Police officer reportedly shot dead during protest in Rivers Community

Okenyi Kenechi

A Police Officer with the Rivers State Command has allegedly died from gunshot wounds he sustained during a protest by Oyigbo residents over their disconnection from the national grid by the Port Harcourt Electric Distribution Company, PHEDC.

The protesters had blocked the access road to Afam Power Plant, Shell Petroleum Development Company SPDC, Nigeria Gas Company, NGC and the Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN.

Some of the women said they would continue the protest until PHEDC restore their electricity.

They also lamented the deplorable road network in Oyigbo.

Eyewitnesses told theportcitynews that the officer said to be attached to the plant opened fire on the protesters, adding that some of the protesting boys shot back at the police officer causing him life-threatening injuries.

He was said to have died later from his injuries.

The leader of the protesting youths Ejike Dike said Oyigbo local government lacks good road network and hospitals.

He said the youths are tired of the poor treatment of Oyigbo people by the government and multinationals operating in the area.

Also speaking during the protest, the Coordinator of Oyigbo Indigenous Lawyers Forum Kingsley Ajuziogu during the protest said the people of Oyigbo is exercising their rights by staging a peaceful protest.

He said the protesting women and youths followed due process before embarking on the protest.

Kingsley Ajuziogu said they were in the office of the Director of State Service DSS where they meet with PHED officials over the issue.

He revealed that the DSS director asked PHEDC to reconnect the light but PHEDC management has refused to reconnect them for the past one month.

He added that the people of Oyigbo will continue to demand their rights until PHEDC reconnects them.

Other speakers during the protest include the Public Relations Officer of Oyigbo Peoples Assembly Light Nwankwo, Chairman of Oyigbo Community Youth Leaders Forum Stanleyson Akaya, Comrade Gift Onyeukwu.

They said the youths will continue the protest until the government does the needful.

In his comment, an Elder in Obeama community in Oyigbo, Chief Uba Iwela said they will continue to demand for their rights till the government meets their demands.

He said Oyigbo people have suffered untold hardship due to bad roads and unemployment of the teeming youths in the area.

Uba Iwela noted that stakeholders in Oyigbo have a dialogue with different government agencies to resolve their issues with PHEDC who disconnected their electricity last month.

Origin of Crises

The crises in Oyigbo dates back to 2007 when Asa and Ndoki indigenes who are the dominant tribes in the Local Government Area began agitating good road, steady power supply, good hospitals and employment opportunities.

They accused the five companies operating in the area: Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC; Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC; Daewoo; Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN; and NGC of not employing indigenes. They also accused them of not developing the area.

Theportcitynews gathered that the first crisis in the area took a violent turn when the youth shuts down the power plant, forcing the then NEPA to comply and restore their power.

However, around 2011, it happened again and some years after that, it became a reoccurring decimal for the community’s power lines to be disconnected.

The communities argued that the agreement they entered with the Federal Government before siting the plant there in 1982 was that Shell and TCN will supply them with electricity free of charge for 50 years. However, after the privatisation of the power sector in 2013, PHEDC said that they could not continue with the agreement as it affects their revenue.

A community source, Samuel Ndochi told Theportcitynews that “The matter was referred to Abuja with help of Chisom Dike, member representing Oyigbo/Tai federal constituency who happens to be from Afam, and the paramount ruler, also of Dike’s family. The discussion was headed by a popular man who happens to be their youth President ” Ezebulafor’ Dike.

“They went to Abuja, everyone signed a communiqué and in the paper, the community made their demands known which included the construction of the major road up to Umuagbai Oyigbo, standard hospital, steady power and percentage in employment. Everyone signed and went home, TCN and PHEDC returned the light and promised to entertain the other demands made by the community in the coming years. And as for the steady light, FG made a point on how this can be reached. Instead of leaving it to one company, FG proposed that the five companies on ground including FG itself should contribute at least 1.5 to 2 megawatts of power each, to power the community ( assume that Oyigbo uses up to 10megawatts monthly and Afam power plant produces up to 500 to 800 megawatts of power monthly) or they stick to Omoku plan ( at Omoku, Agip pays for every power the community consumes) well, everyone retreated to status quo, and it was business as usual

“The relationship continued with the community with scepticism. They did not disconnect them from the grid again until late July 2020. Well, they changed the plant head with a Northerner heading it. He first shut down Asa power lines, comprising Mmirinwanyi, Obeama, Izuoma, KomKom and Umuegbule. At first, he said the line conveying power to these places have faults, that they needed seven days to fix it. Seven days went by but power was never returned. Leaders in those communities took the matter up, they got the Ezebulafor. The matter was taken to the Director of the Department for State Security, DSS, the commissioner of Police and Commissioner for power Rivers state. PHEDC said that Afam 2 line is owing them a huge amount of money and they will start paying for light onwards, that they are not aware of the so-called Abuja agreement.

“So the issue shifted from a faulty line to payment of bills. PHED said that the communities’ leaders do collect electricity bills but don’t remit it. The community leaders admitted to taking electricity connection charges (though they said it was for buying poles and cables) from homeowners who just built their houses. PHEDC said it was supposed to be remitted to them which the communities pleaded and asked that they ratify it amicably. Meanwhile, as this was raging, Ndoki people have light, theirs was not touched. Well, the meeting lasted several weeks with PHEDC and TCN insisting that Asa people of Oyigbo should start paying electricity bill. Director of DSS, commissioner of police representative and commissioner of power asked TCN and PHEDC to restore their power as one must not be denied seeing what he is buying while the seller is insisting he pays. They asked them to restore the lines and engage the community on ways to pay the bills”.

Mr Ndochi who also a community leader in Asa said that Asa has been taking over by non-indigenes and it has lots of industrialization which has become a huge source of revenue for PHEDC.

He said that the community leaders later held a meeting and decided that filling stations, welders, artisans and schools should pay some money monthly.

He said they also mulled the idea of asking tenants to pay too, which some vehemently opposed. Ndochi said that they returned to the table with the offers, but PHEDC refused to budge.

According to him: “A month later, they came with second plan, they targeted Ndoki people whose lands are at the heart of the gas hubs, plants and those multinationals. They cut off the power of Afam community, Okoloma, Egberu, Afam Ukwu, Umuagbai, Obeakpu and more. They said it was for maintenance. TCN didn’t know how to engage them and they needed a lie, to hold them off. They engaged the same Ezebulafor, who is very popular among the youths as he was their former youth president. He went and met the boys and the kings. Meanwhile, PHEDC had told him that the whole of Rivers State was in darkness. He conveyed the message to the communities that the power was down statewide. The Eze of Afam Ukwu asked him ‘if wike has electricity’? ( which means if pH and other city has electricity) and Ezebulafor answered no, according to what PHEDC and TCN told him. They promised that the power will be back in a week but only plead that the boys allow them to find the faults and fix it because they were scared the boys will beat them up.

“The man negotiated and the boys said they will always listen to him, that they should come and fix the light. There are 3 main lines in Afam and Asa; Afam 1 and 2 and NEPA line. NEPA line hardly goes off. They restored the NEPA line in 2 days for their staff and workers. Other two lines were permanently cut off. And on the second day, TCN and PHEDC brought military men from Port Harcourt with fears that the boys were coming which they never came. The community went back to PHEDC and TCN, with dialogues, and they kept getting reassurances that the power will be turned back on but at their back, TCN and PHEDC were busy feeding the newspapers with their own stories.

“They made a publication in late August of how the boys shut down the plant, which wasn’t true, nobody was there. They shut everything themselves. Last week, the communities in Oyigbo became tired. ( mind you, PHEDC returned power to Umuegbule, express and its environs power via Eleme line) from market deep down to the boundary between Rivers and Abia states had no light. Some have been without electricity for 2 months and 2 weeks, while some have been without electricity for 1 month and 2 weeks.

“This angered the communities as they say that Shell, TCN, and PHED neglected them and think they’re powerless. Last week Friday, the Oyigbo people assembly called for a meeting, including the Oyigbo women group and other groups too. They gave PHEDC and TCN 76hrs to turn the lights on or face massive protests, PHEDC never budged. Yesterday, they all descended on the plant, forcing the workers to run for safety” he said.