Port Harcourt — More than 1,000 youths from Onne community in Rivers State yesterday staged a peaceful protest at Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo) in the Oil and Gas Free Zone, Onne, asking the company to rescind its decision to relocate its supply base from the free zone to the Lagos port.
The youths under the aegis of Onne Youth Council (OYC) said the planned relocation would lead to the loss of more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs.
The protesters carried placards with various inscriptions condemning the planned relocation of the SNEPCo supply base, and also requested relevant authorities to intervene in the matter.
However, the spokesman for Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo), Bamidele Odugbesan, said,"Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo) has no intention of shutting down the Logistics Supply Base in Onne, Port Harcourt".
"The base will continue to be utilised by The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), operator of the SPDC Joint Venture for SPDC Joint Venture operations. SNEPCO's operations are in the Bonga field 120 kilometers off Nigerian coast in the Gulf of Guinea and our operations staff and contractors work offshore in Bonga," he added.
The President of OYC, Philip John Tenwa, who led the protest, told journalists that "we are here today on behalf of our numerous members and indeed the Onne community to draw the attention of the Nigerian Government and indeed the world to the plan by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo) to relocate its supply base from the Onne port to Lagos.
"Indeed, SNEPCo last week surreptitiously directed that all its property and equipment, including turbines, engine spares and miscellaneous equipment spares, be loaded into containers and moved out of the Onne port, where it had operated for more than 20 years, to another port in Lagos.
"This move by SNEPCo has serious and far-reaching implications for the Onne community and indeed the entire Rivers State. This is because SNEPCo, which is the operator of the Bonga field, at present, supports more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs at its supply base in Onne. There are also several small businesses and contractors whose businesses and fortunes are tied to SNEPCo."
Tenwa also said the relocation of SNEPCo's supply base out of the Onne Free Zone would also negatively affect the economy of Rivers State and the Niger Delta region at large.
"It will also put the means of livelihood of many families and the future of our children at risk as well as further swell the burgeoning unemployment market in the Niger Delta region.
"SNEPCo suppliers and vendors are based in the communities around Onne and in Niger Delta region. The suppliers and vendors deliver various items and supplies to the SNEPCo supply base in Onne. The planned relocation of the supply base to Lagos will directly affect not just the company's staff but also these suppliers and vendors. It is also bound to affect the community staff working for SNEPCo," the Onne Youths Council President said.
He said while the Federal and state governments and in the South-south have worked hard to ensure peace in the Niger Delta region, the relocation of the SNEPCo to Lagos has the potential of jeopardising the peace currently being enjoyed in the region.
According to him, "Also, we are all aware of the huge congestion in Lagos Port and the underutilisation of the Rivers port, Port Harcourt and Onne port. The ports in Lagos are bursting with the Apapa gridlock, which has practically hampered vehicular movement in the state. As a result of this, the federal government has expressed its readiness to revive operations at the Port Harcourt, Onne and other ports in the South-south region. Why then is SNEPCo not complementing this effort?
"What does it stand to gain by suddenly abandoning a community that has hosted its supply base and given it unequalled support for more than 20 years? In more than two decades, we never had cause to disturb or disrupt the activities of SNEPCo or any other company operating in our communities. We therefore do not deserve to be abandoned unceremoniously at this trying time by SNEPCo.
"The times are hard because in the past three years, no fewer than 15,000 people have lost their jobs at the Onne port and the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone as a result of the economic downturn in the country. We think SNEPCo should not compound this situation with the relocation of their Supply Base to Lagos."
The protesting youths later moved from the SNEPCo supply base to the Palace of the Paramount Ruler of Onne community, King John Dennis Osaronu, where they informed the king of their action.
Osaronu commended the youths for their peaceful conduct and also called on SNEPCo to rescind its decision to leave the community.
"We appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Nyesom Wike and other well-meaning Nigerians to stop this move by SNEPCo," he said.