Under-Development: Cause Of Bickering With Oil Firms, Host Communities

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Oil Platform

One of the major sources of conflict between host communities and multinational oil companies operating in the Niger Delta is the alleged inability or total refusal by the oil firms to implement the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) they sign with the communities for the social and economic development of the localities. IGONIKO ODUMA writes

 

The conflict between host communities and oil firms regarding delay or non-implementation of signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) has always resulted in agitations and protests of different colours and dimensions across the region, making the operational environment hostile.

From Ondo to Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States, the story has been the same over the years. In some cases, the aggrieved host communities had shut down oil facilities and at other times blocked the ever-busy East-West Road and access roads leading to oil wells within their environment to draw attention to their plights.

They also mobilise and occupy oil platforms that are located offshore. Expectedly, the conflict had resulted in skirmishes with casualties recorded in several instances as security operatives deployed on the scenes use maximum force to quell such agitations. Also, these community demonstrations had also led to disruptions in oil production, depending on the duration of the protests.

At present, some host communities in the Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State are at loggerheads with the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC). They host a flow station belonging to the oil company in addition to oil wells. The local government area is actually a major corridor of the oil and gas business. The communities, under the auspices of the Tebidaba Cluster Development Board (TCDB), are angry that NAOC had refused to activate the board and mobilise funds for the development of the communities about one year after the inauguration of the board to implement a GMoU the oil company signed with them.

The communities namely, Olugbobiri, Ikebiri 1 and 2, Opuadino (Ikebiri 3), Olugboboro and Tebidaba have therefore issued a 14-day notice to Agip to meet their demands. They complained that NAOC had been dribbling them over the GMoU, in a letter to the management of the oil firm. The letter read in part, “The board was inaugurated by the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) on the 22nd September 2021 at Port Harcourt with the sole responsibility of overseeing the implementation and development of the above-mentioned communities under the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU), which the company has been foot-dragging with its lackluster style of handling community issues.

“It is sad, heartbreaking and callous to note that NAOC which is a company known for excuses and complaints while still enjoying the relatively peaceful environment in carrying out their business of oil and gas activities, vehemently refused to execute any developmental projects since the expiration of the MoUs of all the communities mentioned above…

According to the host communities, the MoU with Ikebiri 1, 2 and Opuadino expired eight years ago (in 2014), while the agreement with Olugbobiri, Olugboboro and Tebidaba expired 10 years ago (in 2012). They said it was Agip that proposed the migration from MoU to GMoU as a more acceptable pact in oil companies’ relationship with their host communities.

The letter added, “Pitiably, communities under the Tebidaba Cluster Development Board have been abandoned for so long while the crude oil under their watch has been continuously taken with unmitigated environmental and health hazards to our Children, Women, Youths, and Elders. The reason NAOC gave for not executing any single project in the various communities for the past 8 to 12 years was that a Global Memorandum of Understanding was the new initiative to carry out development.

“It is unfortunate to mention here that since the setting up of the Tebidaba Cluster Development Board with representatives from the various communities for almost a period of Nine (9) months, and still counting, NAOC has blatantly refused to MOBILISE FUNDS and FULLY EQUIP the Board to undertake any single development in our communities.

“As leaders of peace and law-abiding communities under the Tebidaba Cluster Development Board that are committed to ensuring a smooth working relationship with NAOC as tenants, our patience has been completely exhausted due to the company’s utter negligence, wicked, nonchalant, brazen abuse of due process and complete rape of our sensibilities as landlords and host communities.

“Therefore, on this very important note, we join the Youths, Women, Elders, CDC Chairmen and Chiefs of the various communities to give the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) a 14-DAY ULTIMATUM to initiate the full mobilization of funds to the Tebidaba Cluster Development Board for the immediate commencement of projects in the various communities.”

Those who signed the letter are the chairman of the TCDB, Seiminiyefa Igbugburu; vice chairman, Damson Bipeleghe Esq; secretary, Igoli Timiondi; financial secretary, Otobo Ikie-Ebimo; treasurer,  Ikebiriakuro Frank; and the public relations officer, Samson Bishop. Igbugburu, a former paramount ruler of Olugbobiri, called on the government and relevant authorities to advise Agip to be responsive and responsible, warning that they would take action at the expiration of the ultimatum if nothing positive happened.

He said, “What we want is that government and whoever that is involved should help us to inform Agip that it has been almost one year since the Tebidaba Cluster Development Board was inaugurated without any projects executed. Therefore, let them come and do the needful, and ensure that the board is functional.

“They should come so that we can implement what we agreed upon. At the same time, the MoUs that they signed with us expired over 10 years ago so Agip owes us 10 to 12 years of projects before the inauguration of the board. We appeal to them to come and start work immediately. If they don’t come, what we will do, we will not tell anyone. The community will agree on what to do.”

On his part, the secretary of TCDB, Timiondi, said Agip had been unfair to the host communities despite their peaceful disposition, adding that the board was inaugurated after pressure was mounted on the oil company.

He said, “As representatives of the communities on the cluster board we have the mandate to ensure that developmental activities are carried out in our communities. That’s why each community is represented. It is unfortunate that Agip can be Machiavellian in their approach to things. Very, very unfortunate.

“What we are demanding is not much. The MoUs have expired with the haphazard way they execute MoUs. They told us they want to operate GMoU, which is fine and good. The community said they will be patient and wait for them. We believed that GMoU will be better than the MoU. They called us and said they’ve started operating GMoU in Azuzuama, Korokorosei, Ondewari and Okpotuwari (neighbouring communities). Because they know how vital our communities (Tebidaba Cluster) are, they refused to inaugurate our board. It was out of pressure that they were forced to inaugurate us.”

An environmental and community rights activist, Alagoa Morris, said MoU and GMoU are viewed as corporate social responsibility gestures and a way of obtaining a social license to operate in the environment by the oil firms, but they are actually not enforceable agreements.

Morris, who is the Programme Manager/Head, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) Niger Delta Resource Centre, Yenagoa, explained that this is why some stakeholders are of the view that enforceable agreements would have been the best as the law courts would have been approached for redress when such agreements are breached.

He said, “However, after the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni eight and the resultant crisis in the Niger Delta, oil companies started looking in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility. Memorandum of Understanding and later Global Memorandum of Understanding became part of community and company relationship; easing tension and agitations reasonably. It led to a scenario whereby oil companies’ presence became more visible in terms of Community projects than government-sponsored projects in most benefiting communities.”

“One major implication of companies failing to honour MoU and GMoU is the fact that, the relationship would be strained; resulting in protests and disruption of company operations and sometimes lead to arrests or even loss of lives on the part of the communities. Oftentimes, it is after affected communities have resorted to taking the bull by the horns and shutting down production facilities that the company would sit up and go back to do what they ought to have done before or renegotiate the MoU. This is penny wise pounds foolish.”

Morris, whose office in Yenagoa recently interfaced with the TCDB officials and leaders of the communities over the brewing tension with Agip, predicted that “a time would arrive when formal and enforceable agreements would be demanded by host communities. This is so because these MoU/GMoU don’t have legally binding force and hence, the Oil companies act at their discretions.”

He condemned the alienation of oil-producing communities from the 13 per cent derivation principle by the state governments, stressing that the principle was formulated because of the socio-economic and environmental damages suffered by the communities.

An expert in MoU and GMoU, Dr. Tari Dadiowei, who is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the Isaac Jasper Boro College of Education, Sagbama, explained that the attempt to build a relationship between oil companies and their host communities eventually resulted in the introduction of MoU, and later GMoU by some oil majors. He argued that the practice of corporate social responsibility by oil companies in Nigeria has been a subject of controversy.

Dadiowei, who is also an activist, said, “The fundamental principles of sustainable development, inclusiveness, governance, transparency are lacking in the so-called relationship. Instability in the communities will continue to be heightened by chieftaincy tussles as a result of GMoU benefits.

“Defiance to the GMoU operating guidelines may lead to a face-off between some persons in the community, which will lead to instability. Delay in the renewal of the MoU or GMoU may lead to a shutdown of production and will worsen the economy of the country. GMoU has brought rivalries about who should be nominated as contractors. A clique in charge of contract award nominates contractors in the communities who take care of their interest in the project.

“If GMoU is to be seen as a template for justice, we must rework our power of governance. For not taking action on what is due communities through the GMoU, it is my firm belief that the communities will shake off the darkness in which they are plugged and leave it behind. It will strengthen their knowledge and search for human rights, social solidarity, environmental responsibility and economic efficiency.”

Although NAOC could not be reached for comments, a retired oil worker in the Niger Delta, who pleaded for anonymity, observed that some oil firms deliberately play down MoU and GMoU because of the weakness of the country’s institutions. She said some of the oil companies that default in agreements with host communities are confident that whatever breach that occurs, the government will mobilise federal troops to deal with “such troublemakers or troublesome communities.

“You know, government whether at the national or sub-national levels, treat these multinational oil companies with kid-gloves because they are joint venture partners in the business of oil and gas exploration and exploitation in the Niger Delta. So the government will always deploy security operatives to disperse community protesters, no matter how right the communities are in pushing for their demands.

“That’s why we have had all kinds of military task forces and operations in the Niger Delta ranging from Operation Pulo Shield to the current one, which is codenamed Operation of Delta Safe, all in a bid to protect oil facilities. But who protects the people and the host communities?”

*Source: Saturday Independent

 

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