By Peter Uzoho
Oil communities in Ohaji, Imo State, have threatened to embark on a non-violent mass protest against alleged negligence and injustice meted out to them by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Seplat Petroleum Development Company, Waltersmith Petroman Oil Limited, and Sterling Global -four oil producing companies operating in the area.
The Ohaji Development Initiative (ODI), a transformation driver in the area, disclosed the planned protest in a letter written to the four operators, signed by its Chairman, Mr. Tony Ogbonna and four other officers of the group.
ODI, in the letter made available to THISDAY, which contained its charter of demand to the operators, said the protest would take effect on May 17, 2021 if the operators refused to call for an alignment meeting between their cluster boards and the ODI executives to iron out the grievances of the communities.
It explained that the protest would be carried out on major streets across Ohaji, and would be accompanied with a prayer walk to draw the attention of God, the operators and state authorities to the failure of the companies to fulfil their obligations to the people.
“From the 17th of May, Ohaji people are going to be on the streets. We are going to have a non-violent protest and prayer walk. During that, all Ohaji men, women, youth and children are going to be on the streets to express our grievances on what is happening and pray to the oil companies and to God to do something.
“We are not telling them not to operate; we are not telling them to go; but we are telling them that in line with statutory requirements, they should integrate our people,” Ogbonna said.
However, ODI, in its charter of demand, ordered the oil companies to immediately embark on key social infrastructure projects across the 14 host, impacted and access communities of Ohaji.
It specifically mandated SPDC to provide the communities with 24 hour power supply and mandated Seplat to embark on massive road construction across Ohaji.
ODI also demanded that Waltersmith undertake the establishment of water scheme (pipe borne water) with treatment plant across the communities.
The group further mandated Sterling Global to cater to the healthcare needs of the people by building standard hospitals or rehabilitate existing ones up to modem standard and ensure there is free medical scheme for vulnerable people in the communities between ages zero to six years and 60 years and above.
Ogbonna said the operators were also expected to engage in the refurbishment and maintenance of the palaces of the traditional rulers in Ohaji and initiate plans to empower the kings through regular stipends and allowances.
He pointed out that community engagement activities of the companies in the communities have been poor and that there were a lot of injustice and lack of transparency in the process.
Ogbonna added: “Our people are not even given contract opportunities in the ongoing projects by the operators, which is needed to stimulate rural economy in Ohaji. In the area of training, we are left behind.
“So, all these things are not helping. Local content is being abused and also Ohaji communities, both impacted and host communities, are also not carried along and we are not happy.
“Several trainings have been done before now by the NCDMB but up till date, only few graduates have been trained from Ohaji, the oil hub of the East.
“So, our people have been left out in the scheme of things and we can’t keep quiet. The youth, men, women and children are not happy with what is going on. So, that’s why ODI, as a stimulant, is now trying to push for a reversal of all these injustices and monitor what is happening within and across Ohaji communities.”