Aiteo Pricking the Tail of Community Tigers?

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By Eddy Odivwri

Ever since the days of military president, Ibrahim Babangida, the term “settlement” has become an operational lexicon in the Nigerian business environment. And so, when the Yar’adua administration used the Amnesty programme to “settle’ the Niger Delta agitators, derisively called militants, the frequent upheavals, crises and vandalism of oil facilities have remarkably reduced. In fact, the Boys have been rather calm for a long time, to the joy of the federal government. The result is that not only are oil production and export now sparingly disrupted, the volume of production has also gone up significantly. And the Nigerian economy is better for it.

But the honeymoon seems set to be terminated, if reports at my disposal are to be taken seriously. By June 30, that is ten days from now, the Nembe people (elders and youths inclusive) do not want to see Aiteo Eastern Explorations and Production Company Ltd, in their domain. Both parties seem to have unsheathed the sword and squaring up for a duel. The Opu Nembe (Nembe-Bassambiri) Kingdom of Bayelsa State has hired a team of lawyers to help drive the legal aspect of their protest against Aiteo, the operators of the OML29, which the say, is one of the most productive onshore oilfields, as it produces between 80,000 to 100,000bpd. The OML 29 is located within the Nembe kingdom.

The community leaders have accused Aiteo of unethical and unprofessional conducts that are capable of igniting a wild fire of protests of cataclysmic proportion in the oil and gas industry in a way that it will hurt the Nigerian economy,

Part of the protest by the community to National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) is that when the OML 29 licence of Aiteo expires in ten days time, it should not be renewed for the company, rather it should be re-awarded to a competent operator through a process of open and competitive bidding.

The community has accused the company of deliberately displacing its members who are local contractors from the services of the company, by using their own contractors, through proxies, to execute the same contracts the locals use to execute, but now at much higher cost.

The petition to NAPIMS noted that local contractors from the community are deliberately owed for as long as between six and 24 months after contracts have been executed, thus incapacitating them. And that when the local contractors complain, the management of the company (Aiteo) will appoint their own proxies to become the local contractors, to the detriment of the local/community-based contractors.

Some of such proxy companies which have allegedly displaced the locals include Cavendish Mechanicals Nig Ltd, Hydra Integrated Energy Services, Zamam Offshore Nig Ltd Keves Global Leasing Ltd etc.

The community is bitter that the practice has led to so much frustration among the people of the kingdom as thousands of families and youths who depend on such contracts are left stranded with potential to cause ”unpalatable consequences for communities and otherwise”

Beside the tendency to provoke disquiet among the youths of the community, the community leaders are also alleging that the contracts to the proxies of the managers of the company are usually over-inflated and the implication is that the federal government will be losing more money, given that the company is in Joint Venture arrangement with the NNPC.

“This misconception is fuelled by key officers of the company to help cover up the contract racketeering and insider trading within Aiteo”, the petition stated.

But the spokesman of Aiteo, Matthew Ndiana, could not be reached to state the side of the company as his line was switched off.

But a quick intervention by NAPIMS and NNPC, the brewing crisis can be staved off by encouraging Aiteo to undertake better community relations.