ExxonMobil operations in its Qua Iboe Terminal, QIT, base in Eket , Akwa Ibom State, were brought to a halt on Thursday, as youth and indigenes of the oil communities took to the streets to protest the non-settlement of the N26.5 billion oil spill compensation.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the protest, which was staged simultaneously around the company's airstrip in Eket, Mobil Terminal in Ibeno, and Mobil Housing Estate in Eket, saw placard wielding indigenes of Eket Federal Constituency registering their displeasure over the alleged refusal of the company to fully settle the four oil producing local governments over the oil spill as previously proposed.
Some youth leaders under the aegis of Eket Federal Constituency Vanguard led by Isaiah Abia and William Mkpa, accused the management of ExxonMobil of being insensitive to the plight of the host communities, by refusing to pay the compensation for the 2012 oil spill incident that they claimed negatively impacted aquatic life and environment in the four communities in the area.
They claimed the incident had rendered several members of the communities jobless, apart from the deplorable condition of social infrastructure in the area and other hazards resulting from the extractive activities of the oil firm.
They threatened to completely cripple the operations of the company if its management failed to take steps to redress the problem, demanding the immediate redeployment of the Managing Director of Exxon Mobil, Mark Ward, over his alleged rejection of the overtures from the communities for dialogue.
At the Mobil airstrip in Eket, plantain suckers where planted at the entrances, while the youth locked the gate with padlocks, as a detachment of policemen deployed to prevent protest from degenerating watched from a distance.
Mr. Abia, who addressed the protesters at the Mobil Terminal, Ibeno, said there was no going back on their demand on the ExxonMobil management, saying the protest march came at the expiration of the seven days ultimatum issued earlier to the authorities of Mobil last week.
He said the people of the areas where totally against a suggestion that ExxonMobil wanted to use the oil spill compensation fund to execute projects in the communities, maintaining that such a notion was an attestation to the nonchalant attitude of the ExxonMobil management.
The Eket communities had asked the oil firm to fulfil its agreement of N26.5 billion compensation for the damage caused by the November 2012 oil spill.
They blamed the oil company for the recent abduction of the traditional ruler of Esit Eket, Ubong Peter Assam, which led to the issuance of an ultimatum for the monarch to be produced or risk the wrath of the communities.
Thursday's protest followed a statement by the traditional rulers of the four local governments on September 25 rejecting the offer of N2.6 billion compensation offered by ExxonMobil management, which they described as grossly inadequate for the quantum of losses the communities suffered.
Another communique on October 16, signed by representatives from the four oil producing communities, also condemned the company for disregarding the agreements reached during the intervention meetings convened by the state governor, Godswill Akpabio, last year and on July 26 to resolve the oil spill saga.
But, ExxonMobil management in a statement in response to PREMIUM TIMES enquiry said the protest by the communities appear to have been instigated by misinformation about its activities, assuring that it was working towards an amicable resolution of the crisis.
"Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN), operator of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)/MPN Joint Venture, confirms demonstrations near some of the Joint Venture's facilities in Akwa Ibom State. We respect the right of people to protest peacefully.
"Regrettably, the demonstrations appear due to inaccurate information concerning the Joint Venture's recently announced plans for multi-year, multi-billion social investments, across the state.
"We are working with all key stakeholders including our neighbouring communities and Akwa Ibom State government, to address the misinformation," the statement from the company's Public Affairs department said on Thursday.