ARMED security forces in Nigeria, have taken over a sleepy gas plant community in Akwa Ibom State, Southern Nigeria, as hundreds of local people protest against alleged breach of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by a gas company in the area.
AkanimoReports gathered on Saturday in Eket, the home of the American oil major, ExxonMobil, that the local people of Edo, a community in Esit-Eket Local Government Area of the state, on Thursday took to the streets to protest the alleged flouting of the subsisting MoU between them and a gas prospecting firm there.
The community is however, hosting a gas plant under construction by ALCON Ltd in Uquo marginal oil field.
ALCON, an Italian company is also handling the expansion project of the Akwa Ibom International Airport for the Governor Godswill Akpabio Administration. The airport project was initiated by the former administration of Governor Victor Attah.
Our checks however, showed that Frontier Oil Limited, operators of the Uquo marginal oil field, had earlier agreed with the protesting local community to provide their unemployed youths jobs and support their development initiatives.
But the company appeared to have reneged on the deal. Apparently piqued, some aggrieved youths and women of the community, early on Friday besieged the Uquo Marginal Oil field in the area, with placards and sang solidarity songs urging the firm to respect the MoU.
Mr Emmen Ben, a youth leader in Edo, is claiming that ALCON, the construction firm handling civil constructions has refused to respect subsisting MoU on employment and development obligations the community signed with the operators of the oil field.
”We are here to register our protest on the gross violations of operational employment quota by ALCON, the Italian construction company handling the central processing facility for Frontier and Septa.
”We have an agreement with Frontier Oil Limited and by extension Septa Energy, the operators of the Uquo oil field, and we want their contractors to respect the terms of the MoU.
”Under the MoU, certain categories of jobs are to be reserved for the host communities. But they have consistently flouted the set rules and we can no longer accept it”, Ben said.
Grace Akpata, Secretary of the Edo Women Council Deaconess, said that the women were disappointed that the construction firm declined to honour its promises at a meeting last December.
”We, the women, were compelled to join our youths in this protest because the company has refused to meet its obligations to us as a community.
”We are anxious because the work at the site has gone far and if they have not met their obligations and if they go, a new company cannot be held responsible for the liabilities of ALCON”, Akpata said.
Mrs Grace Ekpo, Community Liaison Officer for ALCON, in a swift reaction confirmed the development in a telephone chat but declined further details.
”There was a little problem between the youths of Edo community and the company. At the moment, i can only tell you that the issues are being resolved and I consider it closed”, she said.
Septa Energy, a joint venture partner with Frontier Oil had in a statement said the firm encourages its project contractors to respect its agreements with their host communities.
“We wish to state categorically that not only do we respect and abide by the terms of the MOU which our Joint Venture partner and the Operator of the Uquo Field, Frontier Oil Nigeria Limited, entered into with the communities but we require all our contractors to do likewise.
“Together with Frontier Oil Limited, we are investigating the matters raised by our host communities, and we will ensure that all necessary action is taken to address legitimate grievances”, the company said. In the mean time, though ALCON spokesperson claimed that the matter was ”closed” armed soldiers and policemen are all over the place. The police in the area said the armed security forces were drafted to ”maintain peace” in the boiling Edo community.