Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The operations of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, again came under the spotlight yesterday when Aghoro, a coastal settlement along Ramos River, Ekeremor in Bayelsa State, accused the security outfit of forcing them to sign a Joint Investigation (JIV) report.
Leaders of the community alleged that Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) was using the JTF led by Rear Admiral Suleiman Apochi, to intimidate representatives of the area involved in the investigation of an oil spill that occurred recently.
The profiles and biometrics of the leaders have also been entered into the JTF’s database as suspects.
It was gathered that the oil leak, which occurred on May 17, 2018, discharged 1,114 barrels of crude oil into the environment and polluted the Ramos River, farmlands and surroundings.
Also, the spill impacted a total land area of 113.3 hectares in Aghoro 1, the JIV indicated, while the community claimed that the impacted area was 1,825 hectares.
But the JTF and SPDC yesterday denied coercing the leadership of the community to sign a report, insisting that they were only interested in peace in the area.
Following the disagreement, it was learnt that the community leaders who participated in the JIV to determine the cause of the spill subsequently declined to sign the report.
The refusal was due to wide disparity between the impacted areas claimed by SPDC and the community.
Speaking with journalists, Mr. Victor Akamu, Chairman, Community Development Committee of Aghoro 1, stated that that the JTF summoned the community leadership to Yenagoa on August 23 to force them to sign the JIV report, which they declined.
According to him, the JTF profiled the team from Aghoro, labelled them pipeline vandals and entered their biometrics into the database of the security agency.
“We were taken to a room where detailed profiles of us were taken including our finger prints, biometric details and our photographs.
“We were temporarily held down for almost three hours profiling before we were eventually asked to go.
“I wanted to ask is it part of JTF’s job to force a community to sign a JIV Report?
“Shell should stop using JTF to intimidate our community, for the past 20 years, there is no history of pipeline vandalism, this leak was due t a ruptured pipeline due to corrosion yet they call us vandals, it is unacceptable,” Akamu said.
But Media Relations Manager, SPDC, Mr. Bamidele Odugbesan, denied the use of force to compel its host communities to sign the JIV Report.
“Yes, there issues with the JIV report, the representative of Aghoro 1 community did not agree with a portion of the JIV report but we have not used force, SPDC does not coerce parties to sign JIV Reports.”
Also, Apochi said the military only waded into the crisis to encourage both parties to adopt dialogue to resolve their differences.
“I told them to resolve their differences on the negotiating table so that the operation is not disrupted, our mandate is to safeguard oil facilities and we do not want the disagreement to degenerate further.
“We got reports that some persons were disrupting ongoing repairs of the ruptured pipelines and that was why some people were profiled, I was emphatic that we cannot tolerate anyone taking the law into his hands,”he said.