OML 25 dispute: Host communities wants to join Bayelsa State

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* Gives conditions to accept peace agreement with SPDC

By Codratus Godson

The host communities in the protracted dispute in the Kula oil field (Oil Mining License 25) wants to be ceded to Bayelsa State, saying they have come under heavy oppression in Rivers State.

The Offoin-Ama community as well as Belema and Ngeje have however given three conditions for accepting to stay back in Rivers State and also to accept the ‘Settlement Agreement’ signed in Government House last week (July 1, 2019) with Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). The first is a road from Kula to Degema across the vast water that must be awarded to a reputable contractor of Julius Berger grade; the right of first refusal to be given to the community in choosing an operators should SPDC want to divest; and payment of all funds owed the community.

Speaking at a press briefing in Port Harcourt Monday, July 8, 2019, a chief and spokesman of the communities, Ibiosiya Nath-Sokubo, who said he is the president of the Niger Delta Renaissance Movement (NDRM), said they cannot be safe-guarded in Rivers State any longer.

He accused the Rivers State government under Gov Nyesom Wike of collaborating with SPDC to forcefully enter OML 25 occupied by women and children. He reminded the state governor how he once presented SPDC as the oil giant causing disputes in the Niger Delta, only to turn round now to insist on them instead of backing a son of the soil to get the oil field.

Gov Wike had however at the weekend explained his reasons, saying since it was the FG that renewed the license to SPDC (in October 2018), that his responsibility is to ensure that the company operated in Kula, saying if the FG changes it to Belemaoil, he would equally help them to gain access to the field. “I have no interest in the oil field, only to ensure it is reopened for operations.

The state government had pushed for an MOU that would make SPDC to pay N1.36Bn in two weeks and other goodies such as jobs, contracts, environmental benefits, etc, and a chance for all parties to discuss further on peace and operations.

SPDC’s General Manager, external relations manager,  Igo Weli, had commended the governor and said the company was ready to work for peace and development of the Kula people and that all MOU funds would begin to come in since peace had returned. He hailed the peace accord, saying it would reassure international investors that the state respected laws and had level-playing ground for investments.

Sections of the Offoin-Ama people however still insist on not welcoming the oil giant. The spokesman said revolution was the outcome of delaying to do what was right, and that carcinogen in benzene was rampant because of absence of remediation. He said the intervention of the state government was an overbearing action because the matter was before the federal government, the presidency, NNPC, NAPIMS and PANDEF. He said the MOU signed by a section of the people was shrouded in secrecy.

He mentioned some of the things allegedly lacking in the host community as lack employment from SPDC, health facilities, education, roads, water and basic amenities. “Life is unbearable and the government is ignorant to our plight. Our sin is that we voted for President Muhammed Buhari for sake of probity, accountability and proficiency as against profligacy. Again that we voted for our son, Biokpomabo Awara.”

Making a case for joining Bayelsa State, Sokubo reminded Gov Wike that he was the one that had supported the then president, Goodluck Jonathan, in ceding Soku oil wells to Bayelsa State. He said the Offoin-Ama people are ready to heed that move by joining Bayelsa State. He said his people were part of the Santa Babara River towards Soku and that the case of ownership is still pending at the Supreme Court.

He recalled various acts of violence in Kula since 1999 due to oil disputes and made it clear that the dispute is not about 2019 elections but about injustice to the people.

The chiefs that signed the MOU last week could not respond to calls but a source said most of community leaders signed the MOU and are now ready to move ahead. They also said the matter is not about politics and that the state governor right to work for reopening of the oil field because the state was losing huge revenue.

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