29 November 2011, Sweetcrude, UZERE- ABOUT 100 persons, including women and children were injured in a stampede on Tuesday morning at Uzere in Isoko South Local Government Area of Delta when soldiers and mobile policemen fired tear gas indiscriminately on peaceful protesters at a Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC Flow Station in the community.
The Divisional Police Officer, DPO, for Isoko South, Chief Superintendent of Police, CSP, Chris Forgbara, who led a team of policemen to quell the disturbance was also affected by the tear gas by the security agents, who also shot indiscriminately into the air.
Angered by the action of the police, the community mobilized and invaded the flow station, ordered the workers to gas flaring and other operations, while a Mercedes benz car and two Hilux vehicles provided for the security agents by the oil company were set ablaze.
At the time the youths of the community forced their way into the company, the security agents had become jittery over the repercussion of their action had taken fled into hiding.
It was gathered that for many years, the community had expressed misgiving that SPDC, which stared operation in their area since 1958 had not signed Global Memorandum of Understanding, GMOU, and the people mobilized to carry out a peaceful demonstration.
So, they set out Tuesday on a peaceful protest, but the security agents, working for SPDC, who already got wind of the demonstration, had barricaded the entrance to the company.
The protesters, numbering about 5,000, led by members of the oil and gas committee of Uzere community, Messrs. Okegbe Sam, Meshack Uge and Godspower Aluya, demanded that the barricade be dismantled, as they wanted to get to the gate and present their demand to the company.
But the security agents insisted that they should disperse immediately and fired teargas into the air to scare them. With gunshots renting also renting the air, the villagers who prepared for a peaceful protest ran helter-skelter, sustaining wounds in the process.
The massive scale of the injury sustained by the protesters infuriated the entire community and they declared war on the oil company and sensing danger, the security agents retreated when they invaded the oil flow station.
As at 11.00 am, the community was tensed up as a result of the crisis, but the leaders of the community had asked the angry protesters to vacate the company’s premises.
Over 500 motorcyclists, popularly known as Okada riders had also massed together, as they rode furiously, daring anybody to come out to attack the protesters.
The community youths were also planning to barricade every entrance to the community to stthe company from further operations until a GMOU was signed.
In a statement later issued on the state of affairs between Shell and its host communities in Uzere kingdom, president general of the community, Chief Dr. Emeakpo Owhe (JP), the people said, “It is a known fact that Uzere kingdom/land has been blessed with oil and gas in it land. It is also a known fact that Shell took the advantage to exploit this natural resources on our fatherland for the past 52 years (1958 to date)”.
He said the company did not enter into any agreement with the people since then, adding, “Consequent upon the above, we wrote Shell since February 2011 to come to Uzere to discus and firm up and GMOU (Global Memorandum of Understanding) with Uzere Communities”.
“In the month of October, we reminded Shell on the imperative of putting a frame work in place of the (GMoU) so that we can legally know the basics of our relationship partnering and cooperation with SPDS.
“We have often wondered why Shell has refused to come and sign GMoU with Uzere kingdom when we have written GMoU with other host communities in River State and Bayelsa State. We cannot understand the offense these communities have committed that made SPDC continue to evade the signing of GMoU.
“The only hospital Shell managed to build in Uzere is not functional because it refused to fund the health insurance scheme that will enable the hospital to take off and function properly. SPDC funded a similar Obio Cottage hospital in River State at N24, 000000 million naira to take off, why have they refused to fund the Uzere Cottage Hospital for a proper take off.
“The ultimatum given to Shell on the issue of GMoU with Uzere kingdom expired months ago, but up till now, Shell has not shown any interest to have an GMoU with Uzere kingdom, its host communities.
“We have also written to Delta State Government on refusal of Shell for a GMoU. The Uzere community has therefore decided that if SPDC still wants to operate in Uzere land, it should come and sign an GMoU with Uzere before carrying out further oil activities with effect from today 29th day of November 2011”, he added.
Shell Media Officer in Warri, Mr. Joseph Obari disclosed, “We have confirmed that a group of youths from Uzere community this morning (Tuesday morning) invaded SPDC’s Uzere Flow Station and shut it down. They attacked workers and burnt two security vehicles”.
According to him, The youths were reportedly demanding the signing of a GMoU agreement with the community. SPDC has phased the implementation of its highly successful GMoU model for sustainable development.Apart from two GMoUs tied to specific projects, the programme is already being implemented in three clusters in Delta State”.
He added, “We are working with the Delta state government to resolve the situation”.