THE CURRENT STATE OF THE DELTA
There is a drastic depletion of the once flourishing flora and fauna of the Niger Delta.
Different reasons account for the spills that occur. 50% of it occurs due to pipeline and tanker mishaps; sabotage and theft causes 28%; production operations account for 21% while the remaining 1% is caused by bad or over-usage of equipment. Investigations showed that pipes that had the life span of fifteen years could be used for twenty-five to thirty years, which is a major cause of oil leakages. And according to the UNDP, 6,817 oil spills occurred between 1979 and 2001, wasting about three million barrels of oil.
Countless effects. The mangroves are lost, depleting the fish population in the area. There is a deadly invasion of water hyacinth, a poisonous plant that thrives in polluted areas.
When… water hyacinth makes its way into the ecosystem, it competes with native plants for sunlight, diminishing energy resources within the marine environment. With the loss of energy, some populations will not be able to survive, or their numbers may drop beyond a point of no return, creating a threatened environment. Added to the loss of energy, water hyacinth also takes up and depletes the water of oxygen which is essential to the livelihood of all marine organisms.
Joblessness, is high in the region, which is of course, a national epidemic. One thing that has caused face-offs between the oil firms and host communities has been youth employment. The people of the region say it is their right to work in those establishments in their homes. The companies hpwever, try to give partial employments via contracts to the indigenes, which also becomes another tug of war for them, as they compete and even fight themselves to win contracts.
Chief Ikot-Bassey Essien of Ibeno told of such experiences:
They hire people to secure their facility so the community is not there business. No employment for our children. My people come to me to sign documents that they will need to get contracts from the company and at the end nothing is given to them. They prefer to hire people outside. It’s not good. That is why our children went out to say enough is enough.
The argument has been that many of the youths in the Niger Delta are not employable, or simply don’t go to school. This is what Pyagbara says to counter that:
That’s not true. I don’t agree. What have people looked for that they cannot get from here? We have people who are employable but are not employed. As a matter of fact, we the Ogonis feel that the biggest achievement from our struggle is education. In the first stanza in the Ogoni anthem, you find words like learn, and study. The foundation of the Ogoni struggle is rooted strongly in intellectual discourse and you cannot be part of that discourse if you are not intellectually sound and schooled. That is why it is clear in the Ogoni anthem that you have to study. From 1990 till date, we know how our communities have been mobilised in terms of education that is why in every family in Ogoniland, you must find graduates or undergraduates because we need manpower to drive the economy, should our struggles pay off. And if your children or wards are not educated, they may lose out. So the biggest economic challenge we have is that there is a great number of graduates who have no job and that is one of the things responsible for the cynicism and crises in the area. Many people have finished school without jobs, how do you keep a people down in such situation. There are so many promises that raised hopes. Many people went to school believing that there will be jobs afterwards. So this brings a whole lot of frustrations which results in the different manifestations in the area. So it’s not a question of manpower; we have people.
Of course we have employable people for the companies. This is the thing people use all the time. They say okay, you people don’t go to school but it’s a lie. This is why it is lie: if you need engineers, like ten, you should first look for those engineers within the locality of your operation. It is only when you don’t have them that you go outside. You do not go outside as your first effort. If your first effort is to start looking for those persons outside because you feel you can’t find them within the operational locality, it means that you are not doing the right thing. You have to throw it to them, we need these persons and if they cannot have qualified people you can now look for them outside to fill those slots. But that’s not what they do. They find it very convenient to throw this excuse around, but it is all nonsense. If you look at their staffing, there are people who are employed for reasons other than competence and merit, and it is the truth.
This high rise of unemployment has led to serious campaigns and calls, even the issuing of ultimatums, froom the region for all companies drilling oil from there to relocate their head-quatres to the region. In the early months of 2017, this was part of the agreement that the federal government had with the region, upon which the companies were given a presidential order to do so. But nothing has been done of such sort, giving rise to a new demand and cam-paign, both from militants, elites, and the general public: relocate all oil compaies to the Ni-ger Delta.
According to the lead advocate for the relocation of Exxon Mobil particularly, to Akwa Ibom:
Currently we what we are doing is consultation. On the 1st of July, we had an online meeting with about four hundred participants involving Akwa Ibom people and people from other oil producing states and we came up with an online petition with gopetition.com. The petition is to campaign for the relocation of Exxon Mobil. We also came up with a hashtag: #relocateexxonmobilhq. So our aim is to ensure that this company brings its head office to the state. Why? It is our right. It is not something we are supposed to fight over. We should have it here. They too know it is the right thing to do. An MOU was signed years ago and up till today, they have not met some of those things they agreed to.
Asked if he is in support of the call, Pyagbara said,
Well, there is every sense in that call. You can’t be exploring oil on which your economic resources is based and then go outside the area to stay, running away from the impact of that activity. You are meant to come here, be with us here, see what we are seeing, which will also inform the type of decisions that you will take. In the first place, this is not divorced from the larger ethnic politics that we play in Nigeria. Some of these things happen because some of the areas where the oil is explored are considered as minority areas, considered as powerless. How did they move to Lagos, for instance? Remember, most of the companies came at the time when Lagos was the capital of this country. They felt they needed to stay where the seat of power was, that was how these companies moved to that place. Now we are saying we have the right to host them here because you can’t keep here as your operational base and keep the administrative base outside here. If you are not here, how do you feel what the people here feel? It is better you come back here and feel what the people are feeling.
Pyagbara outlined some of the reasons for the relocation call.
…it’s better for you heading to stay close to where you are operating. It even reduces the cost of going to the operational base (if the admin office is here). The cost of moving from Lagos to Port Harcourt and vice versa, and moving from Port Harcourt to another location here is Rivers State, which one is cheaper? Beyond that, there are other benefits this brings. Here, you are going to employ people to work in those secretariats, most of whom are going to have accommodation within the area and this will have an impact on the local traders selling one or two things in the market. It helps the economic development of the area particularly in terms of money moving within the local economy. There will be opportunities to employ the people of the surrounding communities even for the least of jobs. One single person taken away from the labour market, will succeed in reducing the hunger of some other people. The average family here takes the responsibility of about five persons, so one person that gets a job there means transforming the lives of five people at the minimum. You are talking of yourself, your wife, maybe your parents and then one or two kids.
As for Gomba,
The oil companies are just being crafty. Entirely crafty. They have a responsibility for the crises in the Niger Delta. They can’t be acting as if they don’t have a responsibility for the unrest here. That said, it is important for us to understand that it is in the interest of the Niger Delta and the ideals of corporate responsibilities for those companies to come to the Delta. If they are not doing that, then they are not doing us justice. Because I know of where these companies do recruitments in Lagos or Abuja and then bring in those persons to the Niger Delta. We have instances like that. So you have companies on our soil, we have youth that should be employed, and we wake up one morning to find a bus load of people coming in to take up employments without any consideration for us.
Companies fear insecurity in the area. They think their operations will be disturbed by the restless youth in the region. But Inwang rubbishes such claims.
We don’t have insecurity challenges that will stop Exxon Mobil from their daily activi-ties. Nobody will wake up any day to disturb their operations. Hoodlums are every-where in the country. Insecurity itself is a national problem, not any state or region’s issue. That is the situation of the country and if they are able to operate where they are now, they can also operate here. However, they have been flying their helicopters from Lagos to Akwa Ibom every blessed day. What if they relocate and join forces with the state government by investing in the security system?
Gomba feels the companies contributed to the insecurity and should be part of it.
That is an issue that we all have to work on. And they have to be part of it. The Niger Delta has been volatile for a long while and you have all sorts of elements crop up in the region. Some came up from partisan politics and if government is a collective stake holding it means that all the persons who have stakes in government must work together to solve the security problem. The federal and state governments, including communities have to be involved. If the companies are saying create an atmosphere of peace, that is a just demand but they have to be part of it. After all, there are instances when these companies stir up violence in the communities they operate in to service their own interest; this is a fact. Some violent elements are sometimes recruited in these communities in other to shore up the support base of the oil companies, so they have also played a role in the rise of violence in the region. Sometimes too, communities make peaceful and just demands and they (the companies) resort to violence by using state terrorism on these communities. So you have a climate of insecurity in the Niger Delta that has been funded by all sorts of actors. The companies are complicit, the partisan politicians, the youth elements and chieftaincy issues in the communities and contributing to it. If we want to create security then, it is not just in the interest of the companies but in everyone’s interest to have an environment where business can thrive. Their demand for security is just but it is not what they should say you create it and then we’ll come in. their style of operation played a role in the rise of violence.
However, the companies are yet to respond positively to the frustration of the likes of Uduak Inwang, who laments on their godlike status in the country.
Why are they doing this? This simply shows that all is not well and we have to start doing something before it gets worse. They seem to be bigger than the state and federal governments. Who are they, for crying out loud? These companies behave as if they are bigger than the government. Remember that the Acting President recently visited the region and gave a presidential order to the minister of petroleum to ask all the oil companies operating in the delta to relocate. There is no company that should thwart that order but months have passed and it’s alarming that nothing has been done. You now understand that they don’t even bow to government policy. That is a problem. It makes us ask the question of who they are. Who are these companies that cannot obey orders or grant demands? Why are they acting in proxy?
Who then is to blame for the deterioration of the region, between the government and the companies? According to Agary,
I wouldn’t apportion blames. Businesses are out to make money and the job of the government is to regulate how the do business. And if the state does not do that job of proper regulation to hold the companies accountable, I mean, the companies do what they do just to make profit. The government is supposed to hold them accountable. Well, everybody has a blame. If somebody is operating in your state where you say you have rules, you are looking after your people but you cannot hold business operators accountable for the consequences of their action, what do you expect to restrain them, conscience? Businesses are not run on conscience.
Chairman, Bodo City Council of Chiefs shares her view. As long he is concerned, the blame is for
Both. Because if they were doing the proper thing, things would be in place. The government should not have kept quiet over the company’s inactivity and this renders the natives incapable of anything. The tenement rate that is paid by the companies is taken by the government. So if they take such millions and billions and leave the community to themselves, we will blame the government. They shouldn’t have overlooked this thing. The government has the largest share of the blame, which I will say 60 to 40 percent.
For Uduak Inwang, they should “blame the oil companies the most. I don’t think it’s the fault of the government.”
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