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War over Benefits

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Unless stakeholders move to save the situation, a major crisis that can disrupt crude oil production which make Ondo State one of the beneficiaries of oil derivation fund is brewing in the oil rich Ilaje Local Government Area of the state as communities are now at loggerheads with each other over recognition by the production giant, Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL).

Specifically, the two major Ilaje communities of Mahin and Ugbo in Ondo State have been at daggers drawn over recognition that should be accorded each other. Now, stakeholders in the area have attributed the delay in the release of funds by the CNL for the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the communities and the oil company to the crisis.
While the people of Ugbo claimed that that their community is the only oil producing community in the local government, the people of Mahin on the other hand disagreed sharply and that has made Chevron to stop further release of fund for the implementation of the MOU.

Apart from the fact that the resolution of the controversy would help in streamlining the relationship between the communities and the oil company, it will also help to find solution to the problem of who should represent the communities in the two oil derivation fund management agencies, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC).

As at now only indigenes of the Ugbo extraction have been representing the state on the board of the NDDC and are being appointed the Chairman of the OSOPADEC because the Mahin community was being regarded only as oil impacted communities and not oil producing community.

This had been the situation until recently when some influential people in Mahin demanded for a change in the situation.
They claimed that oil belong to the entire Ilaje coastal areas and not exclusively to a section. And that has now snowballed into crisis between two brothers.

To resolve the matter, an option of merger of the two communities was suggested so that it would be convenient for the oil company to relate with them as an entity.

Though, series of meeting have been held by the stakeholders comprising the representatives of the state government, Ilaje Local Government, host communities, the Chevron and other interest groups, the matter rather than being resolved, had however divided them.

The Ilaje communities alleged that some individuals particularly in the government are being used to frustrate the peace process.
So the stalemate has led to series of protests from the communities by stakeholders, particularly youths from the two sides who had taken the protests as far as to the gate of the Governor’s Office.

Penultimate week, scores of youths from Ugbo stormed the Governor’s office protesting none release of fund by Chevron for funding of activities of various community association in the last three years contrary to the MOU.

The placard-bearing protesters, who came in buses gathered at the entrance of the Governor’s Office chanting solidarity songs alleging that the company had been capitalising on the rejection of the merger proposal for both oil producing and non-oil producing communities.

Some of the placards read: SSG, Allow CNL to Pay Our Scholarship; SSG should hands off Ilaje matters; Mr Governor should caution Ebiseni, Adelola on oil matters among others.

Specifically, the protesters accused the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr Rotimi Adelola and the Commissioner for Environment, Mr Sola Ebiseni of being behind their predicaments because they were the sponsors of the merger plan.

According to them, the stand of the duo had been sabotaging the release of the chevron fund, which had been hampering the activities of the body responsible for the execution of projects under the scheme.

Apart from the protest, the stakeholders wrote a letter to Governor Olusegun Mimiko urging him to intervene in the matter in order to avert the looming crisis in the oil producing areas.

In the letter jointly signed by the youths, copies of which were submitted to relevant authorities in government circle, security agencies and CNL, the youths prayed that the company should release the fund in arrears of three years without further delay.

They also demanded that CNL should urgently pay the three years scholarship of the students in the communities and commence the implementation of the MOU with community associations earlier recommended to the company by the Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC).

They stated that Ilaje Ugbo Coastal Communities Development Committee is the only union of three existing associations of AISECUM, Obe Confederation and ASICOPC.

It was also the prayer of the stakeholders that efforts should be intensified to avoid communal crisis between Mahin and Ugbo in the name of Pan Ilaje Merger which focus is to enjoy relationship with the oil company.
Addressing the protesters, the Chief Of Staff to the Governor, Dr Kola Ademujimi said the government would look into the issues raised by the youth.

He admonished the youths to embrace peace and avoid any matter that can cause crisis in the oil producing communities.
But a few hours after the protest by the Ugbo people, the people of Mahin urged the government to dismiss the position of the protesters calling on the Ondo State Government to expedite action on the merger of the communities in the area to enable them benefit from oil exploration and exploitation activities.

Speaking on behalf of the people of Mahin/Aheri/Etikan of Ilaje, a former Chairman of Ilaje Local Government area, Banji Okunomo, said government should do the necessary things to bring the merger on board.

He said it was wrong for a group of people to be attempting to corner the wealth that belongs to the entire Ilaje people just as he expressed concern on action of Ugbo youths who are protesting against the merger process, saying the essence of life is "you live and allow others to live".

According to him, the people of Mahin, Aheri and Etikan were not forcing the merger on the Ugbo people as nobody from the area should be accused of colluding with the government on the development.

He said: "We are not comfortable with a group rising to shut out others in a problem that confronts all of us, oil exploration and exploitation is a challenge facing the entire Ilaje people living along the coastline and the hinterland, therefore all benefits should be equitably distributed among the communities.

"Any attempt by any group or community to want to lay exclusive claim to what belongs to all of us is an invitation to anarchy. In the event that any group bluntly refused to be merged with another group, what belongs to individual group should be defined by the state government and the oil companies operating in Ilaje area of Ondo State.

"What will be vehemently resisted is an attempt to take what belongs to all of us wholesale and give to one group to the detriment of others. We will use every means humanly possible and legally allowed to checkmate further deprivation of our people of oil rights and royalties.”

"We want to charge the state government to do the needful and ignore any frivolous protest characterised in blackmail against personalities in government and not founded on empirical scientific proof.

"No group of people can hold the state to ransom on a matter which power of arbitration is vested in the state government. Therefore government should lay to rest the issue of merger by bringing all the stakeholders under the same umbrella", Okunomo added.
Really, the more worrisome was the threat by the people of Ugbo to disrupt oil production should Chevron failed to pay the communities outstanding benefits for execution of its community development projects.

The communities in separate letters address to Chevron Nigeria Limited and the state governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko under the auspices of  Ilaje Ugbo Coastal Communities Development Committee (IUCCDC) dated June 30th and July 7th separately gave the company eleven day ultimatum to pay them their outstanding benefits or vacate the region in its own interest.

The communities according to the letters signed by the Chairman of Council of Baale , Ugbo land, Chief Oyetomi Andrew, the Secretary Council of Baale of Ugbo Land, Chief Asunmaga Abayomi, Youth leader Ugboland, Comrade Nana Adedeji and Chairman Ilaje Patriots Comrade Aganyebi Kosieda threatened to shut down the operation of the company in the region at the expiration of the ultimatum if their demands are not met.

They called on the state governor Dr. Olusegun Mimiko to urgently intervene in the matter in order to avert the looming danger.
They decried what they described as unholy alliance of some Ondo State Government officials with Chevron which they said was detrimental to their agitation.

The Ugbo community has therefore asked Chevron to commence immediate payment of outstanding three-year-old scholarship fund to their indigenes as stipulated in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and to relate appropriately with authorised association that represents the interest of the oil communities in the state. 

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 4 Years ago

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