The Chairman of Isoko South Local Government, Itiako Ikpokpo KSM, has moved to avert what threatens to be a major crisis between oil-rich Irri community and the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC).
Ikpokpo’s intervention followed a 10-day ultimatum handed Agip by different organs of the community leadership to vacate their land or face mass protest and occupation of its facilities.
The community is accusing Agip, which operates a flow station and other oil installations in the kingdom, of violating agreements between both parties.
At the weekend, the council chairman called a meeting between representatives of both parties in Oleh to look into the matter and nip the crisis in the bud.
However, Agip shunned the meeting despite being invited, as the company was neither represented nor did it send words to explain its absence.
Speaking at the forum, the Chairman of Irri community, Chief Godday Igorigo, ventilated the community’s grievances, saying Agip had continued to create security challenges by dishonouring its agreement with Irri.
He listed the company’s sins to include refusal to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the community since the expiration of the last one in 2016.
Igorigo also accused Agip of refusing to award scholarship to selected Irri students in the last five years.
Other allegations are continued casualization of Irri indigenes working in the company in the past 16 years, and refusal to employ qualified Irri indigenes on permanent basis.
The community leader also alleged that Agip had been awarding contracts for catering, surveillance and other services to non-indigenes, thereby depriving the community of job and empowerment opportunities.
He added that the company had continued to employ foreigners to do jobs for which the community had “surplus expertise”.
Igorigo alleged that Irri and its people were worse off with Agig as the company’s presence had not brought any economic and infrastructural development to the land.
This, according to him, is in the face of “monumental health challenges arising from oil exploration and its attendant degradation of our soil”.
He further said the community was angry over Agip’s “gross disregard” for its people, including the king.
Responding, Ikpokpo appealed to the leadership of the community to exercise restraint and allow the local government to handle the matter amicably.
He blamed the growing trend of frosty relationship between oil companies and host communities on the divide-and-rule tactics of the companies.
The council boss expressed concern over Agip’s absence at the meeting despite being duly invited, even as he described as germane the agitations of the community.
He warned that the local government would not tolerate situations where companies deploy all manner of subterfuge in their dealings with host communities which in most cases result in unpredictable reactions and breakdown of law and order.