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Companies prospecting for oil must be ready to dialogue with us — HRH Baridam Suanu

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HRH King Suanu TY Baridam, the Gbenemene Bamja II, Kasimene Bangha VII of Ogoni land

Recently, six traditional rulers from Ogoni land, alongside other prominent indigenes met for several hours with the leadership of the
Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People in Council (MOSOP) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

The meeting was convened to map out strategies on how to respond to Federal Government’s directive that the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Limited (NPDC) take over operation of the entire Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11 from Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), not later than April 30. A memo signed by President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, dated March 1, 2019 directed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and NPDC to take over operations from Shell and ensure smooth re-entry, given the delicate situation in Ogoniland.

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OML 11 is regarded as one of Nigeria’s most important oil assets, as it comprises 33 oil and gas fields. Eight are reportedly producing. The lease is currently being operated by a joint venture, of which NNPC owns 55 per cent, Shell 30 per cent, Total 15 per cent, and Agip five per cent.
Palace Watch contacted His Royal Highness Baridam Suanu, who is the President of Conference of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, to she light on what transpired at the meeting.

How was the meeting?
I WOULD say the meeting was a huge success. At that meeting, we discovered that 16 companies have been appointed to cleanup Ogoni land.

Out of these 16 companies, only two are presently on site. And these two companies have not done anything substantial so far. There is absolutely nothing to point at, at the site.

So, at the meeting, we all agreed that before resumption of any oil and gas activities in our area, the companies coming to prospect must first come and discuss with the entire people of Ogoni land. We want to know what they have on their table.

I would like to explain that OML 11 is blocs of oil and gas, which start from places in Imo, Abia, River to Iche and Bonny River.

The Ogoni bloc is just one out of these blocs. So, when OML 11 is mentioned, people should not begin to think it is only Ogoni people that are concerned.

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My meeting alongside other five traditional rulers from Ogoni land with MOSOP leadership was a steering committee meeting.

Each MOSOP affiliate member also came with at least three members. The purpose was to strategise and decide on what to do, especially as it concerns Ogoni land.

What if the Federal Government says it wants to utilise Ogoni‘s share of OML, are your people going to kick against the move?
The issue of oil and gas prospecting in Ogoni land will be discussed at a roundtable. It is not something one man or a group will say a company should go and start prospecting just like that. It is going to be a collective decision of all Ogoni people.

We are not against the resumption of oil and gas activities in Ogoni land. Unfortunately, one of the committees that have the template of terms we are to give companies that want to resume oil and gas activities in our area could not meet.

The professor, who is the chairman of the sub-committee of that aspect of our steering committee, could not make it to the meeting.

So, we decided to have another meeting very soon. Anyhow, one of the key points is that, we would want to present the template to the public after which it will be taken to the Congress of Ogoni people.

Once that is done, all of us, including traditional rulers, will endorse the document. It would thereby become a working document for us and for any company that will be operating any business here.

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So, for any company to successfully do business here henceforth, we have to sit down together and look at some of the things contained in Ogoni Bill of Rights, one of which is the protection of our environment.

Our environment was devastated by Shell’s activities in Ogoni land. The problems associated with the devastation are still there for all to see. That is why we are doing all within our powers as traditional rulers to co-operate with Nigerian government to ensure that the entire Ogoni land is cleaned up.

If this is done, I don’t see any Ogoni man or woman that will say he/she doesn’t want any company to prospect oil and gas in this part of the country.

The resumption of oil and gas activities is something we desire, because head or tail, it will help reduce the present level of poverty in this part, as the companies will provide employment for our people.

There will also be ripple effects, as the development will reduce the level of poverty and insecurity in Ogoni environs. Our youths, who were previously idle, will have something to do, and criminality will reduce.

We are particularly concerned about the planned cleanup exercise, which is expected to last for 25 to 34 years. As we speak, Dr. Bolaji’s company has moved to site in Elemen. We are all waiting for him to begin work.

What Ogoni people want is for their environment to be cleaned and their drinking water restored. They also need their economic activities restored.

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Since all these have not been done, as far as Ogoni people are concerned, nothing has therefore been done. Sadly, this administration has already spent four years, with regard to the cleanup exercise.

This has made some of us to express some doubt about the sincerity of the Buhari administration in this regard. It was only during political campaigns that they reopened the issue of cleanup exercise in Ogoni land.

My advice now is for Nigerian government to stop playing politics and with the lives of Ogoni people; they have suffered enough.

In the course of this struggle, a lot of people have lost their lives. Our leaders and our heroes have been killed by the Federal Government and SPDC.

Properties have also been lost. All this because our people want to live in a clean and healthy environment, as well as have pipe borne water and other good things of life.

Now, is the time for government at the centre to make haste and ensure that our areas are cleaned.

My advice to my people is that they should continue to have faith in themselves, have faith in their leaders and the leadership of Nigeria. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.

Ultimately, we will get to where we are going. Above all, the people must never participate or get involved in any form of violence.


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