A group of host communities in Bayelsa State at the weekend kicked against the establishment of a commission of inquiry by the state Governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson, to investigate activities of oil companies and surveillance contractors.
The group under the aegis of the Integrated Oil and Gas Host Communities (IOGHC) described the commission as a witch-hunt against key members of the opposition political parties especially the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Speaking in Yenagoa, the state capital, the Board Chairman, IOGHC, Mr. Gift Ebiki insisted that the commission was given a mandate by the state government to indict APC members involved in pipeline surveillance contracts.
Ebiki lamented that despite acting as the mainstay of the country’s economy, the host communities were abandoned by both the federal and state governments.
He said the communities depended solely on oil companies and their contractors for development and employment adding that the state government through its commission was making frantic efforts to stop their only sources of benefits.
He explained that pipeline surveillance contract was a strategic master plan to secure the pipeline from vandals insisting that the contractors involved host communities in securing oil production facilities in their domain.
He said such contractual agreements helped to curb the vandalism of oil pipeline by oil thieves and other criminal elements.
He said: “We found this association basically for the interest of attracting federal government, state government to do more in our host communities. For example in Bayelsa State, almost all the communities are in darkness and it is the host community money that is supplying electricity to Abuja, Port Harcourt, Lagos and some other states.
“But here the only electricity we have is sometimes from Shell and Agip through generators they installed in host communities. There is no community in Bayelsa state that is enjoying government light”.
He added that Agip and Shell were also responsible for constructing concrete walkways in most communities at the riverine areas, which had been ignored by the government.
Reading the general position of the group, the Secretary, IOGHC, Zuwa Konugha, said the main objective of the commission was different from the picture painted by the state government.
“But it is a known fact that the prime targets are host communities surveillance contractors”, Konugha said adding that the host communities were not in support of the commission set up by the government.
He said: “The government of Bayelsa state does not have the support of the host communities to carry out its intended plan to ridicule our members through its commission of inquiry.
“The surveillance contractors are indigenes of oil and gas host communities. The panel of enquiries are targeted at contractors from the opposition parties who maintain the right of belonging to any political party of their choice.
“The oil companies mostly the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) and the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) have been very magnanimous in embarking on developmental projects and providing basic social amenities to the host communities.
“For emphasis, it is only the international oil companies (IOCs) that have been providing electricity, concrete roads, functional primary school building and health center facilities, water projects, town halls, market stalls amongst others in the host communities.
“We call on the restoration government to immediately take a comprehensive data of oil and gas production of various communities and work out modalities on how to engage its indigenes in empowerment activities, embarking on notable developmental projects and provision of basic amenities as a way of giving back to these host communities that are being milked day in day out”.
But the Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Ebipatei Apiangolo denied all the allegations against the state government saying the governor’s action was justifiable.
He said the main objective of the commission was to ensure international best practice and restore sanity to operations of oil companies in the state.
Apaingolo said the state government would not allow the oil companies to continue to operate with impunity.