Amid denials by Shell Nigeria Exploration & Production Company (SNEPCo), Onne Youth Council (OYC) on Tuesday staged a peaceful protest to the company urging it to 'rescind' its alleged plan to relocate its supply base from Onne to Lagos.
Last Thursday, supposed workers of the company in a statement circulated to the media said the plan to relocate from the Oil & Gas Export Free Zone in Onne, Rivers State to Lagos Port violated the federal government's directive to oil companies against relocating their operational bases from the Niger Delta region.
The statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES by a supposed representative of the affected workers, Edward Otaru, described the planned relocation of the company's operational base as "hurried and ill-advised" and "against the interest of the Niger Delta region."
However, when our reporter contacted the SNEPCo spokesperson, Bamidele Odugbesan, for comments for this story, he dismissed the alleged planned relocation of SNEPCo from Onne to Lagos as "fake news". He asked members of the public to disregard it.
SNEPCo, the deep-water exploration and production subsidiary of Shell Nigeria, operates in Nigeria's deep-water oil and gas production acreage at the Bonga oil field.
Mr Odugbesan also said the name of the signatory of the statement purportedly issued by SNEPCo workers (Mr Otaru) was not found in the global address list of Shell workers around the world.
Besides, the spokesperson said, Mr Otaru was not known as the leader of any of the oil workers' unions, namely Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) authorised to speak on behalf of the workers.
He said SNEPCo, which operates offshore, has always had its headquarters in Lagos and not Onne in Port Harcourt.
Although he said Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) operates in Onne, Mr Odugbesan said he was not aware of any plan or directive for the company to relocate from Onne.
"The only plan I am aware of is that SNEPCo, which has been making use of SPDC's logistics supply base operated in Onne, is trying to develop its own alternative supply base in Lagos. SNEPCo is not planning to relocate any of its operations from anywhere to Lagos," he said.
Some of the protesting Onne youth
But, on Tuesday, Onne youth, numbering over 1000, and carrying placards with various incriptions, marched to the company to register their displeasure over the rumoured location of the company.
The President of Onne youth council, Philip Tenwa, said one of their major concerns was that the alleged relocation of the company would lead to the loss of more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs.
"We are here today, on behalf of our numerous members and indeed the entire Onne Community wish 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," Mr Tenwa said.
Apart from the small businesses and contractors whose businesses would be affected by SNEPCo's alleged relocation, moving the supply base out of Onne Free Zone will negatively affect the economy of Rivers State and the larger Niger Delta region, he added.
"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 growing unemployment market in the Niger Delta region," he said.
The protesting youth later moved from the SNEPCo Supply Base to the palace of the Paramount Ruler of Onne Community, John Dennis Osaronu, to also lodge their complaint.
The paramount ruler commended the youth for their peaceful conduct, and called on SNEPCo to 'consider' the plea from them and rescind its decision.
"We appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Nyesom Wike and other well-meaning Nigerians to stop this move by SNEPCo," he said.