*We can never set soldiers against our host community – Total
31 August 2016, Sweetcrude, Port Harcourt – Residents of Odiemerenyi community in Ahoada East Local Government Area of Rivers State have decried the effects of an alleged oil spill from the Oil Mining Lease, OML, 58 pipeline belonging to Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited.
The oil spill, which occurred over a week ago, has reportedly destroyed farmlands, aquatic lives and the community’s source of drinking water, the Amashell stream.
Narrating the predicament of the community to newsmen, Mr. George Agbesor said the community is now living in fear following their encounter with soldiers attached to Total over the spill.
Agbesor, who spoke on behalf the youth president of Odimerenyi Community, Goodluck Agbasa, alleged that rather than meet with the community heads on how to mitigate the situation, the company unleashed armed soldiers on the community, who brutalised the community members protesting the spill while destroying several buildings.
But, Total Exploration and Production has denied this allegation, saying it can never set soldiers against its host community.
Giving details of what happened, Agbesor said: “On Thursday (last week), Total (officials) came to the community and was resisted by the youths to the spill site because the community told them to follow due process. They cannot just come into a community without informing the community on what they want to do.
“This is not the first time oil spillage is happening. Whenever there is a spillage, Total normally liaises with the appropriate representatives of the community which is the youth president, the community development committee and the council of chiefs. But, instead of Total to reach out to the community concerning the spillage, they came in with soldiers to beat us up and burn down our houses,” Agbesor said.
He called on the Rivers State government, the Department of Petroleum Resources and other relevant authorities to prevail on Total to follow due process on the spill, ensure a peaceful working environment in the community and rebuild the houses burnt by the soldiers.
Also speaking, an ex-councillor of Ward 11, Ahoada East Council, Mr. Henry Mishack, lamented that instead of Total to meet with the community heads, the company rather instructed armed soldiers attached to it to shoot at protesting community members.
Mishack, who took newsmen round the affected houses, explained that the community youths were beaten by soldiers and a total of six houses burnt by them, two of which, according to him, belonged to aged widows, Mrs. Susanna Anwunanya and Mrs. Letem.
“We are pained that this kind of thing is happening at this point in time. Even if those who were resisting Total had ran into these houses, is the Army supposed to set these houses ablaze?
“Why not cordon off the house and bring them out? Now look at these widows, they are homeless now, they don’t have where to go, they don’t have where to stay, and Madam Susanna just lost her husband few months ago,” he said.
In the meantime, the management of Total Exploration and Production Limited have described the claims by Odiemerenyi community as unfounded, saying Total can never send soldiers to destroy its host community.
Total’s Manager, Media Relations, Mr. Charles Ogan, told our correspondent that a Joint Inspection team on their way to the spill site were ambushed and they could not access the site.
He said: “The claims by the community that we did not follow due process is unfounded because we followed due process, we even paid homage to the community. There is no how Total can go to a community to inspect a spill site without following due process.
“Total can never send soldiers to destroy any community. Whenever there is an oil spill, there is normally a Joint inspection Visit (JIV) to the site to ascertain the cause of the spill. So, we had a JIV made up of NOSDRA, Ministry of Environment, NNPC, Security agents and other experts in the industry; but on getting to the community we were ambushed, so we had to retreat.”
At the time of filing this report, all efforts to reach the Army Public Relations Officer of 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt, Captain Eli Lazarus, proved abortive. Text messages sent to his telephone were not replied neither did he respond to calls on the telephone.