OIL MINING LEASE (OML) 29:
QUIT NOTICE TO AITEO EASTERN EXPLORATION & PRODUCTION LTD
NATIONAL ECONOMIC SABOTAGE, STRANGULATION OF HOST COMMUNITIES, ECOLOGICAL DESTRUCTION, CONTRACT RACKETEERING AND CORPORATE WICKEDNESS
WORLD PRESS CONFERENCE BY OPU NEMBE (NEMBE-BASSAMBIRI) KINGDOM
14TH NOVEMBER 2020 at Nembe-Bassambiri (Opu Nembe), Nigeria
· President of Nigeria
· Minister of State for Petroleum Resources
· Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice
· Governor of Bayelsa State
· International Community
Gentlemen of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. The Chiefs and People of Opu Nembe (Nembe-Bassambiri) Kingdom in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, Nigeria, hereby express our resolute rejection of Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company Ltd, a very queer company imposed upon our land as the Joint Venture Operator of Nigeria’s most historic and highest onshore producing Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29, despite our strong objections from the start. For 5 years since Shell Petroleum Development Company surreptitiously sold OML 29 to Aiteo without any consideration of host communities’ pending legal and equitable rights, in order to escape its legacy of economic rape and environmental liabilities, it has been anguish on all sides for the communities.
2. The Chiefs, Elders, Women, Youths and all People of Opu Nembe are tired of the Aiteo punishment! Simply put, Aiteo and whoever its official and private collaborators may be are practically KILLING its host communities, particularly Opu Nembe Kingdom.
3. It has become so unbearable through these years, and worse in recent months, that community women and youths were provoked to peacefully occupy the Santa Barbara Flow Station and the Odeama Field Flow Station in protest from Wednesday 11th November. We are aware that kinsmen and women from our sister host Kingdom have also peacefully occupied Aiteo installations in their domain for some days now, in similar protest.
4. As community leaders, we applied civilized methods of seeking redress, including lawsuits, petitions to the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Office of Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation, NAPIMS (National Petroleum Investment Management Services), NNPC, Nigerian Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), and informal channels too.
5. But most of the official and regulatory agencies or processes for pursuing our grievances are so distant, so aloof, so unconcerned, so unresponsive, chasing shadows and at best excruciatingly slow. Impoverished as our communities are, we are often forced to beg and borrow, put our sweat, toil and tears together just to follow up complaints with various official or legal channels involving repeated logistics, travels and other challenges – to little or no avail. These frustrations have now pushed our youths and women to make their case through peaceful occupation of Aiteo’s production locations.
6. Frustrated and exasperated, we the community leadership in solidarity with our protesting people have to address this press conference, to issue this QUIT NOTICE to Aiteo and their fraudulent front contractors, so they can stop trespassing on our territory and leave promptly.
7. In brief, Aiteo’s crimes which continue to stretch host communities to breaking point, besides other deep grievances we already presented in court against Aiteo, are:
i. The fraudulent use of companies (some named below) beneficially belonging to or fronts for top executives of Aiteo to award highly inflated contracts covering almost all activities to themselves, thereby brazenly routinely circumventing the Local Content Act, fleecing and defrauding the Federal Government as JV partner on operational costs, denying communities over 90% of community contracts statutorily reserved for them and subletting a solitary few to one or two community members at a fraction of the JV-invoiced values through such front companies;
ii. Strangulating the communities’ already stretched subsistence economy by owing even the few sub-contracted community members for years and months, including surveillance contractors/workers protecting their pipelines and vendors supplying food to their workers, in the process rendering them so weak to “justify” replacing them with more proxies or middlemen;
iii. Employing negligible numbers of community people, on casual employment at that and deplorable terms of pay and working conditions, including poor safety provisions;
iv. inundating our environment with repeated, massive, prolonged oil spillages and blow-out fires due to possibly the most reckless, inefficient and hazardous oil field practices – refusing to clean up, remediate and pay compensation for years;
v. deceiving communities by pretending over and over to seek settlement, only to go back again on all understandings and compromises reached;
vi. refusing to negotiate a fair MOU with the Kingdom since it came over 5 years ago, and failing continuously on mere courtesies like diesel supplies for communities, throwing them back into pitch darkness, and
vii. its moves to arrange a site for a deadly chemical waste dump on our land, without proper community engagement or an environmental impact assessment.
8. For the records, OML 29 is the crown jewel of the Nigerian petroleum industry, both in terms of production volumes and its singular heritage as the source of the first commercial oil production and shipment by Nigeria, from Oloibiri Oil Well 1, Otuabagi, in Ogbia LGA. The bloc remains till this day the most prolific onshore bloc in Nigeria, at present production rates in the range of 100,000 (one hundred thousand) barrels of oil per day. Even at current oil prices, OML 29 has been generating close on ₦700 billion per annum for Government and its joint venture partners, Shell and lately Aiteo. Yet, the host communities benefit virtually nothing from this.
9. In 2014, before the divestment, we tried to engage with Shell but were brushed aside. We then brought our plight and grievances to the attention of Government via the then Minister of Petroleum Resources, the then President and other authorities, including through a couriered petition and a full page advertorial in Thisday, demanding that statutory consent to the divestment be withheld until the grave concerns of the host kingdom(s) were resolved. We were snubbed. With no due diligence whatsoever conducted on these issues and without granting us fair or any hearing at all, as constitutionally guaranteed, Government and Shell and Aiteo went ahead with the shrouded and suspicious transaction.
10. Consequently, as lovers of peace, we took a collective decision as Chiefs and People of Opu Nembe Kingdom to seek appropriate redress in the Federal High Court in Suit No FHC/YNG/CS/62/2015 and to, amongst other reliefs, forestall the renewal of OML 29 pending when our grievances are addressed.
11. That matter is pending in court. But in what seems now to have been an attempt to slow down the court process, though ostensibly in response to our quest for amicable settlement almost a year earlier, a meeting was called by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources on December, 12th 2018, with the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Federal Ministry of Justice, Shell and Aiteo attending under the pretext of exploring an amicable settlement. It was resolved at that meeting that our demands should be properly outlined, which we did many times and forwarded to the authorities. It was also sounded clearly at the meeting that, failing a timely resolution of the issues, Aiteo and its contractors would be presenting themselves as trespassers in our territory from 1st July 2019, upon expiration of OML 29 the day prior.
11. While the attempted settlement was swept under the carpet for months, it came to our notice by a publication on page 86 of THISDAY Newspaper dated Sunday 24th February 2019 that Aiteo in total disregard of the pending suit or settlement went ahead to pay the sum of $82 Million (equivalent to about N37 Billion) to process the renewal of OML 29 in cahoots with the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR). This was also despite several caveats served on the immediate past Minister of State for Petroleum Resources against any backdoor attempt to renew the lease. Does this not signal that oil companies and government are above the law, that they consider our resort to the law courts as a futile exercise, and therefore encourage aggrieved communities to seize redress through unorthodox methods?
12. We were later in 2019 invited to Accra, Ghana, by the self-exiled Executive Vice Chairman and Founder of the Aiteo Group, Mr Benedict Peters, for a meeting to find an amicable resolution. Understandings were reached on some of the issues, including the need for a proper environmental assessment and a framework for sustainable community integration. A committee was set up to agree modalities and resolve outstanding issues. However, Aiteo quickly reneged and abandoned the process once we landed back in Nigeria. The attitude of Aiteo’s top management is that host communities can go to hell because, from their body language, they have the means (obviously from the proceeds of oil and gas in our soil) to co-opt successive political influencers and partner/regulatory agencies.
13. With Aiteo’s abuses growing unbearably worse in addition to the grievances we had taken to court, we decided in June last year to declare the operator a trespasser that would no longer be tolerated in our domain from 30th June 2019 when its lease would expire. Suddenly desperate, Aiteo begged to be given one week to meet with the Kingdom’s legal representatives and make good on our grievances. Almost one and a half years later, Aiteo’s one week does not seem to be over. We can no longer hold back, as a severely threatened People.
14. We do not wish to delve into our claims in the pending lawsuit, but are constrained by the continuing aggravations to make this public address, especially as Aiteo’s antecedents and regulatory romances make us wonder if there is any point going to court or the industry’s supervisory agencies on the avalanche of repeated violations. The protracted frustrations and impact on our subsistent local economy can potentially ignite a volcanic crisis. For example, Aiteo’s insider trading is a violent violation of all known corporate governance codes, and would attract swift stock exchange sanctions for Aiteo and its executives if the company were a publicly quoted company. Yet, from NAPIMS and others to NCDMB, the local content regulator, all the industry supervisors repeatedly notified of this sordid practice quietly looked the other way.
15. Aiteo therefore continues operating OML 29 like a mafia organisation. The proxy companies used by Aiteo include Cavendish Mechanical Nig Ltd (a company Mr Benedict Peters also confirmed is owned by Francis Peters/his brother, the DMD), Hydra Integrated Energy Services Ltd, Keves Global and Aviam Offshore Services Ltd. These companies who now execute most of the servicing contracts arising from OML 29 somehow do not experience the same payment frustrations the few local contractors have been subjected to by Aiteo.
16. Recently, Asset Marine Ltd, a company associated with executives and agents of Aiteo has taken over all surveillance contracts in the Nembe area. Asset Marine then subcontracts to a few local contractors and others at a much lower rate. Put simply, Asset Marine rakes in billions of Naira without doing anything, in the process short-changing its joint venture partner- NNPC – and by extension the Federal Government and the Nigerian people. A similar scheme is run on the supply of boats to Aiteo using another front, Cavendish. Yet, even the local surveillance contractors are not paid for months, triggering a chain reaction as the young people who actually do the highly risky work in the creeks do not get paid too. Imagine this kind of provocation in the creeks!
17. The implication is that the Federal Government may unwittingly be paying 100% or nearly so of the operational costs for OML 29, instead of its 55% JV stake. In the meantime, cash calls received by the company and other proceeds from this oil bloc in the Nembe Se territory are diverted through carefully crafted schemes to fund lavish jet-setting lifestyles and the acquisition of lucrative mining assets across Africa, for example the $1billion platinum mine in Zimbabwe just acquired by the Benedict Peters-owned Bravura Holdings Ltd, as reported by Nigeria’s Businessday newspaper three days ago, 11th November. And the impoverished host communities of Ijawland and Niger Delta, like Opu Nembe Kingdom, are expected to be looking on and clapping.
18. As earlier stated, the incompetent manner this prized asset is operated in has also caused several oil spills in our Kingdom, some of which are now receiving attention from NOSDRA following the petitions of our lawyers, though they remain uncleaned and unremediated over a year after. At this rate, the mere remnants of our ecological resources and natural livelihoods may completely vanish during the remaining two and a half years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s term in office, thanks to Aiteo.
19. Consequently, we declare as follows:
i) That the operational lease of OML 29 held by Aiteo having expired on 30th June 2019, notwithstanding the illegal secretive renewal by then Minister Ibe Kachikwu, we call for its immediate relinquishment to Government, followed by a transparent competitive bidding process for its re-award, to ensure transparency, favourable fiscal terms to Government and host communities, untainted funding sources, and superior operational capacity.
ii) That the Federal Government-owned Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Limited (NPDC) should take over operatorship of OML 29, pending when a new, competent and community friendly operator takes over.
iii) That any purported renewal of the lease after 30th June 2019 when the present lease expired is invalid and as such Aiteo became a trespasser and persona non grata in the Opu Nembe domain and will therefore not be accorded any social licence to operate going forward.
iv) That Government and other accountability watchdogs, local and international, should thoroughly investigate allegations that Aiteo is engaging in national economic sabotage and undermining Nigeria’s interest, as well as dealing a fatal blow on the local economies of its host communities, by hollowing out proceeds from OML 29 to fund massive acquisitions in the mining sector in other African countries like Congo, Zimbabwe and Ghana where Benedict Peters is presently exiled.
v) That we note with interest Mr President’s recent revocation of 6 oil bloc licences for non-payments to FG, such being against the national interest. We draw parallels with OML 29 vis-à-vis both host community and national interests, especially in this era of maximum domestic revenue mobilization as an economic policy thrust for African countries.
vi) That this press release serves as a Quit Notice to Aiteo, effective 14th November 2020. Aiteo is no longer welcome afterwards.
vii) That the new operators should renegotiate lease terms for community land required for operations, and terms for community content/participation, environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
20. We have hereby put Aiteo, the Nigerian Government, Bayelsa State Government and the World on notice, for the survival and protection of the Opu Nembe (Nembe-Bassambiri) Kingdom.
SIGNED FOR OPU NEMBE (NEMBE-BASSAMBIRI) KINGDOM
CHIEF ORIAINGO EKPELEYAI ORUWARI
Chairman, Council Of Chiefs
CHIEF IVORY FIKORU
Secretary, Council Of Chiefs