… Community self help
By ENWONO-ABASI ELISHA
The Clan Head of Iko explained how he has been utilising community efforts in the area of development before SEEPCO’s few interventions.
“I constructed 1000 desks, 600 for the three sections of the community, Okoroetor, Ataessien and Akprikpe axis. Before the desks arrived, the children in Primary and Secondary Schools were sitting on the floor for lessons.
“When the transformer in the area was vandalized, we reinstated it and bought ormoc cable, poles, grass cutting machines to the two schools we have, Iko Community Secondary School and the Government Secondary School, Iko Town. We have also repaired our Corper’s lodge with burglary proof.
“Also, since I assume office as the Village Head, it is the community that pays the light bills not individuals.
“Also in Schools, we do not have teachers. The community pays outside teachers to teach the children.”
• Community Challenges
Going by the worth of resources drawn from Iko community and other communities in Eastern Obolo, stakeholders say the few development in the area is not commensurate.
The Iko Clan Head, HH CH (Capt) Eteidung Isaiah Thomas Okonko said, “The volume of oil drilled in Iko is not commensurate with projects and development in the area. I have never seen a community with so much wells of oil within it. Others that I have been privileged to witness in all my 14 years as an oil worker, are in mangroves in other states.”
He said the community only source of electricity is from Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, PHED, and supply is very poor.
“So, you can see, the impact of Oil is directly on the people. The Company suppose to supply light to the people from their base station directly. We don’t have light here except NEPA brings light which is very rare.”
The Executive Chairman Eastern Obolo LGA, Hon Abraham Odion said the major challenge is the training of the youth so they can fit into positions available in the Company when drilling will commence in earnest.
“The only Challenge we have is calling the attention of the Company to train our youth so when they finally move in full swing, our youth can be employed and engaged favourably.”
He said insecurity is also a challenge which the Company should join force to beef up security in the area.
The challenge of spillages in the area was disclosed by a youth source.
“We have suffered oil spill since we were very small. It has affected our sources of drinking water. Even water from our boreholes is brownish in colour.
“It has affected our aquatic lives. Most of our fishes have gone extinct. Our seafoods including periwinkles, crabs, prawns, oyster, Octopus locally calked ‘Obrikosok’ and ‘Ajitlulut’ fresh fish, are now scare which used to make rich our local soup called ‘Grogro soup.’ They are no longer much and you can not find them come ashore anymore,” Samuel Adasi, Youth Leader of Eastern Obolo LGA lamented.
•Sterling’s delay tactics
Community stakeholders say SEEPCO is slow in keeping its part of agreement.
“We are the people living in these communities and feel the impact of this exploration which needs urgent attention. We are not asking the Company not to know the Government. They neglected the people up till now. Look at this road (internal road in Iko Community), if not NDDC, Iko would not have feeder roads. The one that leads to Eastern Obolo LGA was done by Shell company, then, while that of Atabrikang I and II was done by NDDC and completed by Sterling Global (SEEPCO).
“They want to do something according to the Cluster MoU but they are sluggish. The problem now is delay on the part of the Company,” Clan Head of Iko, HH CH (Capt) Eteidung Isaiah Thomas Okonko said.
The Village Head of Emere-oke II, Eastern Obolo LGA, Ayagwung Joshua Matthew (Regen) Okama-elect, said he suspected the Company trying to play smart on the people.
“Infact, from the information getting to us, they are even lifting Crude Oil from Iko town.
“My brother told me that late 2021, they saw an escort vehicle about five Hilux vans and five tankers came into the community. He said even when the youth said they should be stopped, Naval officers, soldiers and the rest of security personnel accompanying the entourage scared the people away from the road.”
More findings have strengthened the claims that SEEPCO may not be transparent with their dealings in the area with the unnecessary excuses they tender on fulfilling their obligations.
According to the Paramount Ruler of Eastern Obolo LGA, HRM Rt. Hon. Chief Harry J. Etetor (ILILE X1)
“About last month, we heard that they lifted Crude for testing. At this point you can’t demand much from them because as we speak, they have not signed the MoU.”
Another Chief in the area who pleaded anonymity said, “Is what I have been asking myself. In the course of taking quantity for test, they can do small business. If it is just for testing, it will be a small quantity not a tankful of crude taken out of the community. So, we can’t stop them. Even if you stop them, what will you do with the crude. They have authority in the area to do their work and we won’t interfere.
“The only time we will raise eye-brow is when they will think they are fooling us by saying they are through with a particular rig which is up to five or six Oil wells, and still want to take Crude for testing. When they come back to take Oil from the same rig for testing is when we will say no.”
Another Community stakeholder, Dr. Charles Mbong said, “We are not satisfied at all, at all. In fact, from the onset we asked questions why of all exploration Company, they asked Sterling to come and do exploration in Eastern Obolo. Because we know Indians are people who cut-corners. We know they do substandard things. We were assured they were the only company to do the business as IOCs are packing up from Nigeria and Shell selling off their assets.
“We are not satisfied because most of the things tabled before them have not been done. Like the percentage of community workers and their welfare have not been considered by this company. We are asking them to do more but they are lagging behind in their Corporate Social Responsibility.”
The relocation delay of the people of Ikonta-Obianga, who are fishers, to a new location due to SEEPCO’s petrochemical and fertilizer plant in the area, taking over 1000 hectares of the community land, is attributed to the Company.
Some indigenes alleged that the compensation paid to the fishers at Lagos fishing settlement was not commensurate.
“We know how much was paid to the fishers at Lagos fishing settlement as compensation. It was quite small compared to the damages in the area,” Paramount Ruler of Eastern Obolo LGA, HRM Rt. Hon. (Chief) Harry J. Etetor (ILILE XI) lamented.
Another community source attributed the relocation delay of Ikonta-Obianga to SEEPCO’s non-execution of their commitment in making the new location habitable for the fishers.
“Lagos fishing settlement’s compensation was made through the State Ministry of Lands and Water Resources by carrying out enumeration, Community did their enumeration and State Government did. The leaders of Ikonta-Obianga community worked out modalities to ensure that everyone was paid.
“Why they have not moved is not because the amount was not commensurate but because Sterling Oil has not provided an alternative location for them. Which must be identified, cleared up, sand-filled and compacted to make it habitable. We even asked for further embarkment work so the place will not be swept off by ocean surge.
“But as we speak, they have not made the place ready for the people to relocate. It is not the fault of the Local Committee or the Community but the fault of the investors,” Dr. Charles Mbong said.
•”Why they want to take our lands” – Eastern Obolo Youth raises alarm
“If you take a look at the remapping, most of the places they claim is in ONNA are in Eastern Obolo LGA. How can the state suddenly deny people of Eastern Obolo of their heritage. Like now, if the remapping should be, my Certificate of Origin which authenticates my origin and identity as an Eastern Obolo man will be changed. How can I speak my language in a strange land?” – Eastern Obolo youth cries out.
Ilima Obolo, a socio-cultural organization of Eastern Obolo LGA recently in an organised press conference raised alarm over the political manipulation to seize their lands through remapping plan of the State Government.
The youth of Eastern Obolo expressed disappointment over the State Government plan which might be unconnected to the entitlement benefits of oil producing communities captured in the Petroleum Industry Act assented by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.
“The essence of the remapping is so that Esit Eket will have access to the Atlantic ocean through Ibeno; Eket will have access to the Atlantic ocean through Ibeno; and ONNA will have access to the Atlantic ocean through Ibeno and Eastern Obolo LGAs. Mkpat Enin LGA will have access to the Atlantic ocean through Eastern Obolo; and Ikot Abasi LGA will have access to the Atlantic ocean through Eastern Obolo LGA. Meaning that most communities of Eastern Obolo LGA will be ceded to about three LGAs of the State,” Youth Leader of Eastern Obolo, Samuel Gogo Adasi lamented.
Another youth of the area, Magnus Richard Jessy said, the State Government did not make an Eastern Obolo person part of the team for aerial mapping of the State. He wondered how effective the exercise will be if people who know the ancient landmarks of their localities are not part of the team.
“How can outsiders determine our natural boundaries. There is need to take our elders in the respective communities to be part of the team to determine our ancient boundaries.
“If you take a look at the remapping, most of the places they claim is in ONNA are in Eastern Obolo LGA. How can the state suddenly deny people of Eastern Obolo of their heritage. Like now, if the remapping should be, my Certificate of Origin which authenticates my origin and identity as an Eastern Obolo man will be changed. How can I speak my language in a strange land?”
The Village head of Emere-oke II, Ayagwung Joshua Matthew (Regen) Okama – elect said the State Government’s move to remap the State was the more reason the youth of Eastern Obolo agitated for the preservation of their ancient and territorial landmarks by taking the State Government, Surveyor General and State House of Assembly to court.
• The Gap!
Findings show poor communication gap between the Company and the host communities despite the community interface committees set up to serve as an intermediary for the people.
The existence of these Committees may further worsened the plight of poor communication with community members, deepening social class status in these communities.
“You know our people, the State Government came in and set up a Committee led by Dr. Charles Mbong. This Committee interfaces with the people, Government and the Company. So, you can see, the story they tell us is what we take. They don’t allow the Company to come to us anymore,” The Village head of Emere-oke II, Ayagwung Joshua Matthew (Regen) Okama – elect explained.
The Chairman of the Central Local Committee, Dr. Charles Mbong said of Sterling Oil throughout last year has not organised any community engagement with the Local Committees.
“My Committee is determined once the GMoU is signed for Sterling Oil, we suppose to have quarterly interface with the Company. Now, the interface is abandoned and they do not meet with the people or do anything.
“For the whole of of last year, we did not hold even one meeting. We just send them a mail this year on the matter.
“We have told them that by the end of this 1st quarter, if they don’t hold meeting with us, the Community is going to shut down their operations in the area. This is the language they understand. They need force. We have been very, very lenient with them,” Dr. Charles Mbong said.
While some stakeholders claimed that the Company is at the structural level of construction and has not commenced drilling, others are of the opinion that this Company have been lifting Oil secretly from the area.
“We were told about the lifting of crude from the facility for testing. That was the speculation though not substantiated yet,” Chairman of Central Local Committee, Dr. Charles Mbong said.
This investigation is supported by Policy Alert with funding from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).