A disagreement between residents and Conoil over the company’s corporate social responsibility has seen the indigenes invoking their guardian deity to oust the oil coy from their kingdom as Daily Trust reports.
It happened on the third day of the protests. The people of Koluama, who have been in a running battle with Conoil Production Limited a disagreement over contractual obligations decided to bring out the big gun to help them evict the company from their land.
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It is called Koluawere, a deity said to be so powerful it had never failed the community.
Protests over the spill started on Monday last week as residents laid siege on the company demanding that they leave the Southern Ijaw Local Government community.
On the third day, a bearded man clad in a red robe joined the fray. He had a stalk of palm frond between his teeth as he danced. He was cheered on by the protesting women and youth of the community who chanted as the chief priest recited some incantations and poured some libation on the ground. Many of the protesters danced along, chanting and also pouring libations while appealing to Koluawere to help the suffering people of Koluama and relocate Conoil from the area.
The people of Koluama have been locked in a battle with Conoil over claims the company is trying to exploit the community over a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) it had signed with the community.
They claimed that since 2012, when the company started operations in the community, it has not done anything to contribute to the development of the community, but has caused environmental damages and created health hazards for the people.
The protests, which started on Monday, was aimed at shutting down the operations of the company, with protesters occupying the company’s facilities, forcing staff to scurry to safety under military escort.
A source told Daily Trust that the company’s staff on the onshore facility connecting oil wells within the swamps and creeks at Koluama were escorted by armed security men out of the area on speedboats.
On the third day, they invoked Koluawere, the guardian deity of Kalouma, to help them oust the company.
Already, indigenes of the community have vowed not to vacate the facility until the company leaves the creek kingdom.
The cause of the dispute is the alleged refusal by Conoil Producing Limited to renew an expired Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) it had with the host communities concerning its oil exploration activities in the community. Yet, despite the expiration of the MoU, the communities allege that the oil company has continued its operations.
Despite the heavy presence of armed soldiers and other security personnel, the officials of Conoil were forced to shut down its operational facility in the area and the noticeable gas flare over the facility was put off.
Experts say the facility, known as Angle 2 Field, operated by Conoil since 2012, has the capacity to produce 30,000 barrels per day and Conoil has been exploring crude from the community for years.
Many residents said despite the riches in their soil, the community has remained poor and underdeveloped and many are suffering worsening health from environmental pollutions.
Some of the residents stormed the facility holding placards with inscriptions such as “No GMoU, No Crude oil exploration”, “Conoil pack and Go, We are tired of suffering” and “Koluama people are suffering.”
They insisted they would remain at the facility until their demands on scholarships and education, employment of indigenes and the provision of electricity was met by the company through the signing of a new and workable GMoU.
The Youth President of Koluama 1 Community, Comrade Kiwei Emmanuel Philip, said the community was tired of the manipulation of the company since the former GMoU expired over 14 months ago.
“We have come here to occupy and sack Conoil. They are operating in our community without a GMoU. Our people do not even have a person working in the company at the moment. We cannot accommodate them anymore,” he said.
The women, led by China Ezekhia, said the women and the youths are suffering, as most of them are unemployed.
The Oil and Gas Chairman of Koluama communities, Ebimielayefa Dick Ogbeyan, while addressing the security personnel on duty, said the communities had embarked on the action because all efforts to seek an amicable settlement had failed.
“From inception, Conoil has never employed our indigenes,” he said. “We sat together and agreed on a GMoU, but they failed to implement it all. And now, it expired over 14 months ago and they have refused to sign another one.”
“We have met with leaders of security agencies, governments, and other stakeholders to prevail on Conoil but they refused. The stakeholders agreed with us on this action. The community wants them to pack peacefully. We know we are not getting anything and we are not expecting anything. They cannot be getting so much from oil exploration from our land and we are not getting anything.
“We are here to peacefully ask them to pack without bloodshed. There should be no quarrel or fighting. The people of Koluama are tired of Conoil,” he said.
The aggrieved community members had besieged the facility and told the oil workers to shut down the facility and leave the site.
A community leader in Koluama I, a rural settlement along the Atlantic coast, Young Fabby, said they were protesting the oil firm’s insensitivity to its social obligations to the people.
The spokesperson for Conoil Production Limited, Mr Abiodun Azeez, when contacted said he was attending a meeting and will call back after. He has neither taken Daily Trust calls to his line nor responded to messages since then.