Hundreds of youths and ex-agitators from 111 communities of Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri and Isoko ethnic nationalities who are hosts to OML 30 facilities in the Niger Delta have reportedly stormed the Government House Asaba to demand the reversal of the recent award of the Infrastructure Surveillance contract of the 87-kilometre Trans-Forcados Pipeline to Ocean Marine Solution Limited.
The protest is the second of such in less than a month since the NNPC re-awarded the surveillance contract to the new firm allegedly without adherence to due process and in an amount said to be five times higher than what the original contractors were paid.
The youths who came into Asaba on Wednesday, in about 40 buses, completely blocked the entrance to the Government House chanting war songs, insisting that the Governor himself must address them.
They protesters completely resisted all entreaties and attempts to address them by Okowa’s aides or efforts by security agents to open a section of the gate to allow visitors in and out of the vast complex.
At about noon, Okowa came out and told the protesters that he had to suspend the State Security Council meeting to listen to their grievances.
Speaking on behalf of the ex-agitators mainly of Ijaw, Urhobo, Itsekiri and Isoko ethnic nationalities, Mr. Lord Tennyson warned that the activities of Ocean Marine Solutions Limited and its owner Captain Hosa Okunbo could spark another round of violence in the Niger Delta region
He alleged that the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr Maikanti Baru, rather than promoting peace and accountability in the oil sector has been involved in “deals with Captain Hosa Okunbo and particularly this attempt to cause communal crisis in our state.”
According to the ex-agitators, “Okunbo, prior to this period, has been awarded the surveillance and security contracts for a couple of facilities, including Escravos to Warri Crude Oil Pipeline, the Bonny to Port Harcourt Refining Company Crude Oil Pipeline and many others.
“All of these facilities have been inactive for years because of activities of oil vandals, yet Capt Hosa Okunbo’s Ocean Marine Solutions continues to get paid in millions of dollars. He is now working in concert with Baru to add the Trans-Forcados Pipline (TFP) to that list of inactive facilities. While the TFP is under our watch, production has been seamless and no incident of oil theft has been recorded in our area. With all due respect, Sir, we challenge anyone to contradict this fact.
“Okunbo has started steering discontent in our communities. Besides the fact that he has gone ahead to cause division between traditional authorities and community leaderships, he has also been sponsoring various groups; real and faceless, to address press briefings. He even got people to discountenance our earlier peaceful rally to your office here and if it had not been for the discipline, maturity and restraint exercised by our members, Okunbo had intended to provoke a violent conflict among youths of our communities.
The protesters who futher alleged that “ Baru, has called a Board Meeting the NPDC for Thursday, November 29, 2018, where Captain Okunbo’s Ocean Marine Solution will be formally awarded the security contract for the Trans-Forcados Pipeline.
“We will peacefully resist this ungodly attempt to destroy our lives and livelihoods,” they vowed.
They asked: “Why is the NNPC GMD piling multiple multi-million dollar contracts to someone that has shown incompetence in the contracts previously awarded to him? Why is he re-awarding a contract that has been excellently executed so far at a competitive rate to Okunbo at an over-inflated rate and why did the contract ignore due process and transparency?
Responding Governor Okowa said “ Luckily this is happening on a day we are having our security council meting. The security agents have been working hard with the support of our people and our youths to keep the Trans-Forcados Pipeline safe and because of that oil production has increased and oil revenue even to our state has increased.
“Beyond that we all know that the Heritage Energy Operational Services Ltd and Shoreline Natural Resources Ltd that are the operators of the OML 30 right from the beginning met with us as a state government and that was at the directive of Mr. President through the Chief of Staff and we sat here in Asaba with our leaders and our traditional rulers and we agreed to certain terms one of which is that the surveillance job will be hosted by people within Delta state and within the host communities.
“Thereafter, there was also a further meeting in Warri where the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) presided with all the 111 communities involved and we agreed that it is best to secure our pipelines by ourselves. You cannot come and watch people’s back yard for them since it is the people in a place who know how best t protect their property.
“And if since June 2017 that the Trans Forcados line has been re-opened, it has been functional and oil production and export has increased, there has been no complain whatsoever, I will find it very disturbing if a new contract is being awarded not to talk of awarding it under much more higher cost.
“That will definitely be irresponsible and I believe Mr President will not support such. I also believe that the Nigerian nation realises as at today that we are still very much dependent in the proceeds from oil and if oil production has improved to the level that we have some level of comfort, I do not think that an action that would lead to the disruption of production and export should be welcomed
“We will therefore, immediately cause a letter that will include your petition to be written and delivered to Mr. President, the Minister of State for Petroleum and the Chief of Staff.
“This is certainly not tolerable, anything that will be done to cause a reversal of the progress we have made should be seen as economic sabotage. Any action to re-award the surveillance contract and dismiss the locals is an act of economic sabotage”, Governor Okowa concluded.