On 28th February, 2018, Stakeholders Alliance for Corporate Accountability organized a Town hall sensitization/campaign against pipeline vandalism in Epie-Zarama town hall. The program started around 11:10am with about 76 participants in attendance. Some of the participants included 2 SPDC staff led by the Manager Community and Government Relations, Mr. Alaye Dokubo; 3 NAOC staff led by the Manager Green River Project (GRP), Ine Tamuno; State Member of House of Assembly, Hon. Gentle Imela, represented by the CDB Chairman Okordia Zarama, Hon. Jerusalem Adikbue, 3 NOSDRA staff led by Ohaji Nwabueze; ASCO team led by Hon. Pst. Ranking Alfred; the clan head of Okordia/Zarama Cluster, H.R.M. King Richard Seiba; the Head of Operation, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp Bayelsa State; Ogbole Frederick. Community Leaders of Okordia/Zarama were also in attendance, including paramount rulers.
H.R.M. King Sieba said the opening prayer while the Director of SACA, Mr. Abba Ayemi, warmly received the crowd and narrated SACA’s origin and our mission in Niger Delta, adding that our focus on that day was on pipeline vandalism and its effect in an ecosystem.
The Chairman of SACA’s Board of Trustees, Rev. Fr. Kevin O’Hara, expressed happiness on seeing all the stakeholders present. He briefed us on the effort he made to reach out to the general managers of both NOAC and SPDC and how they promised to send their managers to represent them. He lamented on the high rate of pipeline sabotage, adding that people were unfortunately slow in learning the effects of oil spill on the environment. He discouraged fighting and advised everyone to listen respectfully to the facilitator and to one another.
The event, which came on the heels of a raid in Ikarama community by men of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, was moderated by a conflict resolution expert, Mr. Austin Onuoha, from the African Center for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR), Abuja. Talks were presented by the former Petroleum and Pollutions Director in the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment, Engr. Jephta Bank, and Dr. Wolo-wolo Tariladei of the Federal Medical Center, Yenagoa. The talks exposed the dangers of pipeline vandalism to the environment, to the communities’ livelihoods, to human health and life.
Mr. Onuoha, in his speech said that our gathering was to discuss the possible solution to the sabotage problem which affects everyone and not to engage in a blame game, adding that people should address the general house and not an individual. He asked everyone to write one thing he would like to go home with in a sheet of paper. He read some of the write ups and we summed up the consensus – that nobody wanted the oil spill to continue. He displayed on a projector a picture of a little child who was dying and a vulture waiting for the child to die to eat his remains. According to him, a British journalist who shot the picture won an award but later committed suicide and did not live to enjoy the money he won. He went on to say that the journalist could not stand the blame from people who said that instead of saving the child, he watched her die just to snap a picture for the sake of an award. He told us that whenever there was an issue of oil spill, he would remember that picture, concluding that if one keeps quiet when the issue of pipeline vandalism was going on, one was like that journalist. He lamented on the amount of money Nigeria lost on oil spills, regretting that when pipelines were being sabotaged, some of the crude oil would be refined illegally and the rest of the crude would go into our environment and we would inhale it. He defined vandalism as action involving deliberate destruction of public or private property and it was not done by innocent people or one person, and it’s for selfish interest. He concluded by blaming the government and the society for keeping quiet over vandalism of pipelines.
The first invited speaker, Engr. Jephta Bank, described pipeline vandalism as an act of frustrated individuals who felt that oil was found in their lands and they were not getting enough from it. He went on to say that toxins and hydrocarbons were being released into the environment when a pipeline was ruptured and it could not be easily locked back, adding that it would continue to flow until the oil company noticed that there was a reduced pressure in that pipeline or a farmer who may raise an alarm when he sees it. Otherwise it would flow into the river and kill the fishes in the river including the farm produce which was the only source of livelihood in Bayelsa, he said. He encouraged the initiative of modular refineries, saying that idle youths could be employed in such industry. He suggested the possible solutions of vandalism of pipelines to be: the improvement in the area of infrastructures and development, electricity supply, the oil companies not neglecting the community chiefs and inclusion of the community members in surveillance contract. He assured that these would bring peace between the communities and the companies.
The second invited speaker, Dr. Tariladei, exposed some of the diseases caused by toxins, dangerous elements and poisonous substances which were not ordinarily supposed to be in the human system. He continued to say that these substances were introduced in the body through polluted environments, contaminated water, crops, etc,. According to him, the above contaminants in the oil spills were the main cause of high rate of liver cancer, respiratory track infections such as cough, etc., high rate of infertility, high rate of miscarriages and attendant complications. According to him, the accumulation of these poisonous substances in the human system leads to terminal diseases that could claim ones life. He advised the youths to shun pipeline vandalism and find other means to make ends meet.
The Head of Operations and leader of the delegation from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, Mr. Frederick Ogbole, expressed happiness for SACA’s effort in organizing such program. He acknowledged that it was their first time of gathering and peaceful discussion of this issue. He regretted that in Nigeria people were comfortable with relaxed body and brain waiting for oil unlike in other parts of the world where people were intellectually busy. He accused the vandals for taking after their role models who were militants, kidnappers and sea pirates. He however suggested possible solutions as peaceful dialogue, educating/orienting the youths, involvement of the youths in surveillance jobs because they would take responsibility for it. He advised them to hold their representatives in the government to find out why their road was that way and assured us that they would discharge their duties accordingly.
Mr. Ohaji of NOSDRA explained oil spill as an uncontrolled release of hydrocarbon in the environment. 80% of oil spill they recorded were sabotage, he said, attributing it to the restiveness of youths who needed one thing or the other and some contractors who sometimes send the boys to vandalize the pipelines in order to attract cleanup contracts. He added that there was someone in the system who informed the youths when ‘the lights were off’. He notified us about some laws which governed oil spillage, compensation and contracting. He advised the youths to embrace dialogue and other measures like reporting to SACA instead of pipeline vandalism.
One of SACA’s Board members, Sir. Peter Berezi, was of the opinion that the government should partner with the smaller refineries where crudes were being refined instead of spending much money in modular refineries. He encouraged the oil companies to set up a network which could dictate in their system when a pipeline was tampered with and to the youths, he advised them not burst pipeline just because they are angry, as they were introducing caseinogens into our environment.
The communities, including youths, women and the elders, had the opportunity to table their grievances against the two oil companies, in a calm, non-violent way, without threatening anyone, and were listened to. The communities particularly lamented the allegedly reckless invasion of their communities by members of the NSCDC, the non employment of any member of the clan in both SPDC and NOAC, lack of projects from government in their communities, outstanding debts to the chiefs and poor communication between the oil companies and communities.
A Bayelsa State House of Assembly member, Hon. Gentle Emela, particularly took a swipe on the security agencies, for not going to the bush where the pipelines were to secure them but hanging around in the communities molesting innocent women and school children. He recommended that SPDC and Agip build outposts around their pipelines and station the security operatives and surveillance contractors there instead of using an unequipped skills acquisition center in the middle of the community as a barracks for security forces to trouble the residents. The paramount ruler of Epie-Zarama, Chief Foundation Omekwe, threatened to shut down the manifold if nothing was done, saying that they were tired of being gathered and addressed by NGOs and at end nothing would change. He further said that they would never advise their youths again because they were tired of doing that. The Okordia Clan Head, H.R.M. King Seiba, recalled how he singlehandedly pushed for the dualization of the Okordia-Zarama road by SPDC, promising more spills if the road was not dualized. He blamed the sabotage on security, alleging that the Civil Defense where not discharging their duties.
The CDB Chairman, Hon. Jerusalem Adikbue, emphasized the issue of employment. According to him, there was a need for the oil companies to employ the community member who could calm down his people with their local dialect. He also made mention of electricity and road network as parts of the solutions to pipeline sabotage. He also advised the youths to shun sabotage and not be used by others to burst pipelines.
SPDC’s Manager for Government and Community Relations, Mr. AlayeDokubo, emphasized the need for the youths to seek alternative livelihoods, and to hold the government accountable since they have the statutory responsibility of developing the communities, instead of relying on SPDC. He informed us that there were other opportunities where youths could be trained and established, promising to be available for youths to dialog because he was also a youth even at his age.
Agip’s Green River Project Manager, IneTamuno, praised SACA for organizing this forum, as an effective means of dialog to prevent or minimize pipeline sabotage in the area, and requested for more of such events to be organized in the future.
Mr. Frederick Ogbole of the Civil Defense further appealed to the communities for understanding in the midst of allegations of rights abuse against them, promising that their men would not misbehave again.
It was resolved that SPDC should open their doors to the communities youth leaders whenever they have issues and call on them, and to educate the NSCDC, as guards of their facilities, on the provisions of the Voluntary Principles on Security & Human Rights which the international oil companies signed up to. Fr. O’Hara commended SPDC for the promise of opening their doors to the youth leaders, challenging them not to renege.
The women leader of Ikarama community, Mrs. Ayibakuro Warder, said the closing prayer.
At the end of the meeting, participants resolved as follows:
- That pipeline vandalism does no one any good in the short, intermediate and long term;
- That dialogue should be used to resolve all issues involving companies and communities;
- That oil company operators should open their doors to community people and respond to their issues;
- That more should be done in the area of providing infrastructure to host communities;
- That all stakeholders must work together to address the issue of unemployment especially among the youths;
- That more of this kind of forum should be organized to feel the pulse of stakeholders;
- That there was need for training of Civil Defense Corps on Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights;
- That there was need for improved communications;
- That there was need for CLO from communities to be employed by oil companies, etc.