Protesters from Orere-Uluba Community in Warri South council area of Delta State, mainly young and old women, stormed Seplat Petroleum Development Company in Sapele over what they called “subversion and illegalities” by the company.
They warned that the recent action(s) of Seplat might set the company ablaze in due course, saying “if this happens, Seplat should be held responsible.’’
The placard-carrying women, numbering hundreds, had on Wednesday massed at the gate of Seplat, chanting solidarity songs and insisting to continue to lay seige to the company’s gate until their demands were met.
The inscriptions on some of the placards read: “Who is the surveillance contracting firm in Orere-Uluba pipeline?” “Seplat, let us know the houseboat contractors & those doing supply”, “Seplat recognize the new exco led by Hon. Benjamin Iwetan” and “Seplat respect the rule of law.”
One of the leaders of the protesters, Etse Vivian Ola, told newsmen covering the protest that Seplat had failed to improve their standard of living since Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) divested its interests in the Western Swamp to Seplat over 15 years ago.
The women later presented a copy of their demands to the Base Manager of Seplat, Mr Emmanuel Otokine.
The statement said: “We are aware that since 2006, the company created an outfit known as the Integrated Pipeline Surveillance System (IPSS) in all communities within its area of operations in Delta State, it has a defined tenure of three years.
“The outfit is to act as an intermediary between the community and Seplat, covering the supply of community pipeline security men, receive funds and payments to security men, number of elders, leaders, women at regular or monthly basis, recurring community bonuses and disburse same.
“From 2006, one Dere Jarikpe was appointed Chairman of the Community on a four-year tenure and a possible second tenure of another four years and no more. In 2009, one Mr Andrew Okotie was appointed chairman of the IPSS, with a tenure of three years.
“These two gentlemen from the respective years of appointments, with the active connivance of Seplat, have refused to relinquish their positions and the company has continued to recognize them, even when they knew their tenures have long expired.
“Nothing was delivered to the community by the Andrew Okotie-led IPSS till date as dictated by the IPSS agreement and the Orere-Uluba women here with us, have continued to be in penury.’’
Accusing Seplat management of failing to recognize the new community leadership as their representatives, the women also said: “After much agitation for a change in the community, on the 2nd of November 2020, an election was held upon the directive of the Olu of Warri Kingdom and one Benjamin Iwetan-led executive was elected to run the affairs of the community, with a consequent advancement of another IPSS chairman.
“The outcome of the election was duly communicated to Seplat. The company refused to honor the election and continue to deal with the aforementioned men, who have continuously ripped off the community with the active connivance of Seplat.
“The regrettable end result is why Andrew Okotie holds on tight to the IPSS and all its benefits, Dere Jarikpe holds on to the community chairmanship and all the contracts that accrue from the houseboat operated by DEWAYLES Nigeria Ltd, located in our community, a contracting firm to Seplat.
“The frustration caused by the ignoble role played by Seplat necessitated the newly elected executive of the community to seek redress in Warri High Court in Suit No:W/160/2021, where the SSID Dere Jarikpe and Andrew Okotie, as well as Seplat, are defendants. On the 10th of May 2022, the Warri High Court presided over by Hon. Justice V.O. Agboje (Mrs) among other things, granted an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the said Dere Jarikpe and Andrew Okotie from the position of community chairman and chairman of IPSS respectively.
“To our uttermost disappointment, Seplat still continues to deal with the aforementioned as if there is no court order or human decency, does not have a place in modern Nigeria. The court order is hereby attached.
“The action, if Seplat not only constitutes an act of underdevelopment of the community, it is equally suggestive that judicial pronouncement is to be sacrificed in place of acts of brigandage.
“This action of Seplat is to set the company ablaze in due course and if it happens, Seplat should be held responsible.’’
The protesters accused Seplat of playing double standard with the Orere-Uluba community, saying the company had persistently refused to enforce the maximum tenure of three years for the IPSS committee membership as it did to other host communities.
Addressing the protesters on behalf of Seplat, Otokine, absolved the company of any involvement directly or indirectly in the leadership crisis rocking the community, saying the oil company “does not decide who leads the community.”
The manager denied that Seplat had been dealing with Dere Jarikpe since 2006, pointing out “We were not in existence 16 years ago.”
Otokine, who also claimed ignorance of the several letters written to Seplat without any response, however, promised to look into the receipt of the letters as he was confronted with the copies of the letters.
On the process of according the new community leadership recognition by Seplat, the official advised them to get a letter of introduction from the palace of Olu of Warri Kingdom, saying that the company would recognize the newly-elected executive committee. (PSN)