13 September 2018, Sweetcrude, Port Harcourt — A protest planned by youths in Rivers State against relocation of the Supply Base of Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, SNEPCO, in the Oil and Gas Free Zone, Onne, was on Wednesday averted by the intervention of ex-Niger Delta agitator, King Ateke Tom, and the Department of State Security Services, DSS, in the state.
The protesters, under the aegis of Rivers Youth Federation, had come out in their numbers early Wednesday morning to march into the SNEPCO Logistics Supply Base in Onne, when the former Niger Delta warlord and the DSS intervened, advising the youths to opt for dialogue and peaceful negotiations before protests.
President of Rivers Youth Federation, Mr. Saviour Patrick, explained that the group is protesting the plan by SNEPCO to relocate its Supply Base from Onne, Rivers State to Lagos, a move which he said will lead to massive job loss in the state.
Patrick was subsequently invited into a meeting with the DSS and Ateke Tom to discuss the grievances of the youths. The outcome of the meeting is yet to be made public.
Recall that in the first week of last month, thousands of youths under the auspices of Onne Youths Council, OYC, had staged a peaceful protest against alleged plans by the Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, SNEPCo, to move its logistics supply base from the Oil and Gas Free Zone in Onne, Rivers State to Lagos State.
The protesting youths with placards bearing various inscriptions, had called on the relevant authorities to intervene in the matter, saying the planned relocation will lead to the loss of more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Leader of the protest and President of OYC, Comrade Philip John Tenwa, said SNEPCo surreptitiously directed that all its property and equipment including turbines, engine spares and miscellaneous equipment be loaded into containers and moved out of the Onne Port, where it had operated for more than 20 years, to Lagos port.
Tenwa had also stated that no fewer than 15,000 people have already lost their jobs at the Onne Port and the Oil and Gas Free Zone as a result of the economic downturn in the country, while appealing to SNEPCo not to compound the situation with the relocation of their Supply Base to Lagos, as it will negatively affect the economy of the state and the region.
According to him, “This move by SNEPCo has serious and far-reaching implications for the Onne community and indeed the entire Rivers State. This is because SNEPCo, which is the operator of the Bonga field, at present, supports more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs at its Supply Base in Onne. There are also several small businesses and contractors whose businesses and fortunes are tied to SNEPCo.
“It will also put the means of livelihood of many families and the future of our children at risk as well as further swell the burgeoning unemployment market in the Niger Delta region.
“SNEPCo suppliers and vendors are based in the communities around Onne and in the larger Niger Delta region. The suppliers and vendors deliver various items and supplies to the SNEPCo Supply Base in Onne. The planned relocation of the Supply Base to Lagos will directly affect not just the company’s staff but also these suppliers and vendors.”
Tenwa said while the Federal Government and State Governments in the South-South have worked hard to ensure peace in the region, the relocation of SNEPCo to Lagos has the potential of jeopardizing the peace currently being enjoyed in the region.
“Also, we are all aware of the huge congestion in Lagos Port and the underutilization of the Rivers Port, Port Harcourt and Onne Port. The ports in Lagos are bursting at the seams and the Apapa gridlock, which has practically hampered vehicular movement in Lagos, is clear evidence of this.
“In more than two decades, we never had cause to disturb or disrupt the activities of SNEPCo or any other company operating in our communities. We therefore do not deserve to be abandoned unceremoniously at this trying time by SNEPCo,” Tenwa said.
Similarly, the Paramount Ruler of Onne Community, King John Dennis Osaronu, had also called on President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Nyesom Wike and other well-meaning Nigerians to prevail on SNEPCo to rescind its decision to leave the community.
However, the Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, had denied plans to move its logistics supply base from Onne port to Lagos.
The Spokesperson for SNEPCo, Mr. Bamidele Odugbesan, in a statement said, “Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company has no intention of shutting down the Logistics Supply Base in Onne, Port Harcourt.
“The base will continue to be utilised by the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, SPDC, operator of the SPDC Joint Venture for SPDC Joint Venture operations.
“SNEPCO’s operations are in the Bonga field 120 kilometers off Nigerian coast in the Gulf of Guinea and our operations staff and contractors work offshore in Bonga,” SPDC, the parent company of SNEPCO had said.