As Protesters Barricade Eleme/Onne Road Over Collapsed Bridge
Irate youths in Belema community in Rivers State have shut a flow station operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and demanded that the oil field be given to an indigenous oil company.
The youths, who insisted that the oil field should not be retained by Shell, threatened to take all legal actions to forestall any multinational oil company getting the licence to operate the oil field.
In 2014, former minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Madueke, stopped the sale of the oil field,†which was sold by SPDC in 1980 to Crestar for $500m following protest by the locals.
Also, the popular Eleme/Onne road along the East-West road†that leads to the countryís oil and gas free zone was yesterday barricaded by Eleme youths protesting the collapse of a bridge along the area, worsening the perennial gridlock along the axis.
The protesters, who vowed to block the road until something was done to ameliorate the sufferings of the people, decried the level of neglect on the road by the Federal Government.
The protesting Belema youths want the oil field to be given to an indigenous oil company, Belemaoil, to operate because it appreciates their†challenges and needs.
One of them, Iselema Ekini, explained that the community has suffered decades of deprivation in the midst of abundant oil and gas resources, adding that while the owners and workers of multinational oil companies operating in the area have been living in affluence, the indigenes are unable to build decent houses for their families.
The traditional ruler of Belema, Bourdilon Oko, noted that since Shellís license expired, their stay in the community has become illegal.
But SPDC, in a statement signed by its spokesman, Bamidele Odugbesan said its commitment to the welfare of host communities in the Niger Delta remains unshaken, even as it decried the illegal occupation of the flow station and gas plant.
It said it had informed the authorities of the illegal occupation and was working towards resuming safe operations.
While debunking allegations of neglect of communities in Kula kingdom and Belema in Rivers State, SPDC said it had implemented a Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) in the area that led to a wide variety of social investment projects including university scholarships awards.
It explained that the Rivers State Government initiated a mediation process for the resolution of the†disagreements in the community,†which had resulted in the creation of the Kula Project Implementation and Monitoring Committee (PIMC) in 2012.
He said despite the challenging environment, the SPDC JV set aside over N600 million for a five-year period, beginning 2014, for development initiatives at Kula and the satellite communities of Belema, Offoinama and Boro, while also investing over N352 million in improvement of school infrastructure, sanitation and health outreach programmes, construction of walkway for the community and electricity supply in Kula Kingdom in the past 10 years.
Meanwhile, Managing Director of Belemaoil, Boma Brown, has refuted allegations that the company was instigating the spate of protests against multinational oil companies, saying the community was only expressing their independent opinion and that ought to be respected.
The blocked road, which also links Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, has been in a deplorable condition for several years and became worse, January this year, as attempts by the state government and some companies in the area to fix it failed due to non- compliance with the agreed payment arrangement.
The distance between the collapsed bridge and Akpajo Junction, which ordinary should take less than 10 minutes,†now takes over seven hours, forcing road users and motorists to park their vehicles and resort to commercial motorcyclists or trekking to cross the axis.
A part of the bridge, popularly known as Okulu Aleto in Akpajo axis of Eleme Council caved in on Thursday.