Tears streamed down the faces of merchants in the Etegwe area of Bayelsa State when state government delegates leveled the Tombia Market on the constantly bustling Tombia-Amassoma Road in the center of Yenagoa, the state capital, and forcibly removed and damaged their goods.
As members of Operation Doo Akpo, a state security organization, invaded the area at around 4:00 am and destroyed the shanties that served as the popular marketplace, tears, anger, and sadness split the air.
The market was perilously situated on the Right of Way (ROW) of a high-pressure crude oil and gas pipeline owned by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDCC), the state government defended its actions, claiming they were necessary to prevent an impending catastrophe.
When NDV visited the area, the normally bustling market where men, ladies, young boys, and girls struggle to make ends meet had been reduced to ashes and smoke was still rising in the air.
Many traders could be seen counting their losses, while a select few were able to withdraw some merchandise. Others watched helplessly as their wares were burned to ashes.
The traders acknowledged receiving the government’s order to relocate, but they bemoaned the new market location’s lack of an access road, marshy terrain, and unsuitability for commercial operations.
—Trader Agbede: “We met with all our goods burned.”
“They promised to sand-fill the property they gave us, but when we arrived, we found that only a portion of the land had been done so, and due of the swampy topography, the entire area would always be flooded after heavy rains.
We are requesting assistance from the media so that Governor Douye Diri is aware that the location we are being requested to go is not suitable for conducting business and that he should take the appropriate action to improve our situation. Without our commerce, how can we provide for our family?
Seller: Oyibodokare; no access road
“Let me first commend the government for providing us with that massive land,” Miss Blessing Oyibodokare declared, “but in the long run, what is there is not satisfactory.” It’s a desolate, marshy spot with no access route to the market; it’s not a place where you can stroll around freely. The irony lies in the fact that our goods were burned despite their knowledge of the existence of underground gas and crude oil pipelines.
They provided us with a marshy, reptile-infested area — Mrs. Ovie, trader
“We believe that if the government was sincere, they should have made the place they provided for us conducive,” said Mrs. Irene Ovie, a trader. We’re not asking for much, at most. They should sand the area so that we can move our goods more readily rather than being forced to settle in the marshy, reptile-infested area.
We do not wish for our people to perish—Deputy Governor Ewhrudjakpo
The necessity for a comfortable and safe operating environment was cited by the Bayelsa State Government as a strong factor in its decision to move the Tombia Market to its new location.
This was said by Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, the deputy governor, during an emergency meeting in Yenagoa with heads of the traders’ association and representatives from the various market units.
You have always loved your government and lived in great tranquility. As a result, the goal of this meeting is to hear from you and to address any complaints you may have.
Nonetheless, I want you to understand that the government is acting in your best interest. We will not stand by and watch while our people perish needlessly because we are a responsible government.
The location you have been occupying is perched over a high-pressure oil pipeline, which puts your life in grave risk. We don’t want what happened at Jesse in Delta State, which many of you are aware of, to occur here. Forty-two property lots have already been purchased by the government for the new location. To further enlarge it, another 42 will be purchased. The government owns the new location. It isn’t community land anymore. So, no lads from the community will go there and harass you.
We are all the owners of Bayelsa. Our goal is to make your company atmosphere more safe and conducive, not to discriminate against anyone.
We have it on our ROW—Shell
The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, SPDC, as operator of the NNPCL/SPDC/TotalEnergies/NAOC Joint Venture (the JV), continues to engage relevant regulatory authorities to highlight safety concerns of trespass on the JV’s Right of Way, according to an SPDC spokesperson in response to NDV.
“In order to both discourage and address this issue, SPDC continues to collaborate with such regulatory agencies, who are mandated by law to prevent illegal occupation. Despite Right of Way signage designating boundaries, SPDC is nonetheless worried about the safety of anyone who trespass on the JV’s Right of Way.