Three persons were reportedly killed on Sunday in Ogwuikpele, one of the two communities where oil exploration activities are going on in Ogbaru Local Government Area, Anambra State Southeast Nigeria during a peace meeting.
HumAngle gathered that the meeting to reconcile members of Umueleke village who were feuding over leadership issues was attacked by some unidentified gunmen who arrived in a speedboat through the River Niger and opened fire on one of the factions.
Part of the agenda of the meeting also, HumAngle was told, was on how to equitably share whatever benefits that come from the oil drilling company to the community.
According to eyewitnesses, the gunmen arrived shortly after the meeting started and opened fire. At the end of the attack, about 10 persons were left with varying degrees of injuries. It lasted between 11 am and 4 pm.
At the time of the incident, eyewitnesses said neither police nor operatives of Naval Outpost Onitsha visited or intervened. They claimed that guns and dangerous weapons were used freely.
Members of the communities blame the rising unrest in Ogwuikpele on a petroleum exploration company which they accused of setting against one another rather than engaging them on a collective bargaining and compensation programme.
Sterling Oil Exploration and Energy Production Company (SEEPCO), an Indian company is into a partnership deal with Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to explore OML143 field (Okwuibome) in the Northern part of Niger Delta.
According to officials of Anambra State Government, OML 143 which SEEPCO was working on traverses the field also traverses the state with effective drilling activities in Ogwuanocha and Ogwuikpele which accords Anambra the status of an oil-producing state.
They lament that the ‘Stop-work’ order served the company pending the regularisation of its activities and conduct of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) with all necessary approvals Federal Ministry of Environment had not been obeyed.
Valentine Emordi, a community leader in Oguikpele blamed the crisis on the Town Union leadership crisis which had left the community without elected representatives for about three years.
Emordi said the community had conducted elections twice but those who emerged were not recognised by the government while the caretaker committee set up by the State Government was not serving the interest of the people.
The current uprising among the youth, he stated was the outcome of a running battle between the factions of the caretaker committee and those whose election was not recognised by the government.
“The people of Ogwuikpele have cried to the Anambra State Government for about three years now that there is a need to do away with the caretaker system and allow the community people to choose their representatives,” Emordi said.
“The absence of a popular Town Union has affected the peace and security of our people, we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder in Ogwuikpele. The crisis has prevented us from engaging SEEPCO as a community for collective bargaining.”
But, the crack in the community was exacerbated by the oil company who Emordi alleges chose to negotiate with preferred persons to interface with the people who are not serving the interest of the community.
He said the oil company always took the representatives to Delta State, South-south Nigeria or those of Imo State, Southeast instead of engaging the locals on their soil in Anambra where they are carrying out drilling activities.
According to him, about 90 per cent of the tension in Ogwuikpele can be blamed on the oil company because it has refused to call the community people together, but rather uses a group and negotiate with them to the detriment of the host community.
“They invite them to Delta or Imo states, the oil is found in Anambra. We demand that we should talk about it here, what they do is enter an agreement with the group they like and pitch them against their brothers and sisters,” he said.
“The Sunday incident is unfortunate, we lost three persons and many were injured in a peaceful community that lived their normal life but this is because of the oil exploration activities in Ogbaru and the company involved is fuelling it.”
Arinze Awogu, Transition Chairman of Ogbaru Local Government Area confirmed that three persons were killed in the Sunday morning attack.
Awogu said the oil company was using money to cause disunity among the people, adding that it went to show how an oil company was creating tension and disharmony among people that had lived together for ages.
“SEEPCO is using divide-and-rule tactics and also capitalising on the poverty of the people to perpetuate their non-formalised stay in Ogbaru. They refused to talk to the host communities, rather they engage people in groups and go for the lesser bargain,” he said.
“The oil company prefers to cut corners and refuses to do the right thing, you will also understand the poverty level in the land where for mere peanuts could take up arms against themselves, so the uprising is triggered by money matters.”
“We have been saying over time that the activities of SEEPCO are not doing any good to our environment, we demand that they should act according to the law guiding the industry. We can’t continue to lose lives in these circumstances.”
“They are breeding militancy and bad blood on our land, as I am talking with you, there is no signboard anywhere in Anambra to announce that they are here.”
Willie Obiano, Governor Anambra State had complained against SEEPCO operation to the Federal Government and urged it to impress it on the company to formalise and regularise its activities in the state.
Obiano who made the call at stakeholders meeting on November 5 in Agulu, Anaocha Local Government Area urged Sharon Ikeazor, the Minister of State for Environment to use her visit to Anambra appreciate the harm SEEPCO was doing to the host communities.
According to him, SEEPCO activities have led to the disastrous environmental degradation of the Ogwu-Ikpele and Ogwu Aniocha communities in Ogbaru.
“Their operations have further worsened the plight and living conditions of those communities, thereby creating palpable tension and restiveness that were uncommon before the company arrived,” Obiano said.
“We are counting on you to ensure that SEEPCO complies with the EIA requirement so that we can leave no stone unturned in our quest to become a member of the oil and gas producing state in Nigeria.”
The Minister reiterated that the exploration of the abundant hydrocarbon reserves must be done in an environmentally sustainable and friendly manner.
Ikpeazor stressed that concerted efforts must be made to identify the potential negative impact of any exploration project.
She said the ministry observed that SEEPCO did not obtain all the regulatory permits before embarking on drilling in Anambra.
This was in clear violation of section 62 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, the Minister noted.