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For OML 25 host communities, a new life beckons

By Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief)
20 October 2019   |   3:00 am
After 40 years of oil and gas exploration, signs of hope for socio-economic development of the host communities of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 25 have emerged, as government and its joint venture partners have pledged to address the age-long neglect of the area.

Ofoin-Ama Community

– Govt, Oil Companies Begin Redress

fter 40 years of oil and gas exploration, signs of hope for the socio-economic development of the host communities of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 25 have emerged, as government and its joint venture partners have pledged to address the age-long neglect of the area.

For six decades, oil has transformed the country’s economy and has been the catalyst for development and prosperity. Paradoxically, while oil has continued to fuel the country’s economy and bring profits to transnational oil companies, OML 25 host communities, namely Belema, Ofoin-Ama and Ngeje that have been producing 45,000 barrels per day in the last 40 years, have wallowed in deprivation reflected in the absence of social amenities such as hospitals, schools, roads, potable water and electricity.

Like most oil-producing communities, Belema, Ofoin-Ama and Ngeje oilfields regarded as some of the most productive and located in the remotest areas of the region’s creeks, could be likened to the land of contradictions— rich in oil and gas, yet afflicted by heartrending poverty.

After a two-year occupation of the OML 25 Flow Station operated by Shell, by women from these communities, which put severe strain on the country’s revenues, the government and its joint venture partners: Shell, Total, Eni and now Belemaoil have acknowledged the need to proactively engage with the communities to build long-term mutually beneficial relationships, based on trust and respect.

At the reopening of the flow station, President Muhammadu Buhari admitted that Belema, Ofoin-Ama and Ngeje communities constitute a black spot in the country’s contemporary oil industry history, and pledged to start social and economic development that would transform the people’s lives for the better.

Represented by his Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, the President apologised on behalf of the country for the neglect of the communities.

He said it was heartbreaking that the communities had to beg for schools, hospitals, and other social amenities, despite providing the resources that sustain the country’s economy.

In the realisation that insensitivity to the communities’ plight, which was exacerbated by poor relationship between oil operators and the people promoted feelings of injustice that resulted in resistance, the President said the government would address the community’s needs.

He said: “We will not just provide water and school, but will also provide complete community life for Belema and other oil-bearing communities. We will work with the state government, which receives 13 per cent derivation, as well as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and inquire about what they have particularly done for this community. We will work with the Amnesty Office and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. We will redirect the budget so that the oil produced here should take care of the people that produce the oil.”

To show commitment, the government and its partners have commenced work on the provision of 1.5 million litres of potable water and 12-kilometer treated water projects for Oko-Ama, Belema and Ofoin-Ama communities.

The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari, lauded the communities for the peace initiative that paved the way for the resumption of oil and gas exploration after a two-year lull.

An official of Belemaoil, who pleaded anonymity, said no company that is strategic and desires to deliver the most effective and enduring projects in its host community would think short-term.

He explained that Belemaoil recognises the people’s socio-economic needs, and was committed to providing model schools, hospitals, roads, and capacity-building through vocational training and employment opportunities.  

He said: “The reopening of Belema Flow Station will boost oil production by 45, 000 barrels per day. It will trigger social and economic development in the country and help to transform people’s lives. Provision of schools and hospitals in the communities will decrease maternal and child mortality levels, as well as improve school enrolments…”  

The Amayanabo of Kula, King Bourdillion Ekine Oko, who led the occupation of the flow station, explained that their action was prompted by sheer insouciance on the part of Shell.

He said: “Because of grievances against Shell’s oppression, maltreatment, and neglect, we shut down OML 25 in 2005. Then, Peter Odili was the state governor. They appointed Sir Gabriel Toby to chair the dialogue. After a series of meetings, we agreed that Shell should pay us N130m per year and make available some employment opportunities.

“But to our surprise, after writing the GMoU, Shell neither complied nor paid a kobo till 2017. Everybody got annoyed, and we reasoned that since Shell did not honour the MoU, we should shut down the facility the second time. So, on August 11, 2017, I led the delegates to do so.

“We have been telling Shell to implement all the GMOU agreements. Shell should develop our community. The area that owns the flow station producing 45,000 barrels a day has been so neglected. Hunger has made many people to leave.”

The monarch noted that there was growing consensus worldwide that companies must begin to create projects that will benefit host communities beyond the lifetime of oil operation.

He expressed delight that their resistance resulted in the allocation of 7.7 per cent equity to an indigenous oil company, Belemaoil, which had given the communities hope.

“Today, I am the happiest man. Shell cannot ignore us again. Belemaoil is coming here to work for us,” he said.

On his part, King Sibia Sokubo Aaron, Kilima Daba III Amanyanabo of Ofoin-Ama, said conceding 7.7 percent stake to Belemaoil was a rare and historic victory for the downtrodden people of the oil-producing communities of Niger Delta.  

He believed the scope of benefits from agreements between the communities and oilfields operators would serve as a model for other marginalised communities in the region.

He said: “We thank Jack-Rich Tein for this effort. We have been suffering over the years. The old water tank here was provided by the European Union, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Rivers State government scheme, but they did not complete the project. They just installed the facility five years ago and disappeared. Since then, we have not been able to get one bucket of water from there.”

The Regent of Ngeje community, Ibinabo Daniel Kiliya, said his people were glad that their story of neglect had prompted the Federal Government, Belemaoil and others to identify with the plight of the OML 25 communities.

He pointed out that embarking on sustainable development projects in natural resources bearing community should be regarded as a business imperative and a recipe for successful operation.

“The project they are about to site here will bring more development. Such things never happened when Shell was operating. There was never a time the organisation thought of embarking on a viable project in our communities. But now, Belemaoil has brought its model to ensure that development comes to Ofoin-Ama, Belema and Ngeje communities.”

Kiliya explained that if Shell had paid the N1.360bn MOU agreement reached with OML 25 communities, the funds would have been used to provide roads, potable water, hospitals, and jetty.

An environmental lawyer, Mrs. Rosaline Bozimo, who represented Ijaw leader, Broderick Bozimu, lauded the women who occupied the OML 25 flow station for their resilience, a weapon they can use to safeguard their interests in future.

She said: “For 24 months, they sat peacefully, demanding their rights. And what are their rights? Basic amnesties, schools for their children and state-of-the-art health facilities, among others. You drill the oil here and carry it elsewhere. The walls of the community school were made with wood, which sometimes doubles as the blackboard. It is wrong.

There is what they call corporate social responsibility. Any organisation has an obligation to the host community…”

Bozimo urged the Federal Government to consider granting oil block to oil-producing communities to enable them to drive their own development.

Elder statesman and leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum, Edwin Clark, represented by Dr. Godknows Igali, commended the Federal Government, Belemaoil and NNPC for the spirit of negotiation and resolution of the conflict.

Clark lauded the chiefs, women, and youths of OML 25 communities for keeping peace and opting for dialogue.

“This type of synergy should be replicated in other parts of Niger Delta,” he said.