Facilitator, Austin Onuoha, listening to one of the participants at the workshop
On June 13, 2017, Stakeholders Alliance for Corporate Accountability, SACA, in collaboration with Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), organised an all-oil and gas stakeholders gathering for the Gbarain/Ekpetiama Cluster communities. The gathering which was tilted The Benefits of Shell’s GMoU and Issues Arising, was facilitated by the Civil Society veteran, Mr. Austin Onuoha of the African Center for Corporate Responsibility. The gathering was held at Matho Crystal Hotel, Imiringi Road, Yenagoa. It was well attended by the paramount rulers, women leaders and youth leaders of all the communities in Gbarain/Ekpetiama Cluster, including the King of Gbarain Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, King Gabriel Aka, and the King of Ekpetiama Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, King Bubaraye Dakoru. Also in attendance were the Permanent Secretary, Bayelsa State Ministry of Natural Resources, Mrs. Kemisuomein Walson, representing Bayelsa State Government, representatives of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment, Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Gbarain-Ekpetiama Cluster Development Board (CDB), members of the Academia and representatives of Shell Petroleium Development Company (SPDC), Messrs. Victor Okiri and Lawrence Dango.
Victor Okiri of Shell addressing the gathering
The Board Chairman of SACA, in his keynote address, urged all participants including the Shell representatives to take notes of the discussions as a report on the gathering would be brought to the shareholders of the company in London. He also urged the participants to report not only negatives but also positives.
The deliberations lasted till about 5pm. Most of the issues identified bordered on transparency in the implementation of the GMoU projects. The representative of Bayelsa State Government, Mrs. Kemisuomein Walson, accused Shell of keeping the government in the dark on the GMoU, consulting the government only when there is an uprising that impacted their operations. The Kings of Gbarain and Ekpetiama also lamented their exclusion by the company and the manipulation of certain elements in the community against communal interests. The rest of the participants, especially the traditional rulers, the academics and the youths, complained of the doctoring of GMoU documents by Shell to remove terms that would favour the communities. They also complained about the failure of the Cluster Development Board (CDB) to account for the monies claimed to be used for development projects, and the practice of disbursing 100% of project funds to contractors at early milestones which encouraged abandoning of projects, alleging a complicity with some Shell staff to rob the communities of their GMoU funds. Finally they complained of non-compliance with the barest of standards in a community re-electrification project by Shell, with clumsily hung high tension cables capable of electrocuting community members. The academics moved for the inclusion of the environment in the next GMoU, a critical component which is missing in the current one which is about to end. The Shell representative, Mr. Victor Okiri, tried to defend the company by insisting that they consult with community leaders especially the Kings. This infuriated King Gabriel Akah of Gbarain Kingdom, who nearly walked out of the hall. King Akah said Shell never consulted him. Mr. Okiri apologised to him but said he was referring to kings of other communities not there. Mr. Okiri referred other allegations against the company to the CDB Chairman, Mr. Kwen Kemederekumo, who described efforts they were making to communicate with the communities and do things right.
Fr. Kevin O'Hara of SACA addressing the gathering
The participants failed to agree on the issue of Freedom to Operate (FTO) and land ownership.
A major disappointment to participants was the way the Shell representatives sneaked out of the hall, without telling anyone, in the middle of the workshop.
Fr. Kevin of SACA urged the communities to consult amongst themselves later and come up with a common understanding of the FTO that we could work with. He also charged them to nominate from amongst themselves the best negotiators who would properly negotiate the terms of the next GMoU with Shell, to avoid being cheated again. He promised to link the chosen negotiators directly with the shareholders of Shell in London, for the best bargain.