From Joseph Obukata, Warri

Uneasy calm now pervades Ugborodo, an Itsekiri enclave in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State, after a week-long protest that brought about the shutting down of the multimillion-dollar Ogidigben flow station.

Trouble started on Thursday, February 11, after some indigenes of the area, angered by their pitiable conditions in the creek community amid a harvest of oil wells, the black gold that is the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, took to the streets in protest against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

On the fateful day, the protesters, who were mainly women and a group of young men and some elders who thronged behind with forlorn looks, had converged on Shell’s facility in demonstration over their deplorable living standards in the midst of many oil wells.

The  protest, which raged like wildfire in several Itsekiri host communities in the council area for weeks, was to drew attention to the plight of the riverine dwellers whose predominant occupation, fishing and farming, were always threatened by the activities of oil and gas exploration companies.

The protesters brought canopies, cooking utensils like pots, plates and spoons, oil and foodstuff, as well as a disc jockey who blasted music as the protesters mounted the oil company’s gate thus making the protest appear like a carnival.

Ogidigben, an Itsekiri town, hosts several multimillion-dollars oil and gas facilities belonging to SPDC and Chevron Nigeria Limited, while Ugborodo, the ancestral headquarters of all the Itsekiri communities in that part of the state, also plays host to oil and gas multinationals. The protest was held in the latter.

In 2015, a similar protest led to the shutdown of a flow station by the three communities, Ogidigben, Mandagho and Ajudaibo. Sources told Daily Sun that the indigenes protested again following SPDC’s failure to attend to some of the promises made during the earlier protest.

The indigenes have alleged “many years of gross neglect” in the provision of basic amenities. They are also accusing SPDC of delay in a contract awarded to light up the community, which was abandoned years ago. Lack of internal roads, bridges and potable water were also mentioned as the root of the protest. For the locals, SPDC had the enabling environment to do business but the communities say they were getting nothing tangible in return.

A day after they took over the oil facility, a group of indigenes from Warri upland ferried in a dinghy landed at the community’s jetty from where drums were rolled out with placards as the protesters marched to the gates of the company.

Unfortunately, by the evening of the same day, it became clear that they were in for a ‘no-show’ from Shell. Minutes turned into hours and days, yet no single Shell official addressed the protesters, a development which has been fuelling uncertainty in the community.

According to the locals, tension started mounting following Shell’s failure to address the protesters and, as one of the protesters put it “the indigenes took their destiny in the hands’ and shut down Ogidigben flow station. The flow station controls about 15 oil wells.

It was gathered that soldiers were later deployed to quell the unrest but the protesters defied their presence and went about drumming and singing war songs. The protesters would later allege that Shell brought in the army to subdued them. A supposed ‘juju’ priest was seen at the protest ground as news went round that Shell was intimidating and harassing the protesters with security agents, instead of addressing them.

David Mamah, one of the youth leaders of Ugborodo and the public relations officer of the youth wing of the community, who spoke to Daily Sun on the development, alleged years of neglect by the oil company, which had several oil exploration facilities in the area.

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He said there was disquiet in the riverine communities as the protesters continued their siege on the facility located in Ogidigben.

He also alleged insensitivity to their plight, saying, for years, they have been agitating for 24 hours of power supply but Shell has refused to honour their plea.

He said, “The protest is still ongoing because what we are agitating about, which is 24 hours power supply, which is our number one demand on the list, has not been met. We are asking for 24 hours electricity that will cut across the three communities of Ogidigben, Mandagho and Ajudaibo.

“There is one contract for power supply they are doing from Otumara that will reach Ugborodo but it has not been completed. It is a gas turbine project by Shell. The one in Ogidigben, Ajudaibo and Mandagho, Shell has already given it to a contractor but, due to lack of funding, the contractor abandoned the job.”

Mamah claimed that the management of SPDC has refused to address them since the siege on the facility but rather drafted in soldiers to subdue them.

According to Mamah, only the commissioner in charge of oil and gas in Delta State, Prince Emmanuel Amgbaduba, had recently addressed them, calling on them to call off the protest and allow the state government handle the matter.

“Since we started the protest, Shell has deliberately ignored us, the only response we got from them was to send in the army. They brought in soldiers to intimidate the communities. It was only last week that the Delta State commissioner for oil and gas came in from the government. And we told him our demands, that we are not going to back down until our requests are met,” he said.

Mamah stated that the oil-producing communities of Ugborodo, Ajudaibo, Mandagho and Ogidigben were all affected by Shell’s exploration activities but had over the years been deprived of basic amenities such as internal roads and bridges, electricity and potable water, despite providing the company the enabling environment to do business.

He said: “It is not only light that we are asking for; we want potable drinking water to cut across the communities. Number three demand is for them to tar the community’s road. Shell is the one that damaged the road. They have scattered the road, so they need to fix it. They always bring in heavy duty trucks, and vehicles through barges and offload them at their jetty after which they pass through the road to get to their flow station.”

He said, to add insult to injury, the indigenes were denied job opportunities, which they were very qualified for, and companies owned by Ugborodo indigenes with proven competence and expertise were not given contracts meant for locals, in line with the Local Content Act.

“Then the fourth demand is that some of our communities’ casual workers at Shell needed to be employed officially. Some have been working for over 30 years without being upgraded to Shell staff.”

He disclosed that even Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State was aware of the issues, adding that, in 2015, the governor had invited the communities and Shell to Asaba over the electricity issue. At that time, Okowa instructed them to increase the power supply period to 15 hours, until they could complete the 24-hour power project, “but still they didn’t act.” Mamah’s claims of Okowa’s directives to Shell could not be independently verified at the time of this publication.

SPDC’s spokesman, Michael Adande, responding to enquiries by our correspondent, said: “SPDC is working with the (Delta) government to engage the protesters on their complaints.”

When Daily Sun called the commissioner for oil and gas, Mr Emmanuel Amgbaduba, on phone to get his comments on this report, he seemed to operate a policy that forbids him from granting journalists telephone interviews. Though he appreciated efforts to get his comments, he refused to talk except our correspondent wrote an official letter to his office.