Yesterday, I presented the first part of my report on the injustice meted out to the people of Owaza Community by oil companies who have been in the place since 1958 doing the business of oil prospecting and exploration.
I painted graphic pictures of what I saw on ground in Owaza and how the people have been at the receiving end of the entire thing.
In this part two of the report, I intend to show how these oil companies evolved a system that technically leaves not just the people of Owaza but the entire state in a dangerously precarious position in the scheme of things.
First, all the people who work at these sites are recruited by Shell in Port Harcourt. They all live in Port Harcourt but come to Owaza to work on a daily basis. They are paid salaries in PH and their taxes deducted and paid over to the Rivers State Government.
None of them lives in Owaza or any part of Abia State. They don’t contribute anything to the economy of Abia State, yet the location where they work is in Abia.
The government of Abia State does not get any dime by way of income taxes deducted from the salaries of people that work inside our state.
Shell has no functional administrative office anywhere in Abia State and as such, the state loses hundreds of millions of Naira in taxes every year. Yet, they ferry from our soil, over 100,000 barrels of crude oil and about 7.7 million standard cubit feet of natural gas every single day.
Even the food they eat and the water they drink at Owaza are all packaged and brought from PH. When they are sick, they are taken to hospitals in Port Harcourt where Shell built top grade clinics for their staff and has retainers with other private hospitals. Shell has no retainer with any hospital in Abia State. Not even one, yet they have multiple oil installations in the state.
Every morning, these Shell staff come in from PH in a long convoy of air conditioned buses with a full complement of armed soldiers and men of the DSS. They drop them off at the work sites, lock the gates while the soldiers mount sentries around the high walls of these sites until the end of the day when they are ferried back the same way they came. They don’t add value to the local community in any way.
On the day of our visit, and while the members of the community including chiefs, women and youth groups were gathered, the long convoy of Shell workers arrived. The community mounted a barricade with their protests and pronto, the soldiers that came with the Shell workers jumped down from their vehicles and opened fire. They shot into the air with a view to dispersing the people but they stood their ground daring the soldiers to shoot them all.
According to the community leaders, this has been their lot since 1958! They use soldiers and other coercive agencies of the state to harass and intimidate them into submission.
It was a very charged atmosphere that day as the people practically fought the armed soldiers who shot sporadically into the air. Bullets were flying about. We were afraid for our lives!
I am reasonably familiar with oil industry operations. I worked there for seven straight years, from the downstream to the upstream sectors of the industry. I am very much aware that oil companies do their best to add value to the communities where they operate. They build schools and hospitals. They build roads too. Why is it different in Owaza?
I know that Shell has a massive industrial area in Rumuobiakani in Port Harcourt and a sprawling residential area at the First Artillery Junction on Aba Road in Port Harcourt compete with modern facilities. These places enjoy uninterrupted power supply using gas from Owaza, yet the people of Owaza live in darkness. Pitch darkness!
The people who live and work in these places interact with their immediate community and get involved in the economic activities of Port Harcourt. They buy from their markets and generally add value to the economy of Rivers State.
Why can’t Shell have a standard residential quarters at Owaza? Why can’t they have a standard clinic even for their own workers inside Owaza?
Having these facilities there will jumpstart economic activities that will benefit both the immediate community and the state.
Were these facilities there at Owaza, they will naturally attract businesses to the place. Hotels and other relaxation spots will sprung up there. I didn’t see even a single hotel there. People will build standard private schools for the children of the workers. Big shops and supermarkets will be established by business men. Even the workers themselves will buy lands and build their own houses. This is how a town grows and the economy of the state benefits. Small businesses will spring up and jobs will be created.
It is sad that since 1958 when oil prospecting started in Owaza, the place remains a rural and decrepit community with a shocking absence of even the most basic amenities that support a meaningful life.
Yet, this community is strategically located in between Aba and Port Harcourt. Indeed, you can access both towns from Owaza in less than 30 minutes.
If SHELL was fair and humane, they would have evolved a deliberate policy that would have transformed Owaza Community into a major business and tourism destination.
That Owaza remains in this state after more than half a century of oil exploration is a sad commentary and a huge shame to SHELL.
The immediate community gets nothing.
The Abia State Government gets nothing.
The economy of the state gets nothing!
The government of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is determined to drag SHELL to every possible platform, including established international fora for them to explain this deliberate policy of social exclusion,economic segregation and systematic destruction of a people.
Our state struggles with low cash flow from internal revenue sources. Government has so much to do with very little money. We are in a desperate financial situation, yet a company that makes billions of dollars every year from our state doesn’t pay a dime in taxes to our state.
This can’t happen in Lagos or even Rivers or Delta!
This must stop!
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