18 November 2014, Sweetcruded, Port Harcourt – Business activities was on Monday grounded at Onne, a suburb of Port Harcourt and Rivers State capital, host to the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone, as youths from Okrika and Ogu communities allegedly loyal to ex-militant leader, Mr. Ateke Tom, blocked the multi billion dollars FTZ that also hosts Federal Ocean Terminal, FOT, and the Federal Lighter Terminal, FLT.
The youths numbering up to 700, all dressed in red and black attires carrying a casket with fire and machetes were said to be protesting over alleged marginalization, lack of patronage and employment by the companies operating at the Onne Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone.
A senior staff of the Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority who pleaded anonymity said there were sounds of gunshots around the roads leading to the gate of the Onne seaport as well as bonfire made by the youths who were dancing and chanting war songs in Okrika language.
She said some youths from Eleme who confronted the protesting Okrika youths were cut with machete, while some are feared dead, as properties were also destroyed in the process.
She also confirmed that men of the Nigerian Army used teargas to dislodge the protesting youths.
According to her, “They came out this morning with a coffin, dressed in red and black with a fire inside the coffin, they wounded some Eleme youths who stood in their way, inflicting matchete cuts to their heads”.
“The protest according to them is due to the neglect of Okrika youths in the employment by most of the companies operating in the Onne Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ateke Tom has denied sponsoring the protesters, but supported the reasons behind the protest.
“I am aware of the protest, but if they are protesting legitimately for their rights, I don’t see anything wrong in that. Does it now mean that anytime protests are carried out by Okrika youths that means I am aware and I sponsored it or must know about them,” he queried.
When contacted over the incident, the Rivers State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Ahmad Mohamed assured that the men of Police were on top of the situation.
The Onne Federal Ocean Terminal is one of the deep sea terminals in Nigeria, mainly for import, export and cargo shipping, while the Onne Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone in Rivers State, is the only Free Trade Zone in the world dedicated solely to the oil and gas industry.