NAOC, Egbema Community in War Dance
Failure to fulfill promises and honour agreements reached between the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) and Egbema Community in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State is brewing extensive disaffection in the community.
Fed up with what they termed injustice and ugly plots of the company in the area, youths of Egbema community, after consultations with elders and women laid siege at NAOC's base at Ebocha last Thursday demanding employment and compensation for landlords whom they alleged have been unfairly treated and neglected over the years.
The placard-carrying youths, in their thousands blocked the gate of the company asking on the placards, that community job opportunities in Agip be given to Egbema people. Other inscriptions read, “Egbema must be employed” and, “Employ our youths and you will have your normal operations”.
The youths, who told National Network that a similar protest was carried out two months ago, said Agip promised to end the marginalization and restore all their rights. They, however expressed regret that the company reneged on their promises and jettisoned the planned redress.
Thursday demonstration however, did not move Agip as the company paid no attention to the protesting youths. On the other hand, the protest was not obstructed by the company security and military attachment which remained on red alert while the action lasted.
No company staff who were reached by this medium could comment on the situation, and the heavy security presence did not allow company management to be contacted. But on their part, the youths, who largely participated on the auspices of the Egbema Youth Association (EYA) vowed to further their protest until due attention is given to the demands and rights of the community.
In a letter dated September 2, 2011 and addressed to the managing director of NAOC with the subject, “Demand for employment of Egbema indigenes into Nigeria Agip Oil Company Limited”, the Egbema Youth Association decried the injustice and ugly plots of NAOC in the community which it said were deliberately designed and meted out to the people. EYA further said that non-compliance with the employment of Egbema indigenes into managerial, senior and junior staff positions as specified in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) of 1999 led to the blockage of NAOC's premises on August 12, 2011, forcing the company to convene a meeting between August 23-26, 2011 in which 10 representatives of the association and two public affairs division staff of NAOC brainstormed with a view to finding lasting solution to the problems.
EYA in the letter, noted that due deliberations were made in the meeting but NAOC tactfully suspended discussion on the employment issue, following which intolerable deceit the association, in an emergency meeting held on August 29, 2011 x-rayed how the company had shortchanged the community for the past 46 years of its operation.
Further to this, EYA noted that NAOC held employment test in April and on July 15, 2011 and an oral interview on August 14, 2011 without the inclusion of any Egbema indigene. It, therefore demanded three managerial positions, 18 senior staff and 24 junior staff positions, 30 direct contract and 45 third-party contract staff and upgrading of Egbema contract staff, among others from the company.
Signed by the president, secretary and PRO of EYA as well as presidents of Okwuzi, Mgbede and Aggah communities who are EYA vice presidents, the letter was widely copied to relevant authorities and stakeholders including the police, SSS, political representatives, the military and NAOC, Port Harcourt office, warning of the consequences of neglect by the company.
Unable to resolve the differences with the company, EYA in a letter to the Rivers State governor, Rt Hon Rotimi Amaechi complained about NAOC's non-compliance with the principles of the MOU in Egbema community, and total environmental neglect.
Itemizing its grievances against NAOC and its losses in the hands of the company, with particulars of the company's devastation, pollution and negligence of the society, EYA sought the governor's assistance in urging NAOC to reverse and fulfill all the abandoned MOUs subsisting between them and the community to ensure smoothness of their operation in the area.
Accusing NAOC of fanning the embers of social unrest, EYA noted in the letter: “We feel bitter and pained that the trust we reposed in NAOC seems to have been misplaced. Even at these pains, we kept quiet leaking our devastated wounds with the intentions that all shall be well, only to see our future destroyed at the gate of uncertainty.
“We do not believe in violence or getting our right through the hard ways. Of course, some of our co-Niger Delta communities who indulged in kidnaping, killing and bombing oil wells in a bid to press down their rights were being rewarded today by our national government through amnesty programmes. Many of the beneficiaries are being sent to overseas on scholarships, some received millions of naira for rehabilitation while some were given white-collar jobs. But none was given to us simply because we are not violent like them.”
Apparently failed by the move and all other appeals, the youth association seems poised for a show-down with the company until their rights are given. It probably would not matter to them how Agip feels or reacts, or how deep and far their intentions would see them.