Traditional rulers from Eastern Obolo Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom state, have asked the federal government to withdraw the operating license from an oil firm, Amni International Petroleum Company Limited.
Amni, an indigenous oil firm in Nigeria, operates the Okoro and Setu East fields (OML 112) located offshore in the Atlantic Ocean, less than 12 km from Eastern Obolo.
About 30 village heads, in addition to several family heads, assembled at Okoroete, the headquarters of Eastern Obolo, to address journalists on Wednesday on their grievances against Amni Petroleum .
The chiefs said they were angry with the continuous pollution and neglect of their communities and the deteriorating relationship between the oil company and the people of the area.
Ayituk Isaiah Ayituk, the Assistant Secretary, Eastern Obolo Council of Chiefs, who spoke on behalf of the chiefs told journalists that the communities had hired a consultant, John Ukpatu, to engage Amni on the environmental and development challenges in the local government area, but that the company ignored the consultant and the chiefs.
The chiefs also accused Amni of refusing to recognise the Community Relations Committee set up by the chiefs, the elders and the youths of Eastern Obolo to liaise with the company for the purpose of effective communication with the community.
The chiefs said a representative of Amni walked out on them in the middle of a peace meeting that was held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, on March 5, 2015.
They narrated how they travelled to far away Niger State in November 2015 to hold another peace meeting with Amni with the hope that such meeting was going to bring peace between the oil firm and the communities, but at the end, the company refused to implement the decisions that were agreed upon in the meeting.
The chiefs listed the following as some of the grievances they have against Amni: (1.) “Embarking on Okoro Further Field Development Project without consultation with the host community of Eastern Obolo”, (2.) Refusal to comply with the provisions of the MOU that stipulate 25 per cent human resources development from the host community”, and (3.) “Refusal to review the MOU that had expired six years ago”.
The chiefs said Amni hasn’t replied any of the 60 official letters they have sent to company.
“We are wondering what a company stand to gain when its activities cause crisis in its host communities, and the same company turned around to close every available channel of peaceful communication with the communities.
“We don’t understand why the company has chosen to exhibit this level of disrespect for the traditional rulers of Eastern Obolo,” the chiefs said.
“There is no single project in the whole of Eastern Obolo that could be traced to Amni. The only evidence that shows we have oil in our communities is our polluted water, our polluted farmland and our polluted air.
“We challenge you to go round all the communities here if you can see any clean portable water.”
The traditional rulers, who were visibly angry, said they were demanding for the withdrawal of the operating license from Amni as a necessary step to prevent the crisis between the company and the local community from degenerating into ‘something else’.
The consultant for the Eastern Obolo communities, John Ukpatu, said the local government area recorded 143 oil spills since the beginning of oil exploration in the area.
But he didn’t say how many of the oil spills were caused by Amni.
Mr. Ukpatu, who holds a Ph.D in fisheries and aquatic sciences, said the people of Eastern Obolo were identified by the United Nations Development Programme to be among the ‘poorest of the poor’ in the world.
Mr. Ukpatu said it was unfortunate that oil, which ought to be a blessing, had become a curse to the people of Eastern Obolo.
He appealed to Amni International Petroleum Company Limited to respect the traditional rulers and the people of Eastern Obolo by accepting to work with the new Community Relations Committee in the area, as well as review their MOU with the local government area, and also pay royalties to the chiefs as the custodians of the land.
The new CRC chairman in Eastern Obolo, Ezekiel Uneadasi, told PREMIUM TIMES that he couldn’t be blamed for the strained relationship between Amni and the local government area because the company hasn’t even accepted to work with him and his committee.
“For one year now, since we were constituted by the chiefs and the community, Amni has refused to accept us; the company is saying that they (Amni) are the ones that should appoint members of the CRC,” Mr. Uneadasi said.
The Community Affairs Manager, Amni Petroleum, Gafar Olagunju, declined to comment on the issue when PREMIUM TIMES contacted him on phone.