Compensation: Rumuwoji, Abonnema Wharf Residents Sing Discordant Tunes

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The recent demand  by the residents of Abonnema Wharf in Rumuwoji Community (Mile 1 Diobu), Port Harcourt that companies operating in the area should pay them compensation, arising from their oil exploration, storage and distribution operations does not go down well with Rumuwoji Community, who felt slighted that they were not consulted by the residents before making such demands.

The community is insisting that the right group to make such demand is the community and not the residents of Abonnema Wharf, and that the community would do so in partnership with the residents, with whom they have co-existed over the years without rancour and acrimony, and have always co-operated in matters relating to the area. That is why they are surprise that the Abonnema Wharf residents did not contact them before making any demand from the companies that operate there.

Residents of Abonnema Wharf, operating under the aegis of the Abonnema Wharf Community House Owners Association are taking the companies operating in the area to task over the payment of compensation to them for the hazards they suffered from the activities of the companies, which include Messrs Sigmund Communecci Ltd, Shorelink Oil and  Gas Ltd.Dozzy Oil and Gas Ltd and BUA Ltd (which facility is under construction).

Aside these companies, there is the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC) which operates from kidney Island which is adjourning Island to Abonnema Wharf and one of the other companies – Communecci has its premise located opposite the Kidney Island. Thus, there is a correlation between these companies and Shell in their operations and activities.

While Shell undertakes oil exploration in the area, the basic activity of these other companies is the operation of Tank Farms to facilitate the storage of Petroleum products, to enable the end users get speedy and conventional access to them. This explains why long queue of tankers are often seen stretching from Abonnema Wharf to Njemanze street junction and sometimes behind the Silverbird Cinemas along the ever busy Aba-Port Harcourt Express Way – hampering free-flow of traffic.

The tankers usually contain a mixture of fuel, including gas with various Octane ratings and diesel, along with fuels like propane and natural gas. Tank Farms, most times are sited near refineries, major trucking terminals, rail yards and ports.

Such farms usually pose major fire risk. Residents of the areas where the farms are sited are also at risk of being consumed in the infeno, in the event of an outbreak of fire – which could occur anytime.

Thus, Abonnema Wharf and indeed Rumuwoji residents and non-residents alike who do business there are in danger because if there is any uncontrollable fire disaster, what should follow is an accidental release of fuel, explosions – sometimes unprecedented fire and related problems. All these threats are visible at the tank – farms in Abonnema Wharf.

The Rumuwoji Community is not contesting this truism neither is the community against the payment of compensation or whatever monetary reward at that, by the oil companies in the area. The Community’s grouse is not on this but on the method adopted by the Abonnema Wharf Community Owners Association, which excludes them, the land owners.

The community’s grouse with the process adopted by the residents’ association came to the fore last Wednesday, June 29 in Port Harcourt.

At a joint meeting by the Community’s Council of Chiefs, Town Council and Youth Association, chaired by the Nye-nwe-ali (Paramount ruler), Chief John Dike and ably supported by Chief (Hon.) Ogbonda Worlu, Secretary to the Council of Chiefs, the Community did not mince words in condemning the approach adopted by the Abonnema Wharf residents, while expressing its readiness to partner with them on the issue of compensation and any other one that affects them.

The Community was categorical that it was wrong for the residents of Abonnema Wharf to bye-pass them in their demand for compensation from two of the oil companies, operating there – Sigmund Communecci Ltd and Shorelink Oil and Gas Ltd. The Community did not fault the need for the two companies to pay compensation since there is an established case of pollution in the area, arising from the oil exploration activities of these companies but said such compensation should be directed to them – the Land owners and not their tenants, the Abonnema Wharf residents.

The Rumuwoji Chiefs’ Council and Rumuwoji Town Council which spoke on behalf of the Community on the issue after their meeting called to review the situation in the area, pledged to carry the residents of Abonnema Wharf along and expressed surprise further, that they failed to consult them before making such demand and even went on air (AIT) to lend credence to it.

The community believes there is need for apology by Abonnema Wharf residents for what they consider a slight on them, inspite of the cordial relationship existing between them over the years, describing the Abonnema Wharf resident’s demand for compensation as a ‘mistake’ which they want corrected.

In a statement issued by the community at the end of its deliberation and signed by the Nye-nwe-ali Chief Dike and Chief Hon. Worlu, the Rumuwoji Council of Chiefs and Rumuwoji Town Council on behalf of the Community. Land owners said: Just recently, we had our brothers – the residents here in Abonnema Wharf which was traditionally Ohia – Esilaru Rumuwoji (making claims for compensation for oil pollution in the area).

Ohia – Esilaru – Rumuwoji – that’s the traditional name of that place; based on that place being a waterfront to Abonnema, Bukuma, Bakana — and our other riverrine communities, that place was named Abonnema Wharf – a Wharf, just a road, linking these other places but the place is Rumuwoji Community.

Being a waterfront that has attracted a lot of business all these while, people from all walks of life are residing there but that doesn’t make them owners of that place. We’ve been having good working relationship with them all this while; even in the matter that they took Shell to court, they also said in their own statement of claim that that place does not belong to them, that the place belongs to Rumuwoji Community but they are residents there and most activities going on there affect them, so that’s why they’re making their case.

But we as a community, after hearing the recent claim they made about pollution as it affect Sigmund and Shorelink operations there at the Wharf, we decided to come out to correct such impression so that, that will not continue. “Since we have good working relationship, we expect whatever demand, whatever agitation, they want to do, that they should pass through Rumuwoji Community.”

We have not denied them most of the basic things of life that they want to get through us because we are all from the Niger Delta, what affects them also affects us so we decided to correct that wrong impression which they sent to the air (media), making claims from compensation without the consent or without passing through Rumuwoji Community so that’s why we decided to have this forum, and to also send this message across that that place belongs to Rumuwoji Community and whatever thing they have to do, they have to pass through the Rumuwoji Community; what will benefit them, we’ll not deny them.

“We want to correct that impression because we have been relating very well with them and we didn’t know why they left the normal (way), the procedure, the due process which we have, to do something else so if at this point they realise the mistake they have made and still come back to the community, we’ll welcome them, whatever claims we’re going to make, we’ll accommodate them like we’ve been accommodating them before.

“So that’s our position, we ‘re friendly people; we’re very hospitable; we love our neighbours as we also love our selves.

If they come back to say they’re sorry for what they have done, there’s no problem, we’ll work together like we’ve been working together before.

The Tide On Sunday asked Chief Worlu, if they don’t come back to say ‘sorry’, what will be the next line of action? And he said “we will not be in a hurry to say that for now; let’s watch and see as events unfold”.

Justus Awaji