Obelle Women, Youths Protest Over Shell’s Unconcern To Community Welfare – Tunde Uchegbuo
Some aggrieved youths and women in Obelle community in Emohua local government area of Rivers State staged a peaceful protest at the facility operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) at the community on Saturday, September 9, 2023.
The protest came after a ninety-day ultimatum which the women and youths claimed was issued after some interaction with some representatives of a contracting firm to SPDC to draw attention to the company’s unconcern to the welfare of the people.
While decrying the lack of power supply to Obelle from the national grid for over two years. The protesting indigenes called on the international oil giant to compliment the government’s effort by providing electricity from its facility. They complained that this has affected economic activities in the area as businesses that depend on electricity have closed shops due to the recent hike in the price of fuel.
The angry women and youths wondered why the community would remain in darkness while the company had the capacity to extend electricity to its host landlords.
Other demands include the construction of internal roads, provision of potable water, and offer of skill acquisition opportunities, as well as the employment of qualified indigenes.
Crude oil was discovered in Obelle in 1963; six years after it was first discovered in Oloibiri, in the present-day Bayelsa State and SPDC currently operates three functional oil wells out of six, with a flow station. But besides oil, Obelle is a rich agrarian community.
Geographically, Obelle is bounded in the north by Elele; in the east by Isiokpo; in the west by Elele-Alimini; and Ibaa in the south. It is about 55 kilometres away from Port Harcourt and has twenty-two (22) autonomous villages.
A study on oil exploration in Nigeria, using Obelle and Obagi communities as case studies by Justina Adalikwu, a Professor of Sociology at Burman University, Canada, some years ago asserted that about 50 percent of the total oil output in Emohua local government area comes from the Obelle oil field, which is owned and operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC).
The study revealed that over 90 percent of the people are engaged in peasant farming, with 74.9 percent of the indigenes asserting that they have not benefitted from oil exploration in the community. This leaves an insignificant 25.1 percent, most likely some SPDC contractors, opinion leaders, and some corrupt local chiefs.
Even the establishment of development agencies like Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) in 1961; Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) in 1992; Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000; and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in 2008 has equally not made appreciable changes.
Consequently, the community has been plagued by poverty and underdevelopment despite oiling Nigeria for the past 59 years as it still suffers from the trials of safe drinking water, poor electricity supply, dysfunctional health care facilities, and dilapidated schools.
Thus, the people of Obelle, in spite of the oil and gas in their land, are wallowing in protracted poverty. Over and over again, the SPDC has been accused of failing in its corporate social responsibilities, thereby contributing to the infrastructural deprivations in the community
This situation is fuelled further by acquisitiveness by those fortunate to manage the communal resources which ought to improve the people’s future and overall well-being.
Recall that a group of environmental activists, Henry Eferegbo and Prince Edegbuo, under the auspices of Obelle Concerned Citizens in collaboration with the Foundation for the Conservation of the Earth (FOCONE) a Non-Governmental Organization, represented by Patrick Chiekwe on 29th January 2018, petitioned SPDC through the Dutch National Contact Point over the 1998 gas-fire eruption.
The Obelle Concerned Citizens demanded the implementation of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board Act of 2010 while asking SPDC to provide and manage a standard health centre in the Area, provide skills development training for the people, and employ qualified persons from the community.
More problematic is the seemingly nonchalant process the company employs to respond to grievances in order to mitigate or provide early and direct remedies to its host communities.