The leadership of the Egbema Youths Council, EYC, has suspended the 14-day ultimatum handed over to operators of OML 40, NPDC/ Elcrest Joint Venture Nig. Ltd, following the intervention of Hon. Smart Asekutu, Chairman of Warri North Local Government Council chairman.
The Egbema Youth Council has, in their last meeting on August 30, 2021, gave the ultimatum for the operating joint ventures company to address their 7-point demands within 14 days, failing which they promised to occupy their locations and shut down their operations in the area.
However, Asekutu, chairman of Warri North Council intervened in the matter which made the leadership of the EYC drawn from different communities that make up the OML 40 as well as representatives of the Ijaw Youths Council, IYC, in the area, suspended the ultimatum during a press conference held in Sapele on Thursday.
The suspension, according to them, was to allow the Council chairman to meet with the operators, government officials, and other stakeholders to resolve the issues in the interest of peace and smooth operation of the NPDC/Elcrest Oil Company Joint Ventures.
Ebidouwei Miyenpirigha, president-general of Egbema Youth Council, who addressed the media, said that the body decided to suspend the 14-day ultimatum given to NPDC/Elcrest Nig. Ltd Joint Ventures to address the issues raised by the Youth Council, pointing out that the suspension was in respect of the intervention of the Local Government Council chairman who promised to bring all stakeholders to a round table to resolve the issues.
The President-General reiterated the 7-point issues which formed the background of the 14-day ultimatum which, according to him, include an upward review of the amount for the award of the scholarship, capital projects infrastructure in the catchment area, and non-capital projects for traditional rulers, among others.
He said: “We are here in respect of the 14-day ultimatum which we gave to the NPDC/Elcrest Joint Venture to do the needful in OML 40 catchment area where Opuama and Opolobo are host communities.
“The ultimatum will elapse on September 14, that is, next week Monday. But our Local Government chairman, Hon. Smart Asekutu intervened for the issue and pleaded that we should suspend the ultimatum temporarily so that he will have time to call NPDC/Elcrest Joint Venture, government functionaries, and other stakeholders to a round table discussion to resolve the issues amicably.
“For the purpose of the ultimatum, we raised 7-point agenda as host or impacted communities of the NPDC/Elcrest Joint Venture area, we know very well that they are giving scholarship to the communities. But the scholarship scheme is small compared to what they are getting from our land. So, we are saying that the scholarship scheme should be increased as well as the amount involved.
“We also plead that the scholarship scheme should be extended to cover post-graduate studies so that Egbema indigenes could have opportunities to go for their masters and P.hD degrees. Also, we are aware that there was a bursary scheme but since NPDC/Elcrest took over from SPDC in 2013, we have not seen anything of such.
“We want to beg the government to compel NPDC to do the needful if not we would have not option than to go to the river and stop their operation pending when they would do the needful.”
The president-general also stated that there are capital projects outlined in the GMoU which the company had with the host communities, adding that they have so far reneged in their promises to execute the projects.
He listed the capital projects to include “water project which they promised since 2013; electrification which they promised to give the communities 24 hours light; market, blocks of classrooms, walkways, sand-filling of the communities, palace for traditional rulers and other infrastructure.”
Miyenpirigha also reminded the OML-40 operator of their promises to “pay stipends to members of the host and impacted communities and central youth body to assist them in their administrative duties.”
The president-general equally highlighted their demand for the employment of Egbema youths which, he said, forms part of the GMoU, adding that many of them are academically and skillfully qualified. According to him, since the take over of NPDC, no single Egbema youth has been employed as a staff of the company.
“There is a provision for employment in the GMoU. They should give us employment opportunities. Since the NPDC/Elcrest took over from SPDC, no one Egbema indigene has been employed as a staff of the company in their operation area, in their head office in Benin City nor in their branch office in Warri.
“In line with the Local Content Act, 40% of employment ought to be given to the host communities. So, as host communities, we want that to be done. We have competent youths, many graduates, and people with different types of skills that will work effectively in their operation areas”, he said.
Also speaking at the occasion, Rufus Ebiwei, the Egbema Clan Ijaw Youths Council, IYC, vice-chairman, aligned himself with the submission of the Egbema Youth Council, adding that the host communities have been marginalized for so many years.
“I want to categorically say that IYC will not relent. We are with our brothers, we will fight this fight to the end. This struggle or agitation is not targeted towards any leader. We are fighting for the just, we are fighting for the talakawas and we are fighting for the common people of the Egbema kingdom.
“We want the public to be aware that we are not fighting any leader and we are not in a position to take what belongs to one community to another community. Whatever is due to the host communities of this company should be given to them”, he said.
Also speaking, Comrade Blackman Edesemi Mike, lamented the condition of lives of the Ijaw people in the Egbema kingdom where the NPDC/Elcrest has been in operation for nearly eight years now. According to him, “the company promised to sand-fill the communities but up till date, they have failed to do it”, adding that “because of oil exploration, the Ijaw occupation of fishing and farming have been abandoned as there are no more fishes nor the farmland suitable for farming”
Responding to a question on their understanding of the recent Petroleum Industry Act, the national PRO of the youth body, Comrade Governor Ekpokeme, said they were aware of the new law, but noted that although the entire Niger Delta were against the 3% provided for the host communities, the issue of GMoU which was the agreement between the company and the host communities predated the PIA, stating that they have to keep their own side of the agreement. According to him, NPDC/Elcrest Joint Venture has to fulfill its responsibilities as spelled out in the subsisting GMoU with the host communities.
The PRO also noted that the company is still indebted to the host communities over the oil spillage which took place some time ago, adding that the company is trying to renege on that responsibility explaining that it was caused by a third party.
“That issue is still pending and it is one of those demands we are making. We are coming for that also. The Council is coming for that, the Opuama is coming for that because that spill has caused a lot of damage to us. We will never take it. The spill is caused by equipment failure because why did NPDC send divers underwater without the participation of all other stakeholders? So, we are telling them that they should do the needful on that if not, we are coming for that too”, Ekpokeme said.
A woman leader of the Egbema Youth Council, Happy Nawei, said that the company has failed to keep its promises to provide good health care for the women and children in the communities, adding that lack of health facilities have caused a health issue to the women and the children.
“There are some things which they promised to provide for our mothers. In the aspect of health for both mothers and children, we don’t have General Hospital. If we have health problems, before we will transport them to Sapele which takes about four hours, some do give up on the waterway.
“We are Ijaw people and fishing is our occupation. Now, there are no more fish in the river because of oil problems. So, the company has to implement the provisions of the GMoU and make provisions for our mothers in the communities”, she said.
As of the time of filing in this report, it has not been possible to reach the Warri North Local Government Council for his reaction to the EYC’s suspension of the ultimatum in respect to his intervention and the timeline to hear from him.