OML 29: AITEO Company Is Dead, Buried And Can’t Be Revived, Says Opu-Nembe Community

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Declares AITEO Persona Non Grata, Blames Crisis On Diezani, Ibe Kachikwu, Others

From Ameachi Prosper (The New Diplomat’s Delta State Correspondent)

Aiteo Eastern Exploration & Production Ltd, operators of Oil Mining License, OML 29 has been issued a quit notice to vacate the host community of Opu Nembe in Nembe-Bassambiri, Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, South South Nigeria, where it has operated since 2014.

The company has been at logger head with the host community of Opu Nembe since it bought over the oil bloc from Shell Petroleum Development Company in 2014 when the latter embarked on a major divestment of its assets in most parts of the Niger Delta region.

The New Diplomat gathered that despite repeated, letters to the then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke urging the minister to decline consent until an independent socio-economic and environmental impact audit is carried out to ascertain the true state of affairs, Diezani went ahead to give ministerial consent to SPDC’s OML 29 divestment to AITEO.

OML 29 AITEO

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Similarly, Alison-Madueke’s successor,  the then minister of state for petroleum resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu was also allegedly contacted by the Opu-Nembe council of chiefs and elders to halt AITEO’s inappropriate activities in the community. Sources revealed that neither Diezani nor Kachikwu reportedly paid sufficient attention to the subject matter.

Thus, the failure or refusal of the oil company to take into consideration the interest of the community while it was engaged in the acquisition of the oil bloc from SPDC, signaled the beginning of a long drawn dispute between the new operator and the host community, a situation which has resulted in a prolonged legal disputes that have defied resolution.

While the legal battles drag on, The New Diplomat gathered that the company continued their operations unabated. Expectedly, the operations of the oil company, it was gathered, have continued to impact negatively on the environment, ecology and local economy of the community in defiance to the interest of the host, Opu Nembe.

The New Diplomat also learnt that the community, in a bid to seek redress in a civilized manner, instituted several lawsuits against the oil exploration and production company. Some of such legal disputes are still pending in the court.OML 29 AITEO

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Petitions were sent to federal ministries and agencies such as Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Office of Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation, National Petroleum Investment Management Services, NAPIMS, NNPC, NOSDRA, Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board, NCDMB, and other forms of alternative disputes resolutions organs, but all to no avail, as the company allegedly continues to operate in utter defiance to the plights of the host community.

Tired of what the community referred to as ‘Aiteo Punishment’, the people of Opu Nembe addressed a world press conference Saturday, November 14, 2020 where they reeled out some major decisions including a quit notice to Aiteo company to vacate their land with effect from Saturday.

The traditional rulers and chiefs in the kingdom all wore all-black outfits in what they said was their symbolic way to announce the death and final burial of the company in the community.

In a 20-paragraph release issued at the end of the press conference copies of which were addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Governor of Bayelsa State and the International Community, the Chiefs and people of Opu Nembe expressed their rejection of Aiteo Company and its operations in the host community.

The press release which was signed by Chief Orianigo Ekpeleyai Oruwari, chairman, Council of Chiefs and Chief Ivory Fikoru, Secretary, Council of Chiefs, and made available to newsmen, disclosed that the community had to resort to sending the company packing because all efforts made for it to become responsible had failed to yield results, adding that most of the government and regulatory agencies remained unconcerned.

“But most of the official and regulatory agencies or processes for pursuing our grievances are so distant, so aloof, so unconcerned, so unresponsive, chasing shadows and at best excruciating slow. Impoverished as our communities are, we are often forced to beg and borrow, put our sweat, toil and tears together just to follow up complaints with various official or legal channels involving repeated logistics, travels and other challenges – to little or no avail. These frustrations have now pushed our youths and women to make their case through peaceful occupation of Aiteo’s production locations.

“It has become so unbearable through these years, and worst in recent months, that community women and youths were provoked to peacefully occupy the Santa Barbara Flow Station and the Odeama Field Flow Station in protest from Wednesday 11th November. We are aware that kinsmen and women from our sister host Kingdom have also peacefully occupied Aiteo installations in their domain for some days now, in similar protest.”

Opu Nembe Community stated that further reasons for its decision to send Aiteo company out of area include national sabotage, strangulation of host communities, ecological destruction, contract racketeering and corporate wickedness.

The community noted that the crimes of the company had stretched it to breaking point, adding that it had no alternative option than to apply the sledge hammer.

It reads: “In brief, Aiteo’s crimes which continue to stretch host communities to breaking point, besides other deep grievances we already presented in court against Aiteo, are: the fraudulent use of companies (some named below) beneficially belonging to or fronts for top executives of Aiteo to award highly inflated contracts covering almost all activities to themselves, thereby brazenly routinely circumventing the Local Content Act, fleecing and defrauding the Federal Government as JV partner on operational costs, denying communities over 90% of community contracts statutorily reserved for them and subletting a solitary few to one or two community members at a fraction of the JV-invoiced values through such front companies and  Strangulating the communities’ already stretched subsistence economy by owing even the few sub-contracted community members for years and months, including surveillance contractors/workers protecting their pipelines and vendors supplying food to their workers, in the process rendering them so weak to “justify” replacing them with more proxies or middlemen

“Employing negligible numbers of community people, on casual employment at that and deplorable terms of pay and working conditions, including poor safety provisions.

“Inundating our environment with repeated, massive, prolonged oil spillages and blow-out fires due to possibly the most reckless, inefficient and hazardous oil field practices – refusing to clean up, remediate and pay compensation for years.

“Deceiving communities by pretending over and over to seek settlement, only to go back again on all understandings and compromises reached.

“Refusing to negotiate a fair MOU with the Kingdom since it came over 5 years ago, and failing continuously on mere courtesies like diesel supplies for communities, throwing them back into pitch darkness, and

“Its moves to arrange a site for a deadly chemical waste dump on our land, without proper community engagement or an environmental impact assessment.

“Having considered what they called the unrepentant behavior of the Aiteo oil company and the several unsuccessful effort to resolve the issue, the Opu Nembe community therefore resolved, among other things, that the operational lease of OML 29 held by Aiteo which expired in 2019.

“Be relinquished to the government and followed a transparent competitive bidding process for a re-award.

Consequently, we declare as follows:  “That the operational lease of OML 29 held by Aiteo having expired on 30th June 2019, notwithstanding the illegal secretive renewal by then Minister Ibe Kachikwu, we call for its immediate relinquishment to Government, followed by a transparent competitive bidding process for its re-award, to ensure transparency, favourable fiscal terms to Government and host communities, untainted funding sources, and superior operational capacity.

“That the Federal Government-owned Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Limited (NPDC) should take over operatorship of OML 29, pending when a new, competent and community friendly operator takes over.

“That any purported renewal of the lease after 30th June 2019 when the present lease expired is invalid and as such Aiteo became a trespasser and persona non grata in the Opu Nembe domain and will therefore not be accorded any social licence to operate going forward.

“That Government and other accountability watchdogs, local and international, should thoroughly investigate allegations that Aiteo is engaging in national economic sabotage and undermining Nigeria’s interest, as well as dealing a fatal blow on the local economies of its host communities, by hollowing out proceeds from OML 29 to fund massive acquisitions in the mining sector in other African countries like Congo, Zimbabwe and Ghana where Benedict Peters is presently exiled.

“That we note with interest Mr. President’s recent revocation of 6 oil bloc licences for non-payments to FG, such being against the national interest. We draw parallels with OML 29 vis-à-vis both host community and national interests, especially in this era of maximum domestic revenue mobilization as an economic policy thrust for African countries.

“That this press release serves as a Quit Notice to Aiteo, effective 14th November 2020. Aiteo is no longer welcome afterwards.

“That the new operators should renegotiate lease terms for community land required for operations, and terms for community content/participation, environmental sustainability and social responsibility.”

According to the community, the press conference also put Aiteo, the Nigerian government, Bayelsan state government and the entire world on notice.

“We have hereby put Aiteo, the Nigerian Government, Bayelsa State Government and the World on notice, for the survival and protection of the Opu Nembe (Nembe-Bassambiri) Kingdom”, the release stated.

All efforts to get the views of officials of Aiteo company has so far been unsuccessful.

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