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How oil firms’ staff turned pipeline vandalism into lucrative business

The discovery of oil in Niger Delta rather than be a source of blessing has turned to curse as the level of development in the region cannot be compared with the extent of environmental pollution and degradation that have come with the crude exploration.

But some people in the region are not also helping matters as investigations reveal that these individuals were even aiding and abetting the devastation of the environment by bursting pipelines for their own selfish interests. Recently, there was an allegation that some oil workers aid and abet pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta region.

Saturday Telegraph went to town to get more information regarding this allegation. An indigene of Imiringi, an oil bearing community which hosts Shell in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, has this to say: “The simple fact is that in oil business things happen in both sides. No community folks will just wake up one day and burst pipelines. That is not to say that they don’t break pipelines.

“The simple fact is that if the pipeline vandalsing has to do with excavating and removing the pipes as it is, that I know and people also do that and it doesn’t have to do with company workers.

“What I’m saying is that if a pipeline passes around your house, some persons who sell pipes can decide to break some long part of the pipe and sell it as second hand. It is assumed that it is community folks that are doing that but it has nothing to do with them.

It has to do with those who are in pipeline business of selling second hand pipes. “Sometimes some of these pipes are burst because of the desire to make money. But another thing is that the community knows that if a pipe is burst they will not benefit because as long as that is the case, Shell will always say that it is sabotage. And if it is sabotage, Shell does not pay compensation.

“So no community will go and burst any pipe because they won’t benefit. But as somebody who is from an oil community who has been involved in oil transactions and activism, I know very well that contractors and Shell staff are the people behind most vandalism of pipelines.

“It is Shell staff, their community liaison officers (CLOs) and contractors because they know that if they burst the pipelines, contracts will be given and most of these CLOs and Shell staff make extra money outside their salary when they get jobs like that. “Most of the times it is these CLOs, Shell contractors and Shell big men. They make extra money outside their salary through these contracts.

In the real sense, somebody cannot just enter forest to burst pipelines; so they have their agents in the communities that carry out these jobs for them and when the contractor comes, they pay them. “Sometime they pay them upfront or when the contractor is engaged.

These people don’t break pipes because they want the community to benefit. No, they break pipes for a contractor to be engaged to fix it or for a Shell staff, or CLOs to benefit. At the end of the day, even those who carry out the actual bursting of pipeline get crumbs.

“It is basically a racket and a cabal within their office that does these things. You know that those men cannot go to the forest to do the job so they need locals to do it. “If they want to break a pipeline at Imiringi community for instance, they have their men at Imiringi that will do the jobs for them.

The community knows that they are not going to benefit except the normal PR from the contractor. “It is the cabals within the oil companies that carry out these jobs and they know at the companies.

There is nobody in Shell who doesn’t know these things.” Moris Alagoa an environmental rights activist and a field worker with Environmental Rights Action from Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State said: “We have been reporting these things as the community people relate them to us. We have seen several points that have been vandalised but the involvement of these staff is an allegation we cannot prove. It is what the community people tell us that we put in our report.

“We have been hearing these claims from community people especially in Okordia clan in Yenagoa Local Government Area, Ikarama community also in the same local government area and others. In fact I had the video in JK 4 in Ahoda Local Government Area of Rivers State where they mentioned some community persons and a Shell employee who were responsible.

“That the Shell staff was in the department where it is possible for him to enable those persons bursting the pipes to have the cleanup contracts. We heard this same allegation in Okordia clan and if you go to JK 4 in Ahoda, Rivers State, you hear the same thing.

“And if you look at the way they get the contracts and give them to the people who have been alleged to be committing the crime you will know. It corroborates the claim that the people bursting the pipes are the same people getting the contracts.

“There are more evidences. People are saying that they are ready to swear that these company staff members are involved in bursting pipelines. Some that I know have confessed that they had been part of it but that they were engineered by some of these company staff to do it because of lack of employment, lack of money, and that their land is not yielding even when they plant or when they go for fishing.

“It is not new even though we have heard in other places that surveillance contractors also sponsor the spills. They will tell people to go and burst pipes so that they will get the contract of doing clamping and repairing of the ruptured points and do clean up.

“The companies know that these things have been happening but they keep it to themselves. I have been privileged to speak with some of the community persons that are involved and they always mentioned the locals that are in the department of response to spill, those that give out contracts, those that approve the money and those that respond to spill issues.

“Those are the people that are involved because when it happens, they are the people that come for inspection and recommend the contractors, and in most cases according to our contacts, it is not as if they even have genuine contractors.

They are the contractors themselves. “The expatriates to a large extent according to the people are not aware. That it is the people at the operational department. The field workers and may be some of their own contacts that are also giving them money in the office. Mostly, it is those that normally come to the field to have contacts with the community people. “They are not going to escape because mobile phones are there.

Whatever communication that you have got over the years, service providers will provide the records. I just hope that those in charge will take up this matter to clean the dirty name they have given to our communities because you cannot say that our people are causing the spills while you are the ones sponsoring these people to do it.” The National Chairman of Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas (HOSTCOM) Benjamin Style in giving his views said: “To be frank with you, I might not be able to come up with a clear fact and I cannot just be saying that I know what is happening and what is not.

“Well, whatever the case, I have not been informed and I have not been told about it. I have never found any neither have I been told about it. But I can’t rule it out in totality. There are some bad eggs which we all know about.

It could be possible. But I have not been able to figure it out or have clear information. We cannot rule it our totally because they can do anything to earn a living.” Also one of the paramount rulers from Ekeremor Local Government Lutegbene community said: “We have a lot of pipelines in my community. We have been hearing that things like that are happening but I have not witnessed it here.

They are bursting pipelines here belonging to both Shell and Agip. They burst pipelines everyday but I don’t know the people bursting the pipelines and I don’t know how they get the contracts.” Another indigene of the community said: “They don’t burst pipe in ous side.

It is rampant in Southern Ijaw area. People are not into bunkering here but if you go to Southern Ijaw area, it is common. That is where they are doing it. There is nothing like bunkering in Ekeremor. Even though they cook oil at Southern Ijaw, they transfer them to this place.

They will get to those Gbaruan side. There is an Agip pipeline there. They will buy from there and go and cook it.” An indigene of Nembe community in Nembe Local Government area said: “We have Shell, we have Agip, we have AITEO and others. They use to burst pipelines here. That is what happens on a daily basis here. “The staff of the oil companies will give money to the boys and they will burst the pipelines. The oil company will now give them the contract to fix new pipes and they will make a lot of money out of it. “It is a deal; it is going on. It is actually the staff of these oil companies because it is that office that will give out the contracts. They too they have their own share of the money.

Those things are happening but you cannot be saying what you cannot benefit from. “If you to say these things, those that are benefiting from the deal will come and harm you. I know these things and that is why I’m telling you but if I go and announce it elsewhere, what will I get from it.

Nothing! That is why I have to keep quiet.” “Even this bunkering thing, you see that some of the Shell workers are part of it. Because of the local content act, some of these personnel management work they don’t give to white people again.

“They give to the indigenes because of the way people were complaining that as oil producing communities they were not benefiting. So, some of the positions white people were holding they now removed them and put our people. “And it is these people that are doing this business of bunkering, vandalism of pipelines, surveillance contracts and so on. That is why the situation is so bad.

And every day, it’s getting bad. Another indigene from Orkaki community in Yenagoa Local Government said: “We don’t have pipelines so something like that does not happe here. But a spokesperson for Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) in an email to Saturday Telegraph dismissed the allegations. The spokesperson said: “SPDC does not have any formal report of named SPDC staff members or contractors involved in pipeline vandalism or crude oil theft.

“SPDC, like other Shell companies globally, investigates all credible reports it receives of misconduct or unethical behaviour and takes robust action where evidence exists. SPDC has multiple ways the public can report allegations of wrongdoing by anyone working for SPDC, including a 24/7 telephone and email helpline.

“SPDC also monitors its joint venture facilities and any incident or suspected criminal activities are promptly reported to the regulators and government security agencies for investigation and possible prosecution.

“All spills are assessed by a government-led joint investigation team. Where sabotage is established, the clean-up contract is not awarded to contractors from the host community to ensure that possible accomplices do not benefit from such activities. SPDC cleans up and remediates areas impacted by spills that come from its operations, irrespective of cause of spill.”

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