GMOU Review in Gbarain-Ekpetiama Cluster, Bayelsa State

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‘The development and economic empowerment of the cluster and the smooth execution of SPDC operations/activities can only be pursued and realized in an atmosphere of mutual support, openness, and understanding between the parties.’ (GMoU)

SACA observed first hand that, for the most part over the past two years, the atmosphere of mutual support, openness, and understanding between

SPDC and the clusters/communities was limited and in many cases non-existent. We experienced numerous conflicts regarding community relations, regarding social and environmental impacts due to oil spills/sabotage, regarding awarding of contracts especially oil spill cleanup contracts, regarding angry land owners who feel marginalized by the GMoU process, regarding angry traditional rulers who feel left out especially from local content contracts awarded by the Cluster Development Board, regarding angry women and youth groups who feel that they do not benefit in any way from the GMoU.

SACA spent a lot of time and energy mediating in these conflicts with some success. However, it is an ongoing task and SPDC need to address these issues with new learnings.

1.3Nature and Scope of SPDC operations/activities

‘ Parties agree that all SPDC activities shall be subject to the statutory laws and policies guiding the proper acquisition of land and the conduct of environmental, social and health impact assessments.’

SPDC informed SACA they have a policy of not discussing/dialoguing/negotiating with land owners, families, chiefs, individuals,in this GMOU. Rather, they say they do so with community representatives who are part of the Cluster development Board (CDB) or the Community Trust (CT). (SPDC did make exceptions to this policy because of requests from SACA). However, this exclusiveness is the most disturbing factor for all those who feel excluded from the GMoU process. It impacts particularly when SPDC needs a ‘Freedom to Operate’ (FTO) agreement to operate in a particular area. The GMoU agreement states ‘the CDB chairman, Vice chairman or secretary and any 2 CT members will sign the FTO for SPDC activities where community co-owns SPDC assets ( 8.2 F ); For other activities where community own assets individually in a cluster and for all major projects the CT chairman of the impacted community and 2 representatives drawn from either the Council of Chiefs, CDC and youth representatives shall sign the FTO’s’ (8.2 G).This clause is rejected by the owners of  lands and they insist they will not allow ‘surrogates’ to sign for SPDC or any company to operate on their land. They fear that the ‘surrogates’ could use the signed FTO document to claim ownership of their lands. The Tarapa Family protested to SPDC and the Government and demanded the removal of this clause from the GMoU document. 

Regarding the GMoU agreement  giving power to the CDB to award surveillance contractors, subcontractors etc to work on SPDC ‘Right of Ways’ that require movement/activities through lands belonging to local land  owners  there is need to analyse the risks involved. Landowners in Gbarain Ekpetiama Cluster, in Okolobiri community felt so marginalized they responded in a unique and non violent way. They registered themselves with the State Government as an autonomous community. The  government accepted their appeal and gave permission to create an autonomous community. They have broken away from Okolobiri community and the CDB who refused to recognize them as land owners.Now they the landowners will negotiate with SPDC as a community. They want their voice to be heard. They want to be understood. They want SPDC to know their fears, their concerns, their feelings and they want SPDC to take seriously their new status as a community of landowners. 

They claim the GMoU failed them and their families even though SPDC pipelines pass through their lands which they leased to SPDC. They accept that SPDC have leased their lands but they want to be respected as the owners of the leased lands in respect of activities on the land that impact on them.