Protesters on Monday dumped a red coffin at the entrance of a residential estate belonging to the American oil giant, Mobil Producing Nigeria, in Eket, Akwa Ibom State.
A similar coffin was also dumped at the entrance of Mobil Air Strip in Eket.
Another was kept at a major junction – Marina Junction – in the city.
The protesters, mostly youth, were drawn from the company’s host communities of Eket, Esit-Eket, Onna, and Ibeno.
Not deterred by the heavy rainfall, the youths barricaded the entrance to Mobil’s facilities in the city.
PREMIUM TIMES learned that the youths were protesting Mobil’s refusal to relocate its head office from Lagos to Akwa Ibom State.
Since March, when Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, openly directed the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, “to engage” with International Oil Companies, IOCs, “on the way forward” on the relocation of their head offices to the states where they produce oil from, there have been renewed agitation within the Niger Delta region on the issue.
Most of the IOCs in Nigeria have their headquarters in Lagos, South-west of the country, hundreds of kilometers away from the oil-rich Niger Delta region where they make their revenue.
The Niger Delta people have long complained that while oil exploration activities have polluted their environment, the IOCs were paying taxes and other benefits to another state.
Mobil Nigeria, an affiliate of ExxonMobil in the U.S, is one of the IOCs operating in Akwa Ibom, but with its head offices in Lagos.
Joe Etukudo, the spokesperson of Afigh Iwaad Ekid, an influential socio-cultural group which organised the protest, told PREMIUM TIMES that the protest was long overdue.
”All that we are asking for is that Mobil should adhere to the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari and relocate their headquarters to Akwa Ibom State.
“We are also using this opportunity to tell the federal government that it isn’t just enough for them to direct oil companies to relocate. The government, being that its hold 60 per cent shares in the oil business, should ensure that its directive is enforced.
“This is just a warning protest. We are hoping that the company will call for a dialogue immediately,” he said.
Mr. Etukudo said that nobody from Mobil addressed the protesters and that the company was yet to reach out to Afigh Iwaad Ekid.
He said apart from the relocation of Mobil’s headquarters, that the people were also protesting against “a recent oil spill in the coastal waters from the company’s facilities” and the alleged discrimination against local contractors from the area in the award of contracts.
“The coffin signifies a traditional injunction. It indicates that all is not well and that Mobil should come for negotiation,” Mr Etukudo said.
PREMIUM TIMES later contacted Ogechukwu Udeagha, the Manager, Media and Communications of Mobil for the company’s reaction to the protest in Eket.
Mr. Udeagha asked that an email containing the questions for Mobil be sent to him, which this newspaper did on Monday evening.
But the paper was yet to get a response from him as at the time of filing this report.
“Mobil has three businesses in Nigeria which are managed by one Lead Country Manager. It is essential that the headquarters of each of those businesses be consolidated in one office where support services can be shared,” said ExxonMobil, in a letter it wrote from its international headquarters in Texas, U.S, in a response to the pressure in Nigeria that it should relocate its head offices to Akwa Ibom.
“Lagos offers each of those businesses a convenient and well-suited hub from which all three businesses can be efficiently conducted and coordinated by that manager,” the company said in the letter.
Meanwhile, the Akwa Ibom Governor, Udom Emmanuel, has called on the youths to remain calm, while he tries to “create necessary logistics to ensure the prompt relocation of international oil companies to their operation base in the state.”