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$16bn EPZ Project: Tension Mounts As Jonathan's Kinsmen Kick Against Flag-off

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA, April 15, (THEWILL) â€' Fresh controversy is brewing in Ugborodo, Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State, as some communities along the Escravos EPZ land areas are allegedly kicking against what they described as the failure of the authorities to carry them along in the multibillion dollar project.

Some Ijaw communities within Escravos, particularly in Kpokpo/Okpeleama communities which is about 335.

554 hectares of land in the Escravos EPZ land area, have reportedly warned against the flag-off of the project without resolving all issues in contention.

Already, the foremost Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC) which midwifed the release of foreign hostages seized by outlawed Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in 2005, has decried the situation, warning that it could be counter-productive if the vexing issues are not addressed before the project is flagged off.

The development is coming few weeks to the official foundation laying ceremony of the project by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Barring all foreseen circumstance, President Jonathan is expected to perform the foundation laying ceremony of the project next week.

Impeccable sources in the state said Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan is already preparing grounds for the President to visit Escravos and lay the foundation of the gas city world-class project.

THEWILL learnt that the development is also coming ahead of the stakeholders' forum, to explore ways of securing oil and gas installations, slated to hold at the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Effurun, near Warri, Delta State on Tuesday to herald the take off of the EPZ project.

The conference being organised by the Delta State Government alongside the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources/NNPC for stakeholders in the oil and gas industry in the state is part of the strategy being explored for the smooth take-off of the project.

THEWILL learnt that some stakeholders in the area where the EPZ project is to be sited are pushing for the cancellation of President Jonathan's visit to Escravos following the unresolved issues.

Foremost Niger Delta group, Federated Niger Delta Ijaw Communities (FNDIC) led by radical Niger Delta activist, Chief Bello Oboko, is in the forefront of those warning against the visit of President Jonathan to Escravos to flag off the project.

Oboko who confirmed this to THEWILL in a telephone conversation said that the visit of Mr.

President would only anger the 'stakeholders' who had alleged neglect and outright sidelining in the process leading to the execution of the project.

Oboko, particularly cited the case of Kpokpo/Okpeleama, both Ijaw communities which are said to be less than 335.

554 hectares of land belonging to communities within the Escravos EPZ land area.

He argued that the dwellers of Kpokpo/Okpeleama land are not allowed to participate in the on-going work carried out in the Escravos EPZ site.

According to him, following the revocation of their land (referring to Kpokpo/Okpeleama), the people became dislocated from their local economies, a situation which resulted to nagging hunger and humanitarian crises in the affected communities'.

He added that it was provocative that the people were sent away from their land against God's assurance in Ps 37:3 that says 'dwell in the land and enjoy safe pastures'.

Oboko however said the Stakeholders Forum on Securing Oil and Gas Investments in Effurun, would be an avenue for these issues to be put before the discussion table.

Consequently, he insisted that stakeholders should be guided by the experiences of the past in charting a way forward in securing oil investments.

While condemning act of vandalism in the Niger Delta region, Oboko warned that the apparent neglect of all stakeholders is one major factor which had led to destruction of oil investments in the past.

He particularly attributed the vandalisation of Dibi, Alero, Sahara Oil Flow Stations owned by Chevron Nigeria Limited; Opumami Flow Station owned by Elf; Warri-Lagos Gas Pipeline and Crude Oil Pipeline owned by the Petroleum Pipeline Marketing Company (PPMC), in the past to aftermath of unresolved grievance in the region.