Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt
The Nigerian Army has denied forceful invasion of Rumuekpe community in Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State. The alleged attack on community people was said to have followed their protest against exclusion from oil pipeline surveillance contracts awarded by oil companies and NNPC Ltd.
Members of the community, under the aegis of Association of Niger Delta Upland Communities, in the last 16 days have barricaded the entrance leading to facilities operated by the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, TotalEnergies EP Nigeria Limited, Niger Delta Petroleum Resources, Nigerian Agip Oil Company and NNPC Ltd, and other oil firms.
The protesters made of elderly men, women and youths had barricaded the access road leading to oil and gas facilities in the area with canopies and chairs, singing, cooking, dancing and eating at the protest venue day and night in the last two weeks.
They demanded to take part in securing oil and gas pipelines in the state, while criticising the NNPC Ltd for awarding pipeline surveillance jobs only to selected few without considering inclusion of the Rumuekpe people.
President of the Niger Delta Upland Communities, Mr. Isa Mohammed Obiri, said the people in upland communities were not happy that they were not taken into consideration in the award of pipeline surveillance jobs, adding that it was wrong for selected few to be given the surveillance contract.
Obiri said despite the exclusion of the community from the surveillance contract, the community have suffered neglect from the government and multinational, stressing that the community lacks pipe borne water, good road, electricity, school, health centers, others.
He said: “Actually, we made a demand for electricity, pipe borne water, good road. The reason is, the contract given to Pipeline Infrastructure Nigeria Limited (PINL), there is an attached programmes to those communities. The major demand is the original copy of the NNPC Surveillance Contract awarded by federal government to PINL to curb oil theft, bunkering and pipeline vandalism, which Emohua, all the upland communities were involved completely.
“I was arrested in such regard from Port Harcourt to Edo State, the blindfolded me, bring me back to Port Harcourt prison yard. I wasn’t around when they held the meeting for this job. When I came back I told my people I will request for the job. This job belongs to the upland communities, is our own job. I wonder when the upland communities will know their total rights.
“Looking at the community, the access road to the community is completely dilapidated, a community that store thousands bags of crude oil. We stored. Where there is no storage there is no selling point. In this community alone, we have four oil companies. We have four oil wells but we face serious neglect.
During THISDAY’s visit to the Rumuekpe yesterday, we observed that the protest had grounded operators’ access to their oil and gas facilities. It was also observed that soldiers attached to some of the oil firms, who tried to gain access to the community were resisted by the people on the peaceful protest.
Few minutes after our correspondence left the scene, it was reported that soldiers forcefully gained access into the community, allegedly shooting sporadically into the sky and flogging the protesters with canes and horse whips.
The president of the Niger Delta Upland Communities, Obiri alleged that the soldiers destroyed their office and beat up women. He claimed that two of their members as at the time of filing this report were missing, adding that two cows they used to prepare food for the protesters were also missing after the alleged attack by the soldiers.
A protester, who gave his as Chuks Dimgba on telephone conversation, said though no casualty was recorded but protesters sustained injuries while canopies and chairs used by the protesters were broken.
Dimgba said the soldiers came in about 10 armoured vehicles to dispersed them. But he vowed that the protest will continue until all their demands are met.
Meanwhile, the Acting Deputy Director, 6 Division Army Public Relations, Major Danjuma Jonah Danjuma, who was sighted at the scene of the protest by THISDAY, has denied that soldiers attacked the peaceful protesters.
Danjuma said: “I am sure you are aware of the situation at Rumuekpe, where there was an attempt by some miscreants disguising as protesters to take the laws into their hands. These miscreants barricaded the road and attempted to stop troops on routine patrol access to a flow station, where they are providing security.
“The allegation that troops shot at peaceful protesters is illogic, malicious and should be totally disregarded. Our troops are well trained professionals who conduct operations by adhering to the rules of engagement and utmost respect for the fundamental human rights of the citizenry, and so I urge you to disregard that illogic allegation, a futile attempt to malign the reputation of the Nigerian Army”.
The 6 Division Army spokesperson, further reassured the people of Rivers State, particularly Rumuekpe and environs to go about their normal businesses, warning that “no criminal gang would be allowed freedom of action to operate in the area.”