TotalEnergies, a major player in the Nigerian oil industry, faces mounting tensions with residents of Egi-Obagi communities in Rivers State.
The dispute revolves around the company's engagement with specific individuals from the community in the establishment of a Host Communities Development Trust Fund. Failure to comply with the community's demands could have far-reaching consequences for TotalEnergies' oil production operations.
The brewing conflict was brought to the forefront through a report aired on Arise News.
The report shed light on a dramatic demonstration staged by residents of the Egi-Obagi community, situated in Rivers State, right outside TotalEnergies' Port Harcourt branch office.
TotalEnergies, operating within the Ogba/Egbema/Udoni local government area of Rivers State as the operator of OML 58, found itself at the center of this unrest.
Specifically, the protesters voiced their opposition to the inauguration of the Advisory Board for the Host Communities Development Trust Fund by TotalEnergies.
Ebenezer Hart Eleba, the influential leader of the Egi Oil and Gas Host Community, elucidated the purpose behind their gathering and subsequent protest.
"We are here to submit to the Managing Director the document that was served on TotalEnergies long ago, in respect of a court order restraining them from dealing with any Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) individuals brought from Egi Host cluster.
"We have rejected those individuals, and we will continue to reject them. But it appears the Legal Manager is still engaging with them even after seeing the court order.
"To that effect, we are warning TotalEnergies again; if they persist in dealing with these individuals, they will face legal consequences.
"We will go and block their facilities because they are defying the landlords."
Anthony Chinasa Brown, a concerned resident, emphasized that the protesters vehemently opposed specific individuals being included in the PIA Fund setup, most notably mentioning Okechukwu Obara.
Residents collectively called upon TotalEnergies to respect the court order and avoid further escalations of the situation.
In response, Henry Ehuike, the Manager for Stakeholder Engagement at TotalEnergies, accepted the document from the community representatives but made it clear that he could not speak on behalf of the company. His role was solely to receive the letter.
The 2021 Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) introduced a critical initiative, the Host Communities Development Trust Fund, aimed at fostering sustainable prosperity within host communities.
The primary objective is to ensure that the direct social and economic benefits stemming from petroleum operations are channeled effectively to these communities.
This initiative seeks to promote a peaceful coexistence between oil industry players and the communities they operate in.
Since 2022, significant strides have been taken to establish this Development Trust Fund across various host communities, particularly those in proximity to OML 58.
The urgency to expedite this process is underscored by the need to align with the goals of the oil sector.