Scores of youths from Onne community, Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State on Tuesday protested at the entrance of oil giant, Chevron Nigeria Limited, over alleged planned relocation of the company from the area.
The youths numbering over 60 said should the company leave, it would affect the economic and social wellbeing of the area and the resultant job losses.
The protesters sang solidarity songs and danced round the company’s perimeter fencing with placards bearing several inscriptions to drive home their demands, insisting that the community was neither hostile to Chevron nor other firms in Onne.
Some of the writings on their placards read ‘Onne youths have never been hostile to Chevron’, ‘Onne youths say no to Chevron’s plan to relocate’, ‘Onne is peaceful for business and investors’, ‘Our people will lose jobs’, etc.
Other inscriptions read ‘Chevron has contributed immensely to Onne economic and social development’, ‘Chevron is community friendly’, and so on.
Speaking to newsmen, the Onne Youths President, Tobiah Tete, explained that the protest was a passionate appeal to Chevron not to leave the community, pointing out that the information they received was misleading.
Tete, however, said issues of disturbances in the community were a thing of the past since the present youth executive under his leadership came on board, assuring that they would liaise with the relevant stakeholders to ensure the company operates there unhindered.
He said, “We are here today on a passionate appeal to Chevron Nigeria Limited who has been in Onne for three decades now, based on the information we gathered that Chevron is relocating from Onne.
“We learnt that maybe the Onne people are hostile to companies. But it is a wrong notion about the community. Onne people are peaceful, accommodating and open to investors.
“We needed to do this to clear the air and let the world know and for Chevron to understand that we are not against their operation, and that we have not done anything to make them uncomfortable.”
He said as one of the leading firms operating in the area, the implication of their relocation to other areas would not be good for them and the host communities that depend on them.
“You can imagine the level of hardship even with Chevron in our community, much less when they leave. We cannot count the number of people that would be affected.
“Our people have been benefitting since the company came here. Aside from engaging our youths, they have carried out various projects and programs, including the Agbeta town hall, scholarships for Onne students.
“A major project that was to be cited outside, was attracted to Onne through some interventions. So if Chevron leaves, directly or indirectly people will lose jobs. Clients that are supposed to benefit would also lose their jobs.
“The host communities that depend on them will lose jobs and other benefits that come to them,” the youth president stated.
Continuing, he said, “In the areas of scholarships and skills acquisition where they assist us, we will lose out automatically if Chevron relocates and it will be a major setback to the community in terms of development.
“We also heard that the tariffs in the Port are also affecting them. So we are using this medium to call on the federal, state and local government as well as the authority of the oil and gas zone to subsidize the levies on them in order not to scare away Chevron and other companies from the communities.
“The issue of insecurity in Onne is a thing of the past since the present youth leadership came on board. There has been peace within our outside the ports complex.
“Since we assumed office, nobody has come to block the gate of Chevron or any other company because we direct our complaints and grievances through the appropriate channels, including the security outfits.”
While reiterating their appeal for the company not to leave, Tete expressed happiness that the Facility Security Officer of Chevron had addressed them during the protest and promised to forward their message upstairs.
“We made our presentations to him before the security agencies and thereafter we handed him a letter. He promised to follow due process in forwarding the letter to the management and get back to us.
“As peace loving people we are happy and hopeful because we believe that dialogue is a process to achieve positive results,” he said.
When approached for an interview, an official of the company who neither disclosed his identity nor designation, in a terse response to our reporter said, “Don’t worry we have spoken to the youths and we have promised to get back to them.”