Kula Kingdom in Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State has in the last seven months occupied SHELL oil and gas station (OML 24/25) in Belema community over alleged neglect and impoverishment of the communities in the area.
Kula is one of the major producers of oil and gas in the state. Unconfirmed report puts production in the area at over 45,000 barrels of crude oil per day. It is a riverine area whose only means of accessibility is by water.
In this kingdom, there is nothing to show that the area is part of the modern world. It is bereft of any form of amenities. From Boro to Ofoin-ama to Belema and other smaller communities, there are no roads, electricity, hospital of any sort, or school of any level.
The area shares boundary with Bayelsa State in North and Abua in the East; these neighbours are however only accessible by water.
Kula is about 2 hours on speed boat from Abonnema jetty (Akuku-toru headquarter).
The environment is devastated. According to the people, life was good before the advent of oil.
The effects of oil exploration has dealt heavy blow on them, but no one takes responsibility; neither the multinational companies that operate in the areas nor the Federal Government which operates the joint venture (JV) agreement.
A delegation of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), - a socio-political group of the region, being led by Chief Edwin Clark accompanied by the media, recently went on a tour of the area to ascertain the cause of the problems between them and SHELL.
From Boro to Ofoin-ama to Belema, the stories were the same; cries of woes, impoverishment, hunger and total devastation, to say the least.
Residents live in squalors. The communities are devoid of good houses. At Belema community, the main host to the oil and gas station, the only source of drinking water is an ancient pond.
'Our sources of living, farmland and rivers have been destroyed by oil. We do not have the money to send our children to good schools. As you can see, there is no form of school in these whole communities, those that are managing to go to school cross the river every day to attend school in our neighbouring kingdoms in Abonnema, and Bayelsa State. We do not receive scholarship from SHELL, no employment, no meaningful contracts to empower us despite all efforts to make SHELL see reasons to develop and empower us (the people of the area) and the communities where they operate,' their spokesperson said.
According to them, their inability to convince SHELL to improve their standard of living apparently triggered the move by their women to take over the flow station since August 11, 2017, sacking SHELL workers.
However, SHELL had, since the illegal occupation of the station, insisted that it held host communities in high esteem and had never relented in carrying out its corporate social responsibilities and executing the agreements reached with the communities in their Group Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU).
The protesters told the PANDEF delegation that the oil giant must give way to an indigenous company. They were of the view that an indigenous operator would be able to easily understand their difficulties, feel the pulse of the indigenes, their pains and suffering and quickly come to their assistance.
Although SHELL has since the problem pulled out of the facility, it has shown indication to return. Heavy presence of the military was noticed at the facility.
At Boro, the residents decried very poor living condition and lack of electricity, despite being half a pole away from one f SPDC's facilities in the area that is fully electrified.
Like other riverine dwellers, the people are fishermen. They lamented extinction of fish from the sea, following oil spill resulting from exploration activities.
They people relieved how lack of health care facility has often led to the death of pregnant women and children.
At Ofoin-Ama community, the visitors were greeted with huge protests by members of the community, who took turn to outline the barrage of problems facing them. They insisted that SHELL must leave their community for good and divest the investments to the company of their choice.
Although a water facility was noticed in the community, the residents said it is a mono borehole, but complained that the water is not very clear and also has taste, but 'we have no choice, because that is what we have.' It was a joint effort between UNICEF, the state government and the community.
Addressing the visitors, spokesman of the community, Prince Datoru Sokubo, said: 'I want to tell the world at large that Offoinama community has been under harsh and devastated condition for over 40 years that SPDC has been operating here. As you can see, there is nothing to show that SPDC operated here.
'We don't have good health care facility, we don't have good water or even good link roads. There is no meaningful infrastructure to show that SPDC operated here. That is why we totally reject and said SPDC should not operate here again.
'As you are seeing, the community is lacking basic infrastructure, no good pipe borne water, no good road, no good shelter; even when it rains, our people suffer. So we no longer need SPDC here.
'It may be difficult to do major road to Kula or Offoinama, but at least do internal roads that will link us to other villages. Looking at the other side, you will see that the bridge that linked to the other villages where the children go to school has collapsed and it has been like that for very long time now. Totally, we have nothing to show that SPDC ever operated in this area.
'We want an indigenous company. BelemaOil is there, we have numerous contractors within this terrain. BelemaOil and Gas has done well within the short period they came. They have disengaged our youths from criminality and crisis.'
High Chief Ibosiya Nathaniel Sukubo, the paramount ruler of the community, expressed lack of Federal Government's presence in the area, despite being one of the highest contributors to the national economy.
He called on the government to map out a realistic framework to develop the area.
Speaking on neglect of the community by the state government, he said the community was not reflected in the state government's N510 billion budget for 2018 and called for a change.
He said: 'Offoinama is a co- host to the Belema flow station. The community also hosts the gas injection plant and its booster stations.
'Offoinama belly the 6 and 8' pipeline, delivery link, Eastern gathering line and the Trans Niger Delta/Nembe trunk pipeline
'Unfortunately, even though we are a contributor to the over 45000 barrels of oil produced in Kula daily, the community was not captured anywhere in the N510billion 2018 Appropriation bill presented to the state Lawmakers by Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike.
'We equally contribute 150, 000, 000 scuff of gas, even though we contribute the over 200, 000 barrels of oil produced by the entire Kula community, we are living in squalor.'
Also speaking, an influential voice in Belema community, Walter Oputuboye, said: 'Belema community has played host to OML 25 Belema Flow Station. As you can see for yourself, for over 37 years, Belema community has been hosting Shell facility with nothing to show for it.'
Addressing the indigenes of Ofoiama, the leader of the delegation, Ogoriba commiserated with the communities and assured them that help would come their way soon, adding that PANDEF was concerned by the happenings in the area and that the outcome of the visit would end the decades of suffering.
'If you are getting about 45,000 barrels from here per day, that translates to about $3.1milion; that comes to about N1bilion per day from this community. Why would you not take care of the people in the community?
'You cannot ask for amenities. They should give it to you because of what they are receiving from here.'
SPDC expressed commitment the continuous improvement of the lives of the communities where they operate. It said the company has faithfully implemented the Group Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU) entered into with the communities, but however blamed part of the problems on issues yet to be resolved in court.
'SPDC JV is committed to the development of host communities, we did not neglect Kula, Belema communities. We have implemented a Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) in the area that led to a wide variety of social investment projects including university scholarships awards.'
© Pakistan Press International, source Asianet-Pakistan