niger-Delta, who would have loved to be here personally, but because of some exigencies, decided to send a team.
“Not that you are troublesome people, the facts are very clear. If you are getting about 45,000 barrels from here per day, that translates to about $3.1milion (about N1billion) per day from this community, then, why would you not take care of the people in the community. We will transmit this message to the federal government,” he said.
However, the spokesperson for SPDC, Joseph Obari, reacting to an earlier occupation of the company’s flow station by the people, said: “The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd-operated Joint Venture (SPDC JV) has said its commitment to the welfare of host communities in the Niger- Delta remains unshaken.
“Despite the challenging environment, the SPDC JV set aside more than N600 million for a five-year period beginning 2014 for development initiatives at Kula and the satellite communities of Belema, Offoin-Ama and Boro. SPDC JV has also invested over N352 million in improvements of school infrastructure, sanitation and health outreach programmes, construction of walkway for the community and electricity supply in Kula Kingdom in the past 10 years.
“The host communities of OML 25, including Belema and Offoin-Ama have continued to benefit from contract awards, employment of unskilled labour and our social investment programmes, including yearly award of regular and special scholarships to eligible candidates from the area. With the divestment of its interest in OML 24, SPDC relinquished operatorship of the facilities in that field,” he claimed.