Parties currently locked in a seeming bitter dispute over the Oil Mining License (OML) 25 in Rivers State have just seven days to resolve their conflict and reopen the oil facility or brace for the wrath of the Government.
Already, Governor Nyesom Wike has directed the Secretary to the State Government, Dr Tammy Danagogo, to convene a meeting of all key stakeholders in the presence of security chiefs in the state, for the host communities to outline their grievances to the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas major, Shell, to address pressing development concerns.
Wike spoke at a meeting with Shell, Belema Oil Limited, host community leaders and security chiefs at the Government House, Port Harcourt on Saturday.
Traditional rulers, elected leaders, youth leaders and chairmen of community development committees from Kula, Belema, Offoin-Ama, Opu-Kula and Ibiame of Akuku-Toru Local Government Area attended the meeting.
Addressing the meeting, Governor Wike said he called the meeting because the closure of OML 25 was negatively affecting federal, state and local government funds.
“OML 25 has been shut-down for one reason or the other. Some persons in the community are hauling insults at me. No matter the insult, nothing will make me not to perform my duty to the area.
“The Federal Government, the state government and the local government are losing funds with the continued closure of the OML 25. If Shell is behaving wrongly, tell them and if Belema Oil is behaving wrongly, tell them.
“It is wrong for anyone to say that the federal government is handling the matter. When conflicts of this nature affect the communities, it is for the state and local government to resolve them”, the governor said.
Continuing, he said he has no hand in the drilling of oil or the issuance of licenses, but that he was committed to peace and security in communities for the development of the state, adding that the issue was on the economic development of the host communities, which should not be politicised.
Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Osagie Okunbor, said the company operates the OML 25, with the operating license renewed by the federal government for another 20 years.
“We operated in a cordial environment until August 10, 2017 when some community people entered the facility. The information that was given to us was that they were unhappy over issues of social amenities and employment . We listened and we were keen to address these issues.
“But at some point another element entered the equation, which was that we should relinquish and hand over to Belema Oil, that is from the community’’, he said adding that Shell has since paid all necessary fees for the renewed OML 25 in October 2018.
“We have made all the payments and it is our facility. We are keen to return to the facility and operate for the benefit of all. I have made myself available to talk to many of the stakeholders from the communities to try and understand what the issues are and how we will go about resolving them”, he said.
He welcomed the intervention of Governor Wike, noting that Shell is prepared to address the social amenities, empowerment and other issues raised by the host communities.
On his part, Acting Managing Director of Belema Oil, Mufa Welch, denied the involvement of the company in the closure of OML 25, claiming that the host communities prefer Belema Oil to take over.
He, however, admitted that Shell is the licenced operator of OML 25, describing Belema Oil as stakeholders with over seven percent share. According to him, the people prefer Belema Oil because of the way it operates OML 55 which it inherited from Chevron.
“With the way we operate, the communities are bent towards us. The communities love the way we operate and the way we do things. That OML has been closed for almost two years. We have nothing in the shutdown of the OML . But the communities are bent towards us, the way we do things”, he said.
Chairman of Akuku-Toru Local Government, Rowland Sekibo, said Belema Oil created the impression that they bought the OML 25 from Shell, but the company refused to transfer the operational right.
He said at a meeting with stakeholders at NNPC Abuja, it was discovered that the license of OML 25 was still under the ownership of Shell, adding that though the owner of Belema Oil is from the area, ‘’it was illegal to shutdown the oil production facility in order to arm twist the system to sell it to Belema Oil. Such action would negatively affect other Rivers businessmen with oil operating licenses in other states.’’
Also speaking, the Amanyanabo of Opu-Kula, Hope Osusingi, said the people of the area were initially misled into shutting down OML 25, and that after some stakeholders discovered in reality that Shell’s operating license had been renewed, they resolved to tow the path of economic development.