By Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja
The shoreline communities and fisher-persons in Delta and Bayelsa States affected by the Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo), Bonga oil spill of December 20, 2011, yesterday raised the alarm over what they described as attempt by the oil company to apply the ‘’same crude divide and conquer tactics’’ to achieve an unjust solution to the issue of compensation to the victims of the oil spill.
In a statement signed by the leaders of the affected communities, including Chief Awe Daniel, Mr. Adolph Fiefin, Jacob Japhet, Mr. Victor Idisi, Mr. Kampala Biomoni, Mr. Jacob Palimote, Chief. Otobo Itiemogha and Madam Margaret A. Ichibor, the affected communities said the alarm became necessary in order to inform the public about the questionable tactics by SNEPCo and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) to divide the Niger Delta people — in their bid to cheat and conquer the people.
According to the statement, “On December 20, 2011, SNEPCo spilled over 800,000 barrels of crude oil into the marine environment, while loading crude oil into a awaiting tanker. Within days the spill hit the Nigerian shores particularly the coastline of Delta and Bayelsa States being the most severely impacted, affecting over 350 communities that have been fighting for justice by way of peace.
“SNEPCo on the other hand, has employed every dishonest means it can muster to cover up the greatest environmental by saying that the crude oil spill that hit the shores is mystery so as to avoid civil liability.’’
The statement added that in the bid to peacefully fight for justice, the communities took the matter to the National Assembly, adding that after nearly three years of hearings, the federal lawmakers on September 30 2014 mandated SNEPCo to meet with the affected communities through their accredited representatives and authorised attorneys to agree on compensation payments due to the affected communities within two weeks.
The affected communities said rather than comply with the straightforward directive of the National Assembly, Shell in open and flagrant disrespect for the national institutions, invited some few unauthorised members of affected communities — under the aegis of General Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) to Eko Hotels Lagos to negotiate the so-called mystery spill that was converted to infrastructure with 10 percentage of the infrastructure money going to the GMoU members as an administrative cost.
The communities added: ‘’This move which was calculated to divide the communities — between GMoU and non-GMoU and within GMoU communities into pro and anti GMoU camps, only floundered when the communities took out a full page advertorial in October and November 2014 — intimating the whole world that the persons so invited did not have the communities’ consent or authority to negotiate on their behalf.
‘’Again the GMoU is between SPDC not SNEPCo and some impacted communities not all the impacted communities. SPDC and SNEPCo are two distinct legal entities and we do not understand how one will pollute and the other will negotiate for compensation.
“All through the discussions at the National Assembly it was SNEPCo and not SPDC which was present. Even, SPDC wrote letters to governments stating that SPDC did not spill, but SNEPCo.’’
However, the communities said that it had come to their knowledge again that Shell is attempting to apply the ‘’same crude divide and conquer tactics to achieve an unjust’’ solution.
‘’Sometimes in July 2016, Shell invited GMoU chairmen of 24 communities to sign nefarious agreement on behalf of the impacted communities, with a view that the federal government case in Abuja will not succeed because the federal government is Shell principal with respect to the Bonga field,’’ they added in the statement.
‘’Secondly, the federal government Aagent (NOSDRA) through a scientific report, said the Bonga oil spill did not impact the shores and thirdly money paid into federation account may not get to communities.
‘’We wish to inform the whole world that the GMoU chairmen/members are not interested in discussing with any authority over land acquisition and/or oil spill compensation as well as convert compensation into infrastructure on behalf of impacted communities especially the 2011 Bonga oil spill in any manner whatsoever.’’
The communities added that even after the signing of the GMoU, Shell had been dealing/paying compensation with respect to land acquisition or oil spills to all affected persons without involving the GMoU members, saying for the avoidance of doubt there was no “mystery spill” in 2011 in any of their communities.
They further stated, “If Shell wishes to make any gratis payment to members of affected communities, it is free to do so. But such payment will not absolve them of liability in law for the December 2011 Bonga Spill.
‘’The accredited representative/attorney of all the shoreline communities remain Gbutse Property Limited and any negotiation without the presence and/or signature of their said attorney shall deemed null and void, and of no effects whatsoever.’’
The statement added that the recent attempt to revive the same crude tactics of divide and conquer, after years of its defeat is nothing but a “criminal attempt’’ to incite the people against the federal government and/or intra-ethnic violence in the Niger Delta thereby undermining the national security in a tense environment.
‘’Shell should note that the impacted communities will definitely file a separate claim against Shell in any court of law should Shell fails to commence negotiation with our said representative/attorney, as such Shell do the right thing and also mind their businesses for which they are in Nigeria,’’ they added.