Oil Spill: How Akwa Ibom communities threatened violence, bloodshed against oil companies

Oil Spill: How Akwa Ibom communities threatened violence, bloodshed against oil companies

By Abel Benjamin‎, Uyo

The cordial relationship between the communities in Akwa Ibom State and the oil companies operating in the areas has deteriorated and has shown signs of serious cracks, AljazirahNigeria investigation reveals.

The state is regarded as the most peaceful state in the South-South region with little or no militant activities or the kind of face-off between oil companies and their host communities where they operate as seen in other states.

But recent developments have shown brewing agitations in several quarters, thereby heightening apprehensions of looming militant activities or something likely if cogent steps are not taken to arrest the situation.

A couple of things have been happening. For instance, youths of Ibeno local government area of Akwa Ibom state recently threatened mayhem against ExxonMobil over oil spillage. The youths also gave the oil company a seven day-ultimatum to fulfil the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entered into with the company to avoid hostilities, and also demanded for the payment of compensation of N100 billion to the Ibeno people as damages caused by the spillage from the facilities of the company for years.

The youths made this known in a letter to the Managing Director of ExxonMobil. They said copies of the letter, which was signed by concerned youth groups, has also been made available to the Akwa Ibom State governor, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, security operatives, paramount ruler of Ibeno and other stakeholders.

“We seriously frown at the situation where the feelings of Ibeno people are treated with disdain and levity, without an iota of recourse to the fact that we are the actual people creating enabling environment for your business venture and operations. The current economic recession should not be an excuse to dehumanize the people and subject them to untold hardship, considering the fact that their means of livelihood, far pushed to extinction is caused by the oil exploitation. Instead for the host community to be major stakeholders in the oil business, the oil firm rather relegated them to the background and perpetual penury.

“Your oil exploitations have depleted our environment. Our dominant species of fish in our territorial waters have been destroyed or driven away. Oil spill is daily occurrence because of negligence and poor maintenance culture and this has caused severe damage to aquatic lives, and our source of livelihood. Our peaceful and simple posture seems to be misplaced and taken for granted and that confirms reasons of your insensitivity to our numerous problems your operations have caused us,” the letter read‎.

It added: “After protracted negotiations between your company and our communities, memorandum of understanding was entered into. As a matter of urgency, we call for immediate implementation of the MoU. But‎ disappointedly, your action is indeed not only a calculated attempt to undermine our integrity and existence, but gross wickedness to exterminate families in Ibeno.”

Similarly, youths of Esit Eket local government area of Akwa Ibom State, under the aegis of Esit Eket Frontline Youths Movement (EEFYM), not too long ago gave ExxonMobil seven days ultimatum to implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) it signed with stakeholders of the area over their oil spillage compensation or face serious consequences that would disrupt their activities.

President of EEFYM, Comrade Akan Etteudo, then told newsmen that ExxonMobil had refused to honour the MoU it reached with the communities with respect to the oil spill compensation funds it agreed with the company to develop educational infrastructures in the local government.

“It is with displeasure that we resort to use this medium, on behalf of the entire youths of Esit Eket to press home our grievances. As youths of the host community we believe in peaceful co-existence since violence cannot bring anything good. In November 2015, ExxonMobil entered into an agreement with our community to make available some amount of money to cushion the deadly effects of unchecked oil spillage. But only paltry sums were made available with assurance from the company that the balance would be paid to enable the local contractors and resource persons complete the job.

“But up till now, the company had failed to honour the agreement, forcing the contractors to abandon the contracts. Besides, the communities/local government area needs to develop educational infrastructures which have also been affected by the oil spillage. Many schools scattered around Esit Eket were brought down for renovation in line with the earlier agreement which is yet to be met. If they refuse to meet with their obligation, they will face serious consequences that will disrupt their activities. In this respect, we give them seven days ultimatum to fulfil their obligation” he had said.

He added that the Esit Eket chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) has also expressed dismay over the oil company’s non-commitment to their obligation.

A statement by the Esit Eket branch Chairman of NUT, Comrade Effiong Asuquo Ekong, lamented that students have been learning under the trees following the demolition of their schools by contractors hired by ExxonMobil to fix the projects, and that enquires from various contractors revealed that the financiers, ExxonMobil’s failure to release the third milestone payment to contractors to enable them to complete the projects on time was one of the reasons they abandoned the project.

Worse still, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) had also‎ threatened ExxonMobil workers with kidnapping.

In a statement then by its spokesperson, ‘Brigadier General’ Mudoch Agbinibo, NDA said it recently bombed the company’s Que Iboe 48-inch Crude Oil Export Pipeline.

But the oil firm ‎denied it through its spokesperson, Todd Spitler, who said that there was no attack on its facilities, saying what happened was a system anomaly.

“ExxonMobil can deny and fool the public about their Export Pipeline blown ‎by us recently. How long can they lie to their investors? Just in matter of days, the whole world will see the truth. Qua Iboe 48 crude oil export pipeline is down. ‎ When we published that the Qua Iboe 48-inch crude oil export line was blown by us, ExxonMobil denied it.

“We urged them to follow the path of safety by admitting that their pipeline was blown up. But if ExxonMobil is not admitting it, it is none of our business. It will become our business when ExxonMobil carries out repair work on the blown pipeline. When that time comes, it would to be worse. ‎ Again, we are warning ExxonMobil not to carry out any repair work on the blown pipeline, if they refuse and go ahead with any repair work, something big and worse will happen,” the statement had read.

It called on ExxonMobil to learn from Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and not repair the pipeline until the federal government heed to their demands, adding that if the firm fails to listen to them their personnel are going to be their next casualties instead of the pipelines.

Meanwhile, the oil firm in a statement had said: “We are working to ensure loading activities at the facility return to normal. We cannot speculate on any timeline for repairs, Qua Iboe Terminal is operating and production activities continue. There was no connection between the damaged facility and militant attacks.’’

However, in 2016 suspected militants bombed a gas pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) at Obotim Ikot Ekong village in Nsit Ibom local government area of Akwa Ibom State. The explosion then occurred at about 1:00 am and shook the whole village, thereby causing many people to flee the area into the bush.

The Transition Committee Chairman of Nsit Ibom local government council, Victor Umondak, had blamed the explosion of the oil pipelines on suspected militants, explaining that they discovered wires connected from the gas pipeline to the road before exploding the pipeline.

Conversely, the then Akwa Ibom State Police Commissioner, Murtala Mani, debunked the claims that the attack on the NNPC gas pipeline was by militants and attributed it to technical faults.

“The technical people confirmed that the pipelines are old and overdue for servicing, there is a technical problem with the gas pipeline. This is no militancy attack; our men are on ground and the fire service had put off the fire. We are waiting for the experts to give us the reports, so that we can write our report too on the incident,” Mani had said.

 

In a related development to these agitations threats, explosions, quest for social corporate responsibility by oil companies is also the growing demand for ExxonMobil to relocate its headquarters from Lagos State to Akwa Ibom State its operational base.

Following the renewed clamour, a group under the aegis of Niger Delta Peoples’ Alliance (NDPA) had said the company is robbing Akwa Ibom to pay Lagos by refusing to relocate.

NDPA described as unfair the situation whereby Akwa Ibom ‎communities continue to suffer environmental degradation due to ExxonMobil’s exploration of crude oil, while Lagos was getting most of the financial benefits.

In a communique signed by NDPA’s Publicity Director, Unyime Isemin, after an emergency meeting ‎in Uyo the Akwa Ibom state capital, the group said the state is the main operation base of the company, but that the body language of ExxonMobil indicates they are unlikely to yield to this growing demand of the people which has been on for about 15 years now.

The communique said since 2016 there has been five cases of spillage in Akwa Ibom communities of up to 30,000 barrels of crude oil.

It added that Akwa Ibom wouldn’t have been weighed down by the dwindling revenue when it could generate up to N5 billion monthly i‎f ExxonMobil’s headquarters were to be in the state.The group then called on the federal government to intervene in the matter.

Not long after the position of NDPA, youths under the aegis of Amalgamation of Ibeno Youth Forum, Ulok Ulok People’s Assembly and the Ijaw Youth Council Ibeno Chapter, at staged a protest  demanding the immediate relocation of the corporate headquarters of ExxonMobil to Akwa Ibom State.

The youths who carried placards with different inscriptions staged the protest at the entrance of ExxonMobil when the newly appointed Managing Director (MD) of the oil company, Mr Paul McGrath, was in the state on facility tour.

The youths said the refusal by the company to relocate the company’s headquarters to the state would lead to serious consequences, stressing however that their protest was not meant to distract the new MD, but that it offered them the opportunity to make known their long time demand.

Speaking ‎during the protest, the coordinator of the groups, Samuel Etoekere, said: “We are organizing this peaceful demonstration to welcome the new Managing Director of Exxon Mobil, Mr Paul Grath, believing that his coming will bring positive change to our community. ExxonMobil should do what the Federal Government has directed them to do instead of putting up their usual deviant attitude, which always brings problems. They should relocate the headquarters of ExxonMobil from Lagos to Akwa Ibom. That has been our request for years now.”

In his remarks, the Ibeno Chapter Chairman of Ijaw Youth Council, Robert Ekpadibe, expressed optimism that the appointment of a new MD by ExxonMobil will enhance community relations and compliance to the directive of the Federal Government with respect to the relocation of its corporate headquarters of the company to Akwa Ibom.

In his reaction to the agitation as well as protests by the various interest groups over the relocation of the headquarters of ExxonMobil from Lagos to Akwa Ibom State, Governor Udom Emmanuel, warned the people against incessant confrontation with the company in order not to disrupt their activities.

The Governor spoke at the grand coronation of His Royal Majesty, Owong (Dr) Effiong Archianga, the paramount Ruler of Ibeno local government and chairman of Akwa Ibom state Council of Chiefs.

He pointed out that he was currently leading the campaign for the relocation of the headquarters but that understanding and care is essential in order not to jeopardize the process.

“I am in the forefront of the campaign for the relocation of ExxonMobil headquarters to Akwa Ibom State from Lagos. I have already opened discussion with relevant stakeholders and management of the company, but the youths and other protesters must understand this move and stop locking ExxonMobil’s gate. They must allow workers of the company access to the company,” he said.

The paramount ruler, Archiaga, expressed regret that Ibeno has nothing to show as an oil bearing community despite being host to various multinational companies.

He said it was disheartening for ExxonMobil to site its operational headquarters away from its operational base despite the attendant environmental hazards its operation has continue to pose to the communities.

He further noted that despite being the highest contributor to the national economy, no indigene of Akwa Ibom State or the local government has been allocated an oil bloc and that no refinery or oil depot sited in the place.

The royal father advocated 10 percent oil derivation and access crude account be paid to oil bearing communities, including Ibeno, while the 13 percent oil derivation to states be maintained or reviewed upward.

He however expressed appreciation to ExxonMobil for the provision of some palliatives projects to the host communities, but added that such palliative projects should not replace the monetary compensation as spelt out in relevant laws for all oil companies in the world.

In the meantime, there had been interventions to ensure that the cordial relationship between oil companies and Akwa Ibom communities continue and blossomed rather than deteriorate into violent confrontations and militant activities.

One of such was from the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly which called on all the oil and gas companies operating in the state to endeavour to establish good relationship with their host communities where their facilities are sited.

In a report submitted to the house by the Chairman of the ad-hoc committee on oil/gas pipeline explosion, Barrister Ime Okon, said the house also urged the oil and gas companies to take seriously their corporate social responsibilities to the communities.

Upon the presentation of the reports and the call for cordial relationship between oil/gas companies and their host communities, the house also directed the state’s Ministry of Environment to meet with relevant stakeholders and come up with a Memorandum of Understanding between both parties.

The house also directed oil companies to fast track any mutually agreed projects with their host communities and to ensure that the indigenes are given job opportunities whenever there are vacancies.

In his remarks, Speaker of the House, Onofiok Luke, commended both members of the committee and the house in general for giving speedy attention to matters of urgent public attention. He directed the Clerk of the house to communicate their positions and resolutions to the appropriate quarters.

Also, a committee to interface between the oil and gas companies operating in communities around Uruan local government area of Akwa Ibom State and the people of the communities was constituted by the traditional institution of the area.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, the representative of the traditional institution, Edidemeyenowo Nicholas Ukpong, tasked members of the communities to cooperate with the committee so that they can advances their course properly and speak with one voice as a people.

He pointed out that seven energy gas companies with two pipelines passing through Uruan and other oil servicing companies are currently operating in the area now.

“With this committee, I am hopeful that we the Uruan people shall all be protected and our demands shall be treated accordingly. The members of the committee have been mandated to work in good faith and speak with one voice for the people. The committee will basically function as an implementation committee and therefore must be in regular consultation with the palace of the paramount ruler and clan head of central Uruan so that they can be directed properly. Also, the palace council will set up a technical advisory committee to oversee the operations of members of the oil and gas committee,” he said.

Ukpong explained that the committee’s tenure will last for three years with effect from the date of their inauguration, while competent members of the committee may have their tenure extended after the initial duration.

In his acceptance speech, the Chairman of the oil and gas committee, Kingsley Orok, said they will do their best to ensure that things are done properly by all the oil and gas companies doing business in their area, upon which they will strive hard to provide favourable business environment for them.

He advised youths of Uruan to conduct themselves peacefully, assuring that that committee will work towards ensuring that those of them with requisite skills and qualifications are engaged by the companies.

Similarly, Oil and Solid Mineral Producing Area Landlords’ Association of Nigeria (OMPALAN), Akwa Ibom Chapter was inaugurated to carter for the welfare of the oil and solid mineral producing communities in the state.

The Inauguration of the Chairman and other Executive Committees of the Association took place at Governor’s office Annex in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital.

 

In his acceptance speech, the Chairman of the ‎association, Mr John Isangedighi, said they would pursue justice and equity for the environmental injuries and economic losses sustained by the oil producing communities.

He lamented that the activities of the oil companies had devastated the environment and destroyed the traditional livelihood of oil communities and threaten the host communities’ survival and their farmlands.

The Chairman urged the multinational oil companies to take immediate steps to address the adverse consequences of their activities in the host communities, adding that the oil companies should pay adequate compensation to‎ all affected victims of their operations.

He added that the companies had neglected the host communities over the past years and that their insensitivity to the people had worsen the socio-economic conditions of the people.

With all these intrigues and sequences of happenings, one inherent and glaring things is that the relationship between the oil producing companies in Akwa Ibom and their host communities is strained and heading for the rocks. Things could as well be on the precipice and only careful, timely and decisive steps could solve the problem and stop it from degenerating into something different.

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