Orient’s Baptism of Fire

Nnaemeka Nwawka: MD, Orient Petroleum
Nnaemeka Nwawka: MD, Orient Petroleum

Flood and inter-state disputes over location of oil wells conspire to disrupt the operations of Orient Petroleum along Anambra River Basin in Anambra State

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Dec. 10, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT

SINCE the commissioning of the oil exploration facilities belonging to Orient Petroleum at Otu-Aguleri in Anambra State by President Goodluck Jonathan in August, the company has been facing many challenges. One of such challenges is the recent natural disaster that occurred in the country. As a result of flooding in its operational area, Orient facilities worth billions of naira were washed away. This incident has led to the temporary closing down of the company. Nnaemeka Nwawka, managing director of the company, said since the premises of the oil company was taken over by flood, the management had to suspend operations temporarily.

Nwawka said: “the company’s workers could not gain access to the multi-billion naira facilities in the complex due to flooding. We had to shut down our operations at the place because the whole place was flooded.  You cannot even get there because it is cut off and nobody can gain access to the site,” he said.

When Realnews visited the site at Otu- Aguleri to see the extent of damage there was nobody in the premises apart from security guards, who denied the reporter entry. The magazine learnt that the security guards are there to prevent communities scrambling for the oil wells from damaging the company’s facilities.

Apart from the recent flooding incident, the declaration of Anambra State as the 10th oil producing state by President Jonathan is also affecting the activities of the company. The declaration has led to inter-state disagreement. As some communities in Enugu and Kogi states insist that the oil wells are actually domiciled in their territories, and not in Anambra state.

Realnews also visited the headquarters of the company in Awka, but the public relations officer, who refused to give his name, said all the questions should be addressed to Anambra state government because media are not fair to them in reporting the dispute and besides, they have misinterpreted and misrepresented the people on the issue.

Mike Udah, chief press secretary to Peter Obi, governor of Anambra State said in a telephone chat with Realnews that the federal government has intervened in the matter and that everything was under control. He added that it was left for the federal government and the National Boundary Commission, NBC, to determine the actual owner of the oil wells.

Udah described the actions of Enugu and Kogi States as an after-thought. He said the premises of Orient and the oil wells belonging to it are in Otu-Aguleri in Anambra East local government council. “There is no truth in the claim by some neighbouring states that Orient is in their land. This clearly is an after-thought and an unnecessary distraction. If their claims are true, why weren’t their governors around on August 30, when the President commissioned Orient? Anambra State is not opposed to the idea of the NBC determining its boundaries with any of its neighbours,” Udah insisted.

Orient Petroleum Flooding
Orient Petroleum Flooding

But, Cornel Onwubuya, chairman of Uzo Uwani local government area of Enugu, said from all indications, the oil wells are situated in Iggah, a suburb within the council. He said Iggah shares a common border with Echonwo and Odeke communities of Kogi State and Aguleri and Anam/Nzam along the Anambra River Basin in Anambra State. And the distance of the oil wells to Iggah is eight kilometres, while its seven kilometres from Echonwo community in Ibaji local government council in Kogi State. “The nearest Anambra State migrant settlement, Otu, to the oil well is 50 kilometres,” he said.

According to Onwubuya since the creation of Enugu and Kogi states in 1991, the deposit of oil and gas in the inland basin has been a subject of dispute among the three states and the matter has been before the National Boundary Commission and the Surveyor General of the Federation. He faulted the President’s declaration of Anambra as an oil-producing state, even when the NBC had not made a statement on where the oil wells are located.

Equally, the youth wing of Association of Anambra Town Unions, ASATU, has also warned Kogi and Enugu states, which are laying claim to the oil deposits in Anambra State to steer clear of the company or be prepared for a showdown. The youths described as unfortunate, a situation where the two states waited while successive administrations in Anambra State made effective investments towards the realisation of Orient Petroleum, only to show up when success had been achieved.

Osita Ozalagba, president of the association, said what was needed in the area after many years of toiling by the people of Anambra State to realise the project was peace and urged agitators not to distract the company and its operations.

As it now stands, the declaration of the President was hasty and only a prompt resolution of the claims and counter-claims by Anambra, Enugu and Kogi states would ensure a smooth operation of the oil wells by Orient. Already, the federal government, in collaboration with the NBC, has invited the three state governors to Lokoja, Kogi state capital, last to resolve the dispute.

But, Elias Mbam, chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, said recently that though crude oil production had begun in Anambra, becoming a beneficiary of the monthly allocation, based on 13 per cent oil derivation, was not automatic. “The derivation fund is clearly defined in the constitution. The law does not say you must start benefiting when we discover oil in your place. You benefit when that mineral resources contribute to the Federation Account and what you benefit is the value of the contribution to that account. We have agencies of government charged with the responsibility of ensuring that boundary issues are settled. We have National Boundary Commission, NBC and the Surveyor General of the Federation, who are charged with the responsibilities of delineating boundaries. There is no need to dissipate energy now because once they start contributing to the Federation Account, the Commission will request the boundary commission and surveyor general to go and establish where the oil wells belong,” he said.

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