Omon-Julius Onabu in Asaba
As part of its efforts to ensure peace in the Niger Delta, the Delta State government at the weekend met with a delegation from Egbema, a major oil-bearing Ijaw community in Delta, under the auspices of the Egbema Leaders of Thought (ELOT).
The Delta State Deputy Governor, Mr Kingsley Otuaro represented the state government at the meeting which was held at the Government House in Asaba.
Both parties came out of the meeting with assurances that the state government and the community’s opinion leaders had found a common ground to resolving the contentious issue of allocation of marginal oilfields within Egbema Kingdom and other developmental issues, without resort to disruption of oil and gas production in the communities.
The Egbema Leaders of Thought was led by Ambassador Jude Ebitimi Ukori (who stood in for Mr Edmund Doyah Tiemo, President of ELOT) and included the Vice-President, Hon Joel Bisina, Mr Robinson Esite, Mr Innocent Mumbo, Bishop Godwin Soroaye, Dr Bright Abulu Mr Clement Doyah-Tiemo and Mr Francis Bekesuode Abulu.
Efforts to douse tension in the oil-rich region, following renewed agitation over alleged exclusion of certan oil producing communities from marginal oilfields’ allocation by the federal government, have been in the front burner in the Delta State’s peace and development engagement with the concerned communities in recent time, the deputy governor said.
The highpoint of these efforts was a recent meeting in Abuja between Vice-president Yemi Osinbajo and Delta Deputy Governor Otuaro.
Speaking with newsmen after the closed-door meeting with the Egbema leaders, Otuaro expressed optimism that an amicable settlement was in the horizon regarding the vexed issue of the ongoing bid for 57 marginal fields in Egbema communities particularly in Warri North as well as allegations of marginalization.
In tune with its ‘Greater Delta’ mantra, the Okowa administration was leaving nothing to chance in the peace process across the Niger Delta region, particularly the oil and gas producing communities in the state, hence it has continuously intervened through engagement with all stakeholders in those communities, he noted.
Otuaro said, “Egbema Kingdom in Warri North Local Government Area is one of the major oil and gas producing communities in the state and we have so far had some far-reaching understanding to mutually pursue the objectives.
“It is government understanding that issues will always arise, whether they be developmental or political. And, as a government, we have always proposed that the way out to solving all of these issues is to engage the people through dialogue and ensuring that we are on the same page in achieving that which we have set out to achieve.”
Also speaking, Ukori, lamented that the people of Egbema Kingdom, who have suffered continuous adverse consequences of oil and gas production in their communities, were not carried along especially in the bid process for the 57 marginal fields.
“A classic case in point is the destruction of the Polobubor (Tsekelewu) community due to the dredging of the Polobubor Creek into the Atlantic Ocean to enable Chevron Nigeria Limited to bring in heavy-duty equipment in the construction and operation of the Opuekebe Flow Station and the Ikpalakpalabou Oil Well facilities located in Egbema kingdom. This singular act has wiped out freshwater vegetation, resulting in great siltation and making it difficult for navigation.”
Ukori noted that the meeting with the state government (through the deputy governor) was meant to properly channel their demand, that the federal government should “allow host communities Right of First Refusal before throwing the bid process open to outsiders.”
The Egbema leaders also stressed “that 25 Percent Equity Holdings in the Marginal Oilfields was for host communities”, adding that this does not need a constitutional amendment to go through but a sense of judgement and political will on the part of government.
Nonetheless, Ukori listed the eight-point demands of the Egbema people to include “Egbema representation in the on-going discussions on the marginal fields and related issues of development at the state and national levels”
He said that this would go a long way to “assuage the youths of the area who are already agitated and are running out of patience”.
While harping on the need to address certain enviromental and infrastructural gaps like bridges and roads, he appealed to the state government to help end the long “political marginalization of Egbema people by having one of their own in the State Executive Council, and also that the next chairman of the Warri North council come from Egbema after 26 good years.”