Escravos: Pay Dispute Goes Awry As Soldiers Assault Protesters At Chevron's EGTL Facility

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SAN FRANCISCO, February 16, (THEWILL) - Soldiers of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in Warri, Delta State, weekend, disrupted the tranquility in Ugborodo and Escravos, Warri South West Local Government Area as they allegedly forced themselves in the community to disperse hundreds of protesters at the Chevron-operated multi-billion dollar Escravos Gas-To-Liquid (EGTL), project.

Several workers of the gas project who are mainly casual workers from Ugborodo and neighbouring communities were trapped in their camps as the soldiers invades the Escravos around 2 am, forcefully to disperse the protesting workers.

Hundreds of the workers who were woken up from  their sleep were allegedly tortured by the soldiers who were said to have cut the barbwire fence of their camp to gain access to the yard.

Some of them were arrested and taken to Warri immediately while others who were to be ferried through a waiting gunboat were saved from being arrested  by some sympathetic Ijaw youths who were alerted from the neighbouring communities of the soldiers raid on protesters in Escravos.

It was not clear if any of the protesters died during the offensive but a source said all the workers were trapped and some sustained vary degree of injuries arising from the torture and their bid to escape  from the unsuspected attack.

Sources said that the soldiers, who were allegedly deployed at the behest of EGTL management and a group of contractors handling project for the American oil firm, shot all through the early hours on Saturday, thus sending shivers down the spine of residents around Ugborodo and Escravos who thought another crisis had broken out  in the riverine community.

THEWILL had exclusively reported on Monday that angry workers protesting unpaid salaries, allowances and pay-offs, had crippled activities at the Chevron's multi-billion dollar Escravos Gas-To-Liquid Project in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State.

The workers had accused Chevron contracting firms working on the project of flouting industrial laws,  decrying irregularities in their salaries, pay-offs and other allowances.

It was learnt that the workers had defied the plea of the former chairman of Itsekiri Regional Development Committee and current Commissioner in charge of oil and gas, Hon Mofe Pirah, to stop the protest which had halted all activities at the project site.

Sources said  this led to the deployment of heavily armed soldiers to disperse the defiant protesters.

A resident of the area who spoke  on condition of anonymity said; "They release a volume of gun shots as they approached the project area.

As the shootings continued, people starting shivering and scampering for safety.

Some of the workers starting calling their loved ones in Warri to alert them of the invasion and that their lives were no longer safe.

"Several persons were molested, tortured as they woke them up from their camps.

They forced some of them into their gunboats and took them to Warri immediately while the others who were arrested were boxed in a corner with soldiers watching over them after a major resistance on the waterways by Ijaw youths who came to the rescue.

" Our source hinted that Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan recently disclosed in Abuja that the Chevron Global Memoranda of Understanding (GMoU) had triggered off the protest by the workers.

The source said that the governor who had underscored the benefit of the GMoU and how it has favoured the Itsekiri Regional Development Committee (IRDC), as well as workers in the EGTL project, allegedly created the impression that the workers were robustly paid whereas they are being given peanuts.

Our source further said that the workers who had decried the governor's claim that workers were allegedly well paid monthly, had reportedly confronted their various companies executives for allegedly short-changing them for years in salaries, allowances and pay-offs entitlement.

"What brought about the protest is that after the governor and Chief Ayeri Emami's  (Chairman, Itsekiri Regional Development Committee), spoke in Abuja as was reported on the television  about the GMoU and how the workers are being paid N600,000 per month, the workers said it is time to confront the contractors who have been short-changing them because nobody among the set of workers in EGTL have collected close to N200,000 a month talk less of N600, 000 .

"The salary workers have so far received is N120,000 inclusive of allowance and others entitlements.

So when they heard the figures they said they have been receiving as a result of the success of the GMoU program, they decided to stage the non-violent protest because it means the contractors have been enslaving them after collecting much from Chevron, they only give out peanuts to them and that's how the protest started on Monday.

' The contracting firms allegedly being accused by the workers include Dozik, Pimoff, BGI, Gibies, Tomba, Sukuru, Unique, Sunshine Enterprises, Bilozis, Everest and Jad, among others.

It could be recalled that invasion by security operatives have been going on frequently in Ugborodo and Escravos axis of Warri South West Council area in the last few month: A task force comprises of navy, police and SSS had invaded Ugborodo some few months ago allegedly over leadership tussle brewing in the area over the Export Processing Zone project to be sited in Ogidigben.

Several efforts to reach the Commanding Officer of the Joint Task Force in Warri, Lit-Col Ifeanyi Otu proved abortive as several calls to his mobile phone couldn't go through.

He did not also  reply the SMS sent to his phone as when  filling this story.