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Give us land for our future generation - Bonyere charges Government, Energy Ministry over Gas Project

The people of Bonyere, a farming and fishing community living next to Ghana’s main oil field, though fully support the proposed gas processing facility in their backyard say it threatens to deprive future generations access to land for farming and development.

The multi-million gas processing facility to be established by the government at Bonyere is facing a fresh challenge from local people who say the project as it stands threatens their means of livelihood. Though there are agreed terms of compensation for affected persons, the local people say a buffer zone around the proposed plant is too large and will deny the community of land for future development as well as deny future generations access to land for farming.

The people of Bonyere have therefore charged the government, the Ministry of Energy and GNPC to release portion of the land proposed for the gas project. The people complained the demarcated land making up the project enclave and buffer zone is too large. “The buffer zone is too large and this will limit the local people’s access to land for farming”, S.T Awuah of the Concerned Citizen Association - Jomoro said.

“Bonyere has to get excess land for our future generation”, J.S.A Tophey, one of the older members of the community passionately said.

The people have however pledged they are never against the establishment of the gas project. “We are not enemies to the gas project”, Hon. Joseph Nyamikeh, an assembly member in Bonyere assured the government but admitted that the right thing should be done.

With estimated cost of $1.2 billion, the gas processing facility expected to produce 300 million cubic feet of gas per day and create as many as 5,000 jobs for Ghanaians. The gas will be used to feed a nearby Combined Cycle Gas Turbine to generate electricity. Again, the gas will be piped from Bonyere to Efasso located 30km away where the Osagyefo Barge and Aboadze thermal plant will utilize to generate electricity.

Bonyere, with a population of about 12,000 in the Jomoro District is however not the only affected community. Other communities to be affected by the project include Ndum-Suazo, Kabenla-Suazo, Egbazo, Takinta and Ahobre. The Domunli Project which will cover 27.2 square kilometers will affect about 600 individual farmers in Bonyere alone, said the community leaders in an interview. The leaders however have the concern that the size of land for the gas project will deny the people and returnees of future developments.

The local community leaders have criticized the government for not respecting the importance of free, prior and informed consent before setting foot on the land. The government, according to the people, started surveying without first informing the people of Bonyere of that particular project. “They (Government, Ministry of Energy and GNPC) came and just entered into the land to demarcate without telling us”, said angrily by S.T Awuah, the leader of the Concerned Citizen Association – Jomoro. With land title ownership in the community yet unknown, the gas project may suffer some set-backs.

Though lands at Bonyere are stool lands, the community leaders said these lands are for individual families. The community leaders accused the government of taking advantage of the loopholes in land ownership to acquire the land without consulting right owners of the lands. Bonyere is beset with chieftaincy disputes between the Adahonle and Mafre families. “GNPC is capitalizing on our chieftaincy disputes to acquire lands without our consent”, Peter Nweah, a vibrant community leader accused. The leaders called for the immediate resolution of land title issues if the gas project is to be successful. “What is important is that right ownership of the land must be known”, an elite charged the government, the Ministry of Energy and the Western Regional House of Chiefs.

These revelations were made as part of the visit of Ghanaian journalists trained by the Revenue Watch Institute, Thomson Reuters Foundation and International Institute of ICT Journalism (Penplusbytes) on oil and gas reporting.

In his co-ed titled “Growing Support for Community Consent Rights for Natural Resource Development: Can Free, Prior and Informed Consent Implementation Reduce Conflict over Natural Resource Development?” published on the United States Institute of Peace” website, Ian Gary, Senior Policy Manager – Extractives for Oxfam America, said, “too often, projects suffer from an “original sin” – affected communities were not adequately consulted prior to the investment decision and had little say about how and whether these projects were developed”. Projects that sideline the consent of the local people have suffered confrontations and conflicts that end the dreams of such projects abruptly.

Though the principles of compensation for affected land owners have been agreed, the local leaders insist the major issue is for the government to give some portions of the plan for future development. “Where are you going to site schools and other development projects as corporate social responsibility”, S.T Awuah questioned. “The compensation shouldn’t be once, they should also get alternative livelihoods for the people”, said the local leaders. The principle of compensation, according to the leaders, was agreed in a stakeholder consultation meeting between the Ministry of Energy, GNPC, VRA, Jomoro District Assembly, the chiefs, affected farmers, the Concerned Citizen Association – Jomoro, and the police.  

The Bonyere Gas Project is registered with the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to address and mitigate environmental and social impacts. The leaders however accused EPA of not coming to the community to educate them on the impacts of this project. “The EPA has not even set foot in the community to educate us on possible impact of the project” said Peter Nweah. “The atmosphere is full of gases”, stated S.T Awuah of the Concerned Citizen Association – Jomoro adding that we don’t even see EPA here.

In a serene but rainy day with the unsettled sea at the coast, Bonyere looked set for a future project that will have positive impacts on the people. Being expectant of such huge project, the people of Bonyere have faulted the government for naming the gas project after their lagoon called “Domunli” when the project should have been named after their community. The people accused these are subtle attempts by the government and initiated by GNPC to exclude them from the project. The Domunli lagoon that falls within the demarcated area for the gas project is a vital source of livelihood for fishermen.

The agitations of the people of Bonyere are a sharp contradiction of government’s claim that the bottlenecks impeding the acquisition of land have been resolved paving way for the mega project to commence. 

The Ministry of Energy, however, cannot confirm or deny whether government has completely taken over the land for the gas processing facility. In an interview, the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Energy, Kodua Edjekumhene, said “when the land is acquired the necessary compensation will be paid to the affected people” adding that he cannot confirm or deny that government has completely taken over the land for the project.

He stated that the Ministry of Energy has had adequate consultations with the chiefs and the local people of the affected communities. “Adequate consultations with the communities have been done to sensitize them”, he said in an interview stating that this was done through various road shows organized in the communities. He added that if there are concerns from other groups, the Ministry of Energy will look at it.

Reacting to the concerns of the local people on the availability of excess land for farming and for future development, Mr. Edjekumhene said with the local content and participation law soon to be in place, a lot of the people will be trained and employed. “The economy of the area is changing, so a lot of the people will be given adequate training over there”, he said.

With regards to the issue of the buffer zone, Mr. Edjekumhene stated categorically that looking at the nature of gas, the facility should be well separated from the community. “When there is a leakage, its destruction takes a long distance”, he stated adding that it was therefore necessary a larger buffer zone was acquired for the safety of the community.

BY: Stephen Yeboah, back from Bonyere [email: stephenyeboah110@yahoo.com]

He is a freelance journalist and Development Practitioner.

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