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How N2billion Covid-19 palliative escalated AKSG, ExxonMobil cold war

How N2billion Covid-19 palliative escalated AKSG, ExxonMobil cold war

The seeming cordial relationship that existed between Akwa Ibom State and one of the largest oil producing companies in the world, ExxonMobil has gone sour.

The soured state of the relationship became crystal clear when the Akwa Ibom State Government announced publicly her rejection of ExxonMobil’s donations towards the support of the State in the fight against COVID-19.

ExxonMobil had donated medical facilities including World Health Organisation certified COVID-19 test kits numbering 1920, 1000 collection samples kits, and hospital beds which they said is valued at over N90 million. This is in addition to two ambulances and 20 vehicles. 

This is not the first time the relationship between the duo has tested the waters recently. The State government kick started the battle as a cold war.

On February 4th, 2020, the Akwa Ibom State Internal Revenue Service issued warning notice to the Oil Giant over tax evasion. This gesture which caused ripples over their relationship was believed to have received the endorsement from the State Governor.  

The relationship was further bruised when Akwa Ibom people rejected the two bags of 50kg rice given to each villages in the oil producing Local Government Areas as palliative. 

However, the last straw that broke the camel’s back came through a press statement from the State government.

In a Press statement signed by the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Udoh, on Sunday, May 17, 2020, The Akwa Ibom State Government  rejected what it described as “the 10 very old, used vehicles donated by ExxonMobil for use in the COVID-19 contact tracing in the state.”

The release noted that the decision was taken at the State COVID-19 Committee meeting on Saturday following an evaluation of the vehicles and other donations to the state by the oil company.

Part of the release States “The vehicles are considered too old and not in good enough operational conditions to withstand the rigors of contact tracing which they were meant to serve.”

The state government however said that they have accepted the two ambulances and 20 hospital beds also donated by the oil company. The State government noted that their acceptance is despite the fact that the ambulances are converted buses while the beds are below the standard of those currently in secondary healthcare facilities in the state.

Earlier, the Member representing the Oil Producing Communities in Akwa Ibom State, (Eket/ Esit Eket/ Ibeno/ONNA), Eket Federal Constituency, at Green Chambers of the National Assembly, Hon. Patrick Ifon after presenting a motion against ExxonMobil on the poor treatment of the State during the COVID-19 pandemic at the National Assembly issued a press statement condemning ExxonMobil for donating refurbished Ambulances to Akwa Ibom State.

The Lawmaker noted “While many will applaud and appreciate these apparent kind gesture from a Multinational that is exploiting our mineral resources and contributing less to the development of the core oil producing communities, as a Representative of the people from this region in the National Assembly, it is important to state that these provisions from ExxonMobil is another way of insulting the sensibilities of Akwa Ibom people.”

Ifon said he is aware that the oil giant, has never procured used or refurbished vehicles for their own operations or for their staff for that matter. 

The Federal Legislator said he finds it  worrisome, why the Oil Giant should donate to Akwa Ibom State government, refurbished abandoned vehicles that they used for numerous operations in their different facilities across the state about 20 years ago or thereabout. 

He added “The excuse of using them for contact tracing is laughable and demeaning. The beds and mattresses donated are not even fit for the worst correctional homes and are a complete eyesore and disservice to the avowed standards of ExxonMobil. If they could do this with vehicles, how do we trust the test kits donated? 

Ifon insisted that Akwa Ibom state government deserves the best of medical equipment, vehicles to commensurate their tranquil working relationship with ExxonMobil in the course of their operations in the region to support the fight against Covid-19.

He expressed dismay stating that Exxonmobil has rather chosen to spite the State with used refurbished vehicles, poor quality equipment and retrenchment of indigenous workers. 

Ifon added “We would have thought that they had learnt lessons after the poor showing in the distribution of the $50,000 palliatives last week and make restitution but no, they choose to rub salt to the injury.”

Yet, the punches on the oil firm was far from coming to a halt. The Senator representing Eket Senatorial District, Dr Akon Eyakenyi, has called for an appraisal of the Company’s Corporate Social Responsibility for the past 65 years of operation.

In a press statement issued and signed by her recently, she stated “we are ready to take it up with ExxonMobil once and for all. Enough is enough.”

The Senator called for the reinstatement of workers of Akwa Ibom extraction recently sacked by ExxonMobil. 

Mrs Eyakenyi pointed out that ExxonMobil has continued to treat Akwa Ibom State and matters relating to her citizens with high level of disdain.

She added “This explains why Akwa Ibom State has always been the worst hit each time ExxonMobil retrenches its workers. Statistics of the recent massive retrenchment of staffers of the company reveals that over 75% of the people sacked are Akwa Ibom natives. Is ExxonMobil telling the world that Akwa Ibom State does not have skilled people it can employ on permanent basis?

“Over the years, there has been several cases of oil spillages leading to monumental damages to the fauna and flora within the host communities’ ecosystem. These spillages have equally led to the loss of the means of livelihood of the people within ExxonMobil’s host communities. Farmers and fishermen for instance, suffer greatly, the effects of such spillages most times without adequate compensations”.

However, investigation by TheMail Newspaper reveals that the recent antagonism by Akwa Ibom State government is a strategy deployed by the State government to force ExxonMobil cooperate with her demands.

An impeccable source who is knowledgeable about the donation, confided in TheMail Newspaper that Akwa Ibom State government had told ExxonMobil to make her donations in cash and not to give the medical facilities.

The Source revealed that Akwa Ibom State Government had asked for the sum of N2 billion as ExxonMobil’s contribution to the fight against COVID-19.

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The Source said ExxonMobil had rejected the idea explaining to Akwa Ibom State Government that they will make the donation in line with NNPC guidelines even as they had already ordered for the 1920 test kits and 1000 collection samples.

The Source adds “This stance by ExxonMobil got the Akwa Ibom State Government angry. I am certain what made ExxonMobil refuse to bend was also the fact that Akwa Ibom State Government did not use the N8billion they gave the State towards the construction of Eket-Ibeno road judiciously. 

“It was after that meeting that you saw the Commissioner for Information go on air to say that they have not received any support from ExxonMobil. They thought with that, they will force ExxonMobil to concede to their plan by giving the State the N2 billion. “

Commenting on the reason for the rejection of the vehicle, the Source said the State government are simply out to embarrass ExxonMobil since they have refused to “play ball”.

 The Source said the oil giants had informed the Akwa Ibom government that the vehicles were going to be taken from their operational fleet since most of the vehicles are currently not in used because of the lockdown. 

The Source said ExxonMobil had informed Akwa Ibom government that getting new vehicles may take a longer period owing to the contracting processes that must be fulfilled coupled with the rigour of acquiring new vehicles under lockdown.

The Source explained that since the State government had told the International Oil Company (IOC) that they need vehicles urgently for contact tracing coupled with the fact that the situation is a medical emergency, even as ExxonMobil were not ready to give the State cash to purchase the vehicle, the duo had finally agreed on the fairly used vehicles.

Meanwhile, TheMail Newspaper has gathered that the State government will leave no stone unturned in taking shots on ExxonMobil now that Udom Inoyo who served the company as Vice Chairman has retired.

The State government is said to design the battle so as to force the Company to relocate her headquarters to the State.

Our Source added “Don’t forget that the Governor has finished building the 21 Storey office complex as a requirement for ExxonMobil to relocate. His tenure is winding down so he wants to see that come to a reality. Talks seem not to yield results and ExxonMobil is adamant on staying in Lagos, so the Governor believes that if the oil firm is strategically battled, the relocation may work.

“The Governor was only waiting for Akwa Ibom son, Udom Inoyo to retire before he faces ExxonMobil. He also believes, that another son from the State should replace Inoyo. So, don’t expect an immediate end to the war. The cordial relationship may go to hell. We need the relocation”, a highly placed government source told TheMail.

When contacted, the company’s spokesperson, Oge Udeagha declined comment.

As at press time, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Udoh, did not respond to calls and text message from TheMail Newspaper.

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