Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom this week summoned the paramount traditional ruler of Ibeno community, Effiong Archianga, and the area’s local government chairman, Henry Nko, and ordered them to reverse the community’s decision to reject relief material provided by ExxonMobil.
SaharaReporters gathered that an infuriated Akpabio, who has acquired significant business interests in Mobil’s oil fields in exchange for ‘protecting’ the oil firm, forced the community to accept and distribute the relief material or face his wrath.
The Ibeno community hosts Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN), a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. The community had turned down relief material from the oil firm meant to cushion the effects of the recent oil spill that ravaged the area.
Members of the community were irked by a clause in the firm’s letter accompanying the material. The clause stated that the items did not mean that the oil firm was liable for the spill.
Following Mr. Akpabio’s stern directive, the traditional ruler of Ibeno as well as the area’s council boss immediately complied. They gave directives to their aides to distribute the items to the 26 villages in the Ibeno community.
John Etim, a community leader in the Iwuokpom fishing settlement, said many members of the community were dismayed by the order to accept and distribute items against their wish.
“We returned these things on many grounds, but we learnt that our leaders were forced to accept them by the state government,” said Mr. Etim. He added: “That is our handicap as minorities that provide wealth to the state and country.” The community leader disclosed that his village “received two bags of rice, one quarter bag of rice, six packets of biscuits, 10 pieces of wax cloth, and 48 tins of milk.” He asked, “Given the size of this community where do you start from?”
ExxonMobil provided the relief items following an oil spill on November 9 that devastated the community. One source told SaharaReporters that several thousand barrels of crude oil were discharged into the Atlantic, but that the extent of the spill was grossly under-reported to Nigeria’s oil industry regulators who depend on the operators for data.
The oil firm’s cover-up caused a stir at the National Assembly when an ExxonMobil executive, Mark Ward, appeared last week before the House of Representatives committee on the environment. An embattled Mr. Ward was confronted with testimonies from the host communities contradicting his report of minimal spillage. He had to apologize on live television for the firm’s shortcomings in handling the spill and misinforming the legislature.
Sam Ayadi, chairman of the Akwa Ibom chapter of the Artisan Fishermen Association, told SaharaReporters that the fishermen had nothing to do with the so-called relief material.
“The so-called relief materials sent to the communities had no room to accommodate non-indigenes of the communities who were also affected by the spill. We have indigenes and non-indigenes of Ibeno in our midst. So what happens to non-indigenes when the materials were to be shared amongst the villages?
“Moreover the materials they sent did not include fishing implements and accessories to offer relief for our losses not to talk of the deprivation we have suffered for the past one month since the spill occurred,” said Mr. Ayadi.
Several traditional rulers in the area had mandated the paramount ruler to call Paul Arinze, ExxonMobil’s General Manager in charge of Public and Government Affairs, and express the community’s reservations about the firm’s so-called relief offer. Several of those traditional rulers told SaharaReporters that they were dismayed about the state governor’s pressure on them to accept the firm’s insulting and inadequate provisions.
One angry village leader said that the governor’s use of crude threat and intimidation on the community “has pushed us to the wall.”
“It has become abundantly clear that Akwa Ibom government led by Akpabio has taken sides with the oil company against the oil-bearing communities. Otherwise what is the point of using force and threat to force us to accept a so-called gift?” he said.
“The conspiracy between the government and the management of Mobil against us will not stand and we shall one day take our destinies in our hands. With God on our side, it shall not be long from now,” said the village head. He added: “If they are claiming that they are not liable for the spill, why then are they doing this?”