From Jefferson Ibiwale, Benin
Members of some oil producing communities in Edo state on Wednesday shut down operations of Zakhem Construction Nigeria Ltd, the firm laying pipelines from Oben in Edo State to Lagos in protest against what they described as “total neglect and violation of their fundamental rights”.
The protesters, who laid siege to the premises of the company as early as 8.00am, thereby preventing entry and exit from the building, said the protest was their last resort after all legitimate means employed to involve the management of the company in meaningful dialogues had failed.
In February the group issued a seven-day ultimatum to the management of the company demanding a response to their letters bordering on their social and economic wellbeing during and after the laying of gas pipelines from Oben to Kogi State.
The ultimatum was contained in a protest letter handed over to the management of the company during a peaceful protest at the site of the company in Obayantor, Ikpoba/Okha local government area of Edo State.
The host communities in the letter signed by its chairman, Sam Igbineweka, accused the company of neglect and total disregard for their rights and expectations in its implementation of the Oben- Kogi State gas pipelines project and the Escravos-Lagos gas line project.
Copies of the letter were forwarded to President Goodluck Jonathan, the Inspector-General of Police and the minister of Petroleum Resources.
However, addressing newsmen on behalf of the protesters on Wednesday, Igbineweka explained that a meeting called by the company to iron out issues with them was a smoke screen calculated to intimidate them into total submission as the company sent its legal representatives to meet with them instead of its management team.
“We consider the decision by the management of the company to engage its solicitors as very disgusting and appalling in a purely community affair rather than face the challenges by themselves. We knew that nothing meaningful would come out of the meeting when lawyers were engaged to handle communities’ affairs with a company that has failed in its responsibility,” Igbineweka said.
He called on the company to reach truce with them as it did in Ondo State with similar incidence where settlement was reached without the involvement of lawyers just as they described their reception in Lagos as a mark of contempt and clear indication that they were insincere with the dialogue.
The group described as buck passing, the act of the company in shifting its social responsibilities to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC and Nigeria Gas Company, saying that both companies were unknown to them.
“We urge the management of Zakhem Construction Company Ltd to tow the path of honour, genuine dialogue and reconciliation. We love peace, progress and development but we shall not accept oppression and intimidation,” the group stressed.