The State Commissioner for Chieftaincy and Community Affairs, Barr. Oliselloka Tasie-Amadi handed down the warning during a chat with newsmen in Port Harcourt on Thursday, shortly after a meeting with stakeholders and security operatives following issues arising from the Enwhe Field Development Project in Abua/Odual Local Government Area by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
Present at the meeting were representatives of the affected communities, including the Paramount Ruler, officials of the Abua/Odual LGA, SPDC officials, the Abua/Odual Cluster Development Board (CDB), heads of the Army, DSS and the Police in the area, all of whom made useful contributions and presentations to the Commissioner.
Tasie-Amadi explained that conflict in one community was likely to affect negatively another community and capable of de-marketing the State and scaring investors if not properly handled and nipped in the board by those directly involved; noting that there were many ways of resolving conflicts.
While assuring that government will find a way to resolve the issues, the Commissioner frown at a situation where communities transfer their internal problems to companies and or projects in their domains, saying people will not be allowed to act or behave in ways they feel and reminded that there is an extant law against extortion in the State.
He said, “We got to know that they have been having some friction, some issues and most annoying I just found out that at some point they had to shut the site. And I always say that there are many ways to resolve these conflicts and if you look deep down you will find out that most of the conflicts are within the communities themselves, not even with the company.
“So they transfer their aggression to the company and these people fail to realize that it is also against the law. There is a law against extortion in Rivers State, number five of 2010. Section three makes it a crime to stop a business in demand of any levy or any form of gratification. There are legal methods, and channels through which one can do these things. The Ministry is there as well.
“So we have tried to speak to the people. We have heard all of them and even though when they speak, there is a lot underground. Principally maybe fueled by personal interest. We will find a way to resolve it, streamline all the issues, have everything working, we do not continue to give a negative image of Rivers State.
“I always tell people that what one small family does or what one small community does in Rivers State affects all of us. When they walk out there they tell you Rivers people are like this; meanwhile it is just a small group of people the person came in contact with who are behaving in a manner that is not in consonance with our character. Then everybody goes home and says this is how we are and then we lose investment.
“It is my duty as Commissioner, a representative of the people and the Government to see that the interest of the people are protected, to see that the interest of the State and the nation are protected. To see that communities are developed and protected as well as to protect the interest of investors. As much as I protect the interest of the communities that bare affected, I must protect the interest of the other communities that are not affected today but which will be affected by that adverse behaviour because if you behave negatively in your area, other areas might be affected and the State as a whole,” the Commissioner stated.
He further said people need to know that they cannot do what they like because they want to do it, saying, “It is not just them. It is all of us. We must pursue all the approved and legal channels for dialogue.“Government frowns very much at obstruction of businesses or any form of shutdown. It is not in our character. And I also tell people, that they should try to respect the authorities. A lot of the youths don't listen to their Paramount Rulers or parent's advice, all they are interested in is shuttling down and make demands,” Barr. Tasie-Amadi said.
The Chieftaincy and Community Affairs Commissioner also called on the Paramount Ruler of the area to communicate more with their people because according to him, “I see a lot of gap, a wide gap in communication. They are not speaking to each other, they are not telling one another the truth and unfortunately our people at the grassroots assume a lot.
“They assume all sorts of things that don't exist. The worse part of it all is the mentality of entitlement. Sometimes people feel entitled to what they are not entitled to without understanding why. And then we have a big problem, and we try to address all that. So we charged them to go home and we will meet again shortly and frequently thereafter. We will have the next meeting maybe in two weeks time to straighten things out so that we can achieve a harmonious coexistence,” Tasie-Amadi explained.