Angry Indigenes of Nembe-Bassambiri besieged the Shell Petroleum Development Company facilities in Bayelsa at the weekend, over the company's plan to divest its interests from Oil Mining Lease 29, also known as the OML 29.
The Nembe-Bassambiri communities are hosts to the SPDC's installations in the Nembe Local Government Area, and were protesting their exclusion by Shell in the firm’s efforts to sell OML 29 located in their domain without consulting them.
Shell Oil, also known by local residents as the SPDC, had placed its 45 percent stake in four oil wells, including the OML 29, for sale. It is part of the company's divestment plan for the Niger Delta region.
The protesters, who would face serious financial hardship by the move, carried placards, sang war songs, and stormed the company's facilities. They asked Shell to suspend production for three days to address their demands.
The demonstrators numbering over 100, consisted of women, youth leaders, local chiefs, civic leaders, including elders from the community, arrived in a convoy of 15 speedboats. It was a dramatic entrance by a community taking a stand in confronting a giant multi-national corporation.
Chief Brigidi, a member of the community's Oil and Gas Committee, led the protest, which took over the Nembe-Brass waterways. They chanted solidarity songs as they sailed to the SPDC's major oil platforms in the area to register their grievances.
They also took their protests to Shell's Santa Barbara Flow Station, the Tora Manifold, and Odema Flow Station.
Their presence created high anxiety among oil workers, but the tension was dispelled after operatives of the Joint Task Force, the JTF, were deployed to guard the facilities. JTF officials discovered in a short time, that the protesters were peaceful.
Some of the placards carried by the protesters delivered a variety of urgent messages. "The land is ours, The oil is ours, Shell cannot divest without us," read one of the placards. Another placard read, "No, to Shell OML 29 sale." While a third sign among the placards carried by one protester delivered a key message nearly all present shared. That sign read, "After polluting our land and water, Shell wants to sell our land."
"No to fraudulent selling of investment," read another. "No to Shell fraudulent divestment," was another of the signs of note. "OML 29, OPU Nembe demand justice," was part of a chant the protesters shouted. "Do not sell our oil wells to strangers," was carried by most present, and "Include our companies in OML divestment plans."
A member of the Nembe-Bassambiri Council of Chiefs, Chief Bukunor Alfred, said members of the community were angry at the plan by the SPDC to sell oil blocks in the area, without consulting them.
He said delegates sent by the council of chiefs to engage in a dialogue with SPDC officials on the development plans had later “returned disappointed” at the attitude of the company.
"Our placards have shown that we are not happy with Shell. We are by this protest giving Shell three days to shut down operation, and dialogue with us or we will ensure that these facilities are permanently closed," he said.
He said though SPDC had contributed in the development of the community, the company was wrong to take a major decision of divesting without consulting its landlords.
"We are not against what they are doing. But we want to say that we are the landlords, and we are supposed to be notified on what our tenants are doing," Chief Bukunor Alfred had said.
Also speaking at the protest was the Chairman of Opu-Nembe Improvement Union, the ONIU, Mr. Ebinyo Robert. He said the community would not want the company to leave unceremoniously, after destroying its environment through pollution.
Ebinyo Robert insisted that the company must involve the community in all the processes involved in the selling of OML 29.
He warned that individuals and companies indicating an interest to buy the oil wells should desist, or they would have the community to contend with.
He said the communities have nominated three companies, Amot Oil E&P Limited, A-Abas Resources and Isea BMG, to participate in the bidding process.
"The place has been polluted and our environment, our water, our land, has been degraded for a long time. We have not been rehabilitated the way we really wanted it.
"By this demonstration, we are telling the parties to the sale, including the bidders, to desist from going ahead because if they do, of course, the land is ours, the water is ours, and the oil is ours. They will have us to contend with and they may not like us in the manner in which they will meet us when they come to operate.
"So, we are asking the SPDC to stop the flow, and all operations for now, and ensure that the community is carried along because that is the only way we can have peace here.
"We are also saying that the community has nominated three companies, Amot Oil E&P Limited, A-Abas Resources and Isea BMG, to participate in the bidding process. So, SPDC should involve these companies in the process," Ebinyo Robert added.
But the Operations Team Leader at Shell’s Santa Barbara Flow Station, Mr. Akpe Emmanuel, received and addressed the protesters on behalf of Shell.
He thanked them for the peaceful manner in which they conducted the demonstration, and pledged to pass their grievances across to the SPDC management.
Addressing the protesters, Emmanuel said: "Once again, you are welcome. I want to thank you for the manner in which you presented your case. I really appreciate it on behalf of Shell.
"Like the community has assigned you to represent them, I am also here on behalf of Shell. I have heard all you have said. It is my duty to pass this message to my principal," Emmanuel concluded.
Local residents, including the Indigenes of Nembe-Bassambiri, will be watching what transpires over the possible sale of the four wells closely in the days and weeks ahead. Their livelihood and way of life is at stake in negotiations they have little to no control over.