How Turkana leaders paid for protests

            Turkana residents in protests against British Oil Company Tullow in October last year. They accused the firm of ignoring them. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]

By Jacob Ngetich

Turkana: Turkana leaders actively participated in organising recent protests against Tullow oil, The Standard has learnt.

Investigations reveal that a day prior to the demonstrations that rocked the oil fields of Turkana and led to the suspension of exploration activities, some leaders from the county paid residents of Lokichar and Lokori to protest against the British oil company.

Residents from the two areas said they were paid to participate in the demonstrations.

“We were given Sh100 each and promised a similar balance. However, we did not receive the remaining amount. I took part in the protests because I was paid,” said Josephine Loperot. Ewosit Ekai, a resident of Lokichar, said he took part in the demonstrations because of money.

“At first we were promised some good money. This later changed to Sh100. The leaders used us to hit Tullow,” said Ekai.

There have been allegations of leaders having vested interests, key among them pushing for business deals.

Residents of villages around Ngamia I, the main oil field, said they were not involved in the protests.

The demonstrations held in October last year were led by MPs James Lomenen (Turkana South) and Nicholas Ng’ikor (Turkana East).

The leaders marched to the oil fields to protest alleged discrimination in employment, tenders and transport contracts by Tullow Oil Company. The protests prompted immediate suspension of oil drilling in blocks 10BB and 13T for fear of employees’ safety.

Tullow had struck oil in Ngamia 1, Etuko, Twiga 1, Ekale 1, Wildcat and South Well wells.

Disrupt livelihoods

Ekwam Philip, a resident, noted that the demonstrations did not achieve much, but helped to create a security scare and disrupt residents’ livelihoods.

“The protesters were self-seekers. They did not represent us at all; our concerns were not even captured in their protests,” observed Ekwam.

However, in defence of the demonstration that led to unease in the region, MP Lomenen said constitutionally the demonstrations were legal and pressure from his constituents forced him to act.

“I invite any investigations into whether I have vested interests. My interests are those of the community. Even so, Tullow is a private company and anyone in the community could have an interest in its affairs without it being perceived to be a conflict of interest,” said the MP, who did not comment on claims of leaders paying residents to take part in the protests.

Graze cows

Though they were not part of the demonstrations, some residents said they are not happy with Tullow Oil and its operations.

“We do not understand how they came here. They hoodwinked us with a few water tanks, which have run dry,” said a resident.

Others said grazing land has diminished as oil explorations take centre stage. “We cannot graze our cows freely anymore. There are cars all over. You have to be cautious lest your animals get hit by vehicles,” said Ekai.

Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok noted oil exploration activities in the region should not be interrupted since they are of economic benefit to the county and country.

 “We are blessed with oil and other resources, which should be tapped to uplift the community,” he told a leaders’ forum.