On June 27, 2018, SACA organized a stakeholders gathering for the Gbarain/Ekpetiama Cluster communities. The gathering, which took place at Obunagha townhall in Gbarain, was attended by representatives from each of the 11 communities making up the clan, government representatives and other stakeholders. The focus of the gathering with the renewal of the Shell’s Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) with the host communities making up the Cluster.
The ambassador of Ireland to Nigeria, Sean Hoy, was the special guest of honour to the gathering. The Ambassador who flew down from Abuja was first of all received in the government house by the State Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral John Jonah (Rtd.), and other top government officials. In the company of the ambassador were St. Patrick’s Society’s Mission Development Officer, Kelvin Carroll, who came from Ireland, and the Chairman of SACA Board of Trustees, Rev. Fr. Kevin O’Hara. At the government house, the deputy governor promised to ensure the setup of a Shareholders Relation desk to interface between the State Government and the Ecumenical Committee for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR) and other shareholders in the UK. Several other top government officials including the elder statesman and former governor of the old Rivers State, King Alfred Diette-Spiff, who were at the reception, also expressed enthusiasm in relating with SACA and the shareholders.
The ambassador and his entourage accompanied by some of the top government officials and security personnel, including the State Commissioner for Environment, Hon. Ebi Apaingolo, the State Commissioner for Mineral Resources, Hon. Markson Fefegha, and the Director for Petroleum and Pollution under the State Ministry of Mineral Resources, Hon. Suku Ogbari, left the government house to Gbarain for the meeting with SACA and the communities.
In the townhall, the communities were given opportunities to interact with the ambassador and to share their various experiences and impressions about the GMoU with Shell. A number of issues were identified with the GMoU process that needed to be corrected in the upcoming one. Most notable among them include:
CHALLENGES WITH THE GMOU
• Exclusion of women in the negotiation and signing of the GMoU;
• Exclusion of the environment in the GMoU;
• Poor handling of the interregnum between GMoU phases, generating conflicts;
• No evaluation of the past GMoU before going into a new one;
• The paramount rulers selecting the CDB members alone instead of doing it with the entire community as stated in the GMoU document;
• No employment opportunity to the community youths;
• Not allowing the community members to decide the location of the CDB office – the CDB office is located in Yenagoa, paying rents to foreigners instead of community landlords;
• Exclusion of the community youths in the percentage sharing of the GMoU funds and contracts;
• Using the signing of Freedom to Operate (FTO) with the landlords to circumvent the GMoU so that the oil/gas operations would continue unhindered whilst delaying the GMoU process thereby causing divide and rule in the communities (friction between the landowners and the communities) and weakening the GMoU;
• Exclusion of the paramount rulers in the signing of the GMoU, only to be consulted when problems arise later;
• Imposition of the GMoU on the communities;
• The GMoU document unreachable to community members – only a few persons in the hall had copies of the GMoU.
The ambassador, after listening to the people, promised to discuss their issues with the company’s management and the federal government in Abuja.