20 years after war, Itsekiri, Ijaw unite

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Twenty years ago, Warri, the oil rich city of Nigeria was a theatre of war with hundreds of residents relocating to safe haven. The gladiators were Itsekiri and Ijaw ethnic nationalities of the state.

 

You can imagine the surprise when the two tribes came together to hold a joint press conference in Warrri, this time demanding fair deal from the federal government and multinational oil companies over oil exploration in their communities.

They decried alleged marginalization, among other things, in the bidding process for 57 marginal fields and called on the government to halt the process. They also called on the government to immediately revisit the abandoned Export processing zone, EPZ, Gas revolution industrial park, Ogidigben and the deep seaport, Gbaramatu projects.

The first leg of the press conferences they held to drive home their demands took place in their riverine communities in the local government. Itsekiri under the aegis of Movement for the Development of Itsekiri Oil/Gas Producing communities, MDIOGPC, had its own at Ode- Ugborodo (Excravos ).

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Mr Besidone Samuel who read the address, said the Federal Government should halt the ongoing bidding process for the 57 marginal fields to give room for companies owned by Itsekiri sons and daughters to enjoy the right of first refusal on the fields in Itsekiri communities.

Flanked by prominent Itsekiri leaders at the crowded Town Hall in Excravos, Besidone said the Itsekiri nation had been grossly marginalized in marginal field bid offers since oil was discovered in her communities sixty years ago, adding that if the government failed to halt the process, Itsekiri would not hesitate to shut down all oil exploration activities across her communities

They further called on the Ministries of Works and Niger Delta as well as the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and international oil companies IOCs to carry out shore protection across Itsekiri riverine communities to protect the areas from rampaging ocean surge. He also said the government should resume work on the abandoned Omadino-Excravos road “expected to connect the oil and gas rich coastal communities in Warri South and Warri South West Local Government “.

According to him, “We the Itsekiri people continue to agonize the apparent aberration of the local content act as it affects direct employment opportunities into Chevron Nigeria limited, Shell Petroleum Development company, SPDC and other IOCs, operating in our communities. These companies surreptitiously employ non indigenes and fly them to work in Excravos and other Itsekiri offshore locations while our eminently qualified graduates as well as technicians roam the streets and continue to live at the mercy of their indigent and old parents.

“We must at this juncture strongly express our displeasure and total rejection of the recently announced 57 marginal fields offered by the Department of Petroleum Resources , DPR. We can no longer continue to sit down and watch non indigenes being offered Oil Mining Licences in our homeland when we have capable Itsekiri sons and daughters whose firms are qualified but repeatedly denied such licenses by the structural bias of the DPR”.

The Ologbotsere of Warri kingdom, Chief Ayiri Emami was also present added his voice to the demand, saying government and the international oil companies should comply for sake of fairness.

At the end of their press conference, some Itsekiri leaders, joined by journalists went to Oporoza, Gbaramatu kingdom which is about twenty minutes journey for another round of press briefing this time by the Ijaws of Gbaramatu, home town of Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a Tompolo.

Chief Godspower Gbenekama who addressed newsmen at Gbaramatu said that they had earlier handed the Federal Government a ten-day ultimatum adding that if the government failed to halt the bidding process for marginal fields until sons and daughters of the area with competence were given the right of first refusal, they would have no other choice but to shut down oil exploration activities in their areas.

He said they would not continue to watch while other parts of the country carted away the gains of oil fields in their area, leaving them with pollution and myriad of other environmental challenges to contend with from the fields

Continuing, the kingdom called on the Federal Government to restart the “Export Processing Zone , EPZ, Gas Revolution Industrial project, Ogidigben and Deep-seaport, Gbaramatu, and that the government should also bring back the Floating Dock/ship building yard relocated from Gbaramatu by the President Buhari led government.

“Gbaramatu Traditional Council of Chiefs, in conjunction with the communities that make up Gbaramatu kingdom wrote to President Muhammadju Buhari about the continued marginalization of the kingdom and gave a 10 day ultimatum which will expire in four days. We will shut down all Oil and Gas operations in our homeland if the federal government insists on continuing with this marginalization”, he warned. He also urged the government to restart work on the Omadinor-Excravos road project linking several Ijaw and Itsekiri communities along the riverine areas by road

The two ethnic nationalities later assembled in Warri to re-echo their demands.

At the joint press conference addressed by Chief Gbenekame on behalf of Ijaw and Chief Mike Odeli of the MDIOGPC, they called on the international oil companies, IOC’s to relocate their headquarters in the country to the region, adding among other things that the Federal Government should immediately dissolve the Interim Management Committee, IMC, of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and appoint a substantive board.

The ethnic nationalities further called on the government to appoint a Coordinator from the Niger Delta region for the Presidential Amnesty programme, rejecting the committee running the place.

According to them, “we demand immediate and comprehensive investigation into what led to millions of dead and rotten fish that surfaced on the waterways and fish traps in Gbaramatu kingdom and coastal Itsekiri communities with a view to carryout the necessary remediation so that the needful can be done for those who have suffered loss or damage.

“The IOCs in our lands should apply the Local Content Act in their employment regime. The Federal Government should instruct Nigerian Port Authority through the Ministry of Transportation to dredge the Excravos bar mouth in order to enhance the optimum usage of the Warri, Koko, Burutu and Sapele ports in the state.

“We demand immediate constitution of a substantive NDDC board instead of the present Interim Management Committee that lavishly wasted our derivation money on Covid 19 without recourse to the communities that should have had the large chunk of the money that accrued to the commission and whose interests are inimical to the development of the Itsekiri oil and gas producing communities and the Gbaramatu kingdom”.

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A day after the joint conference by the Itsekiri and Ijaw, the Urhobo also made similar demand over the marginal oil fields, threatening to shutdown exploration activities in their communities if their competent sons were not considered to operate any of them.

At a briefing in Warri, attended by some chiefs, the President of the Campaign for the Economic Survival of Urhobo Nation, CATESUN, Olorogun Ese Kakor also handed the Federal Government a seven-day ultimatum to reverse the process or they would shut down oil exploration activities across Urhobo communities

Flanked by Hon Morris Idiovwa, Hon Emuobosa Harry, Chief Emmanuel Tobo and several others, he said one week had elapsed in the two weeks ultimatum earlier given to the federal government in an Open Letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, adding that the government had one week left to review the process or they would mobilize to shut down oil exploration activities in the various communities.

He said, “we believe this press conference which is coming exactly one week after an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari shall serve as notice to the world, a week has been exhausted from the two weeks of grace included in the open letter. There is just one week left for steps to be taken to correct the wrongs of the years by calling off the current grossly unjust process of ceding out these 57 marginal oil fields and start a fresh process which shall give Urhobo men and women interested in participating in oil and gas activities the unfettered and privileged access in a new, more transparent and Niger Delta friendly process.

“If by July 20,2020 this unjust, inhuman process of giving the 57 marginal fields out with the exclusion of Urhoo people is not terminated, the Urhobo nation will take the definite action of shutting down all oil and gas operations going on within her territories “

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“Urhobo is one of the largest oil producers in the country, the largest in Delta with a labyrinth of pipelines, oil wells, flow stations, gas stations and other facilities located across the length and breadth of our land. Urhobo land is housing Chevron main office in the state, the Nigerian Gas Company, NGC, and the Warri Refinery Petrochemical company, WRPC. The Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC is operating in Ughelli North, Udu, Ethiope East, Ughelli South and Uvwie through OML 26,30,34 and 65. Seplat oil company is operating in Sapele and Okpe council areas in OML 4,30,38 and 38. Pan ocean company operates in Ovade and other communities in Ethiope West through OML 98”.

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