By Onome Oghenetega
The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) has warned that the Niger Delta region may be heading towards another round of crisis if the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari does not timely curb what it described as ‘excesses’ of Heritage Operational Services Limited, operator of OML 30 in the region.
IYC, an umbrella body for Ijaw youths worldwide, alleged that Heritage has become a ‘monster and curse’ to the people of the region especially its host communities over the manner it is operating in the area.
Addressing a press conference in Warri on Thursday, IYC President, Mr Eric Omare, told journalists that the firm was incompetent and not financially buoyant to operate OML30 which is the second largest Oil Mining Lease in the country after Nembe.
Omare alleged that Heritage has refused to pay local contractors in the region who had completed their contracts between two to three years, adding that many of the contractors who had took loans to execute company’s contracts were already having their property being confiscated by banks and other institutions where they borrowed such funds with high interest rate.
He alleged further that major contracts meant for the people of the host communities were already being hijacked and executed by Heritage’s board of directors’ subsidiary companies, and they are immediately pay upon completion while local contractors suffer in debts.
The IYC President, flanked by other national executive members of the association, also accused the management of the Nigerian Local Content Board of failing to ensure that interest of people of the region and host communities were protected by operators.
According to him, “What we are saying is that the local content board that ought to monitor and implement local content law including the community content, has failed in its responsibilities. Secondly, with specific reference to Heritage Operational Services Limited, operators of OML 30.
“We are calling on the federal government of Nigeria, through the ministry of petroleum resources, to revoke their operative license because they are not competent and do not have the resources to manage an oil mining lease.
“A situation where people take loans and you cannot pay contractors, people are dying of poverty, it simply shows that company lacks the requisite financial ability to operate an OML.
“We are calling on the federal government to revoke the OML awarded to Heritage to manage OML 30 because they are not competent and financially buoyant.
“If something is not done about it, we see a situation whereby their operations may be distorted and there may be violent reactions to their repressions on our communities.”
The Ijaw youths urged the federal government to wade into issues to avoid the looming danger as this was how the famous militancy in the region in past started with the maltreatment of host communities.
“We have situations whereby local contractors will do jobs for this company, in some cases because the company does not have the guaranty to secure loan, some have to secure loan with their properties.
“But this company do not pay these local contractors for up to two three years. While they refuse to pay local contractors, they pay their own companies.
In order words, the company has a board of directors who have subsidiary companies with which they take contracts that ordinarily ought to go to the local contractors. And when it is time to pay jobs, instead of paying the local contractors, they pay themselves.
“The resultant effect is the overwhelming poverty that we are seeing in the Delta environment and its potential to create militancy in the region. In most cases, people resort to militancy because they do not have a means of survival.
“You experienced Warri and Delta state when Shell and other multinationals were operating. Even if things were not rosy, things were better than it is with the taking over of these assets by the local companies owned by Nigerians.
“Apart from contract is the unemployment of our youths. We are a youth organization, when our people are employed, it reduces the pressure on leadership.
“But what we are experiencing now is that those oil prospecting license holders, because they are from outside the Niger Delta, they employ only their people at the detriment of the local youths who have the requisite qualification to be employed”, Omare fumed.
When, however, contacted by newsmen, General Manager, Community Relations of Heritage Oil Company, Mr. Sylvester Okoh, said he cannot speak on the issues raised by the youth body.
Okoh said, “Unfortunately I am not in right position to speak on the issue. Again, I don’t have details of what you are asking or talking about.”