BY Southsouth Bureau Chief BISI OLANIYI

Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) are at loggerheads over the state government’s announcement that it has acquired Shell Petroleum Development Company’s stake in Oil Mining Licence (OML) 11, writes Southsouth Bureau Chief BISI OLANIYI

The Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11 covers Ogoniland and other parts of the Niger Delta, especially communities in Abia and Rivers states. It also extends to Bonny export terminal.

OML-11, with 33 oil and gas fields, has four Joint Venture (JV) partners, being operated by SPDC JV, consisting of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) with 55 per cent, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) with 30 per cent, Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited with 10 per cent and Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) with five per cent.

Shell first came to Ogoniland, which consists of four Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme, in 1958.  SPDC was sent packing from the area in 1993 through the people’s non-violent struggle. A renowned environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other Ogoni leaders, were hanged at the Port Harcourt Prisons on November 10, 1995, during the late Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime.

The polluted Ogoni environment is being cleaned-up by the Federal Government, with many people being engaged, in spite of the cult war in the area.

Acquisition of OML or renewal of licence is through the Federal Government, which is usually handled by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).

Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike stirred the hornet’s nest on September 30, in a broadcast at the Government House, Port Harcourt, in the presence of many chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), top officials of Rivers government and some journalists.

Wike stated that for national development, the Rivers government had fully acquired “SPDC’s 45 per cent interest” in OML-11, situated in Ejama-Ebubu in Eleme LGA and the adjoining Ogoni and other communities of the state.

The Rivers governor said: “I directed the Rivers State Ministry of Finance Incorporated to make a bid of USD 150,000,000.00 supported by a bank guarantee and cash payment to the Deputy Sheriff in the sum of N1 billion, the later payable to the Judgement Creditors, while the former is escrowed.

“I have further directed the relevant government agencies to take immediate steps to liaise with any financially-capable companies to partner with the Rivers State government to ensure that the said oil field come on stream within 15 months.

“In line with our commitment to accelerated development, industrial harmony and security, the Rivers State government will graciously concede some portion of its 45 per cent equity interest to all the oil-producing communities within OML-11, to enhance mutual ownership, participation and sharing in the benefits of these resources.”

Shell, however, said the asset is subjudice. Its Media Relations Manager, Bamidele Odugbesan,  said: “The announcement by the Rivers State government is in respect of the assets of SPDC, which form part of a matter that is pending in court, for which reason we are unable to make further comments.”

The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) declared that Ogoniland would never be for sale and its resources would not be expropriated by private interests masquerading as public interest.

The umbrella organisation of Ogoni people, on October 5, in a 15-point communique, after its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Port Harcourt, the Rivers state capital, kicked against the planned takeover of SPDC’s stake in Ogoni oilfields by the state government.

The communique was signed by MOSOP’s President, Legborsi Pyagbara, and the Secretary-General, Anthony Porole.

In the  communique, MOSOP condemned the continuing humiliation of the Ogoni people by state actors, particularly with the brazen, insensitive, outrageous, dismissive and insulting manner in which government officials at all levels had been treating the matter of OML-11.

It noted that the stoppage of oil production in Ogoniland was the result of the Ogoni campaigns for environmental protection, resource control, political justice and economic emancipation.

MOSOP said: “Ogoni rights of ownership have not been respected. All purported midnight acquisitions, divestments or licensure of the Ogoni oilfields, without broad consultation and agreement with the Ogoni people are null, void and cannot stand.

“The people of Ogoni are not opposed to the resumption of oil production in Ogoniland, but Ogoni must be treated as an area of subsisting struggle against injustice meted against  them by the duo of the  Federal Government of Nigeria and the SPDC, and requires a reconciliation process to look into the issues that had been raised over the years and proffer a process of national healing, reconciliation and addressing of legacy issues arising from the decades of environmental degradation, political marginalisation and repression.”

The umbrella organisation of Ogoni people also stated that any future discussion on resumption of oil production in Ogoniland must address the issue of benefit sharing among the community, the government and the prospective oil company, the issue of community participation in the entire value chain of the industry and the emplacement of a clear environmental management plan for the fragile Ogoni ecosystem.

MOSOP called on Ogoni people to remain peaceful, united, vigilant and be their brother’s keeper, while hinting that there would be challenging days ahead, with their detractors to employ all conceivable tricks to cause division among them.

The National Coordinator of Conscience of Ogoni People (COOP), formerly known as Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, Chief Gani Topba, on October 1, in an eight-page letter to Wike, urged the Rivers governor and the state government to steer clear of Ogoni, describing the oil fields as those of blood.

Topba said: “We refuse to believe that you (Wike) could exploit the debacle between SPDC and the Ogoni people by going behind to work against the Ogoni interest and to sabotage the supreme price paid by the Ogoni forebears in seeking justice for the oppressed people.

“Ordinarily, we would have ignored the announcement, knowing full well that your mission is dead on arrival, but for the numerous calls from Ogoni people, friends of Ken Saro-Wiwa, international human and environmental rights groups and well-meaning individuals, both within and outside Nigeria, who have inundated our office with calls and inquiries regarding the unpatriotic and ill-fated broadcast.

“We have subjected the broadcast to painstaking scrutiny and we can confirm that it is filled with inconsistencies, contradictions, outright falsehoods and exaggerations. It is our considered view that the reasons adduced are divisionary and a veiled attempt to conceal Your Excellency’s real capitalist-driven personal interest. It has everything to do with your personal interest and less to do with the interest of the people of Rivers State.”

He went on: “There is no such thing as SPDC’s 45 per cent interest in OML-11. The OML-11 is a joint venture involving NNPC with 55 per cent stake, SPDC with 30% stake, Total with 10 per cent stake and Agip with 5 per cent stake. Therefore, it is inconceivable and impracticable that the Rivers State government will purport to have acquired 45 per cent of interest, when all that SPDC has is 30 per cent.

“SPDC was declared persona non grata in Ogoniland in 1993, following its decades of economic and environmental injustice perpetrated against the Ogoni people, who were forced to live in perpetual hunger, starvation, misery, exclusion, poverty, unemployment and above all environmental degradation caused by reckless exploitation of oil and gas resources in OML-11 (Ogoni fields) and the adoption of bad oilfield practice.”

The national coordinator of COOP also stated that Ogoni fields were purchased with the blood and sufferings of Ogoni people, through non-violent protests and struggle over the years, while adding that President Muhammadu Buhari had assured Ogoni people of his firm commitment to resolve all the issues surrounding the OML-11 in order to pave way for the resumption of oil production in the area.

He said: “The Rivers State government should retrieve whatever Rivers money that may have purportedly been paid, in the belief that it will acquire any stake in OML-11 (Ogoni fields), as the maxim nemo dat quod non habet (no one can give what he does not have) applies. We strongly believe that this might be another Ponzi scheme, floated by your enemies to drain Rivers State of scarce funds, which could have been invested in more productive ventures.

“We urge the Rivers State government to redirect its investment acumen to other assets and oil mining leases already renewed for SPDC in Nigeria, for the greater good of the state.

“We urge the Rivers State government to redirect and rechannel its new-found investment acumen towards the revamping and bringing on stream economically-viable assets of the state, inherited from previous administrations, especially Songhai farm, banana farm, fish farm and Rison palm, among others.

“We also advise the Rivers State government to prioritise the establishment of industries, creation of employment opportunities for our teeming youths, payment arrears of retirement benefits to retirees, promotion of civil servants and development of critical infrastructure and tackling of the insecurity in the state.”

Topba also stated that if the suggested measures were implemented, unemployment and insecurity, which according  to him, had blighted Wike’s administration, would be a thing of the past.

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