Uduak Inwang, (Cavil) is a blogger and social activist from Akwa Ibom State. He is the lead advocate for the relocation of Exxon Mobil to the state. Aprecon had a session with him in Uyo, during which he told us what led to the campaign and how far they have gone with it.
Read the chat is below.
Tell us about you and the campaign?
My name is Uduak Inwang but because of my blogging and advocacy, people call me Cavil. I am the publisher of akstrending.com. Recently, I became very concerned about the fraud going on in Exxon Mobil, up to the extent that it makes me sick! The oil company is operating currently in Akwa Ibom state as a whole. However, they may pretend that they’ve done a lot, which I too can indulge them, but we the youth of this state are tired. We are not violent. Akwa Ibom is very peaceful and we love visitors and encourage investors to come to us. Still, we won’t let you trample on our rights.
So how are you people making sure Exxon Mobil knows you are not happy?
Currently 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 done some of those things they agreed to.
Don’t you think that there may be some people from your state that are also contributing to that and encouraging or not allowing the company do what they agreed to do? Have you met with some older people who may know more about this relationship with the company?
We hold talks with different people. As we speak, there is a protest going on in front of Exxon Mobil in Ibeno. There was an oil spillage last week and nothing has been done so the people are protesting. Everyone is joining in the shout and call for this relocation. I don’t think there is anyone who is not in support of what we are doing. If you live in Ibeno, for instance, if you buy a roofing sheet, that sheet becomes useless in three months. You can even use your hands to tear it apart. Even the one they call Cameroun zinc. It can make you cry! Now you will understand that someone who knows what it means to change roofs so frequently needs this help.
What’s the cause of such damage?
Gas flaring! This problems are in phases and series. Gas flaring is there, spoiling the atmosphere and rusting roofs; oil spillage is there disrupting fishing activity, which is the major occupation of the people. They are suffering all this in silence. Education is not being provided for their children. It was after series of previous protests that Exxon Mobil gave some buses to help convey students to schools around. A lot has to be done and the elders of the state cannot be on the opposite end. We are together. I am from Uyo, which is not oil producing. But I feel the pains of these people. I go these places and see the situation; these people have kept quiet for a long time. Now many young people have volunteered to bring change. We decided against carrying weapons to fight. We are not going to hide and fight from the creeks. We are campaigning in the streets and online: relocate Exxon Mobil to the state. Simple
Beyond your state, the call has been made all through the Niger Delta, for the relocation of all the companies’ head offices to the region. But we hear the companies say they are afraid due to the security threat posed by youth of the region. Is it different in Akwa Ibom? Even if you say you are peace-loving people, are there no criminals that will disturb operation?
First, when you talk about the region, I must say that Akwa Ibom is not represented in the Niger Delta. Who are the Niger Deltans? Who is from Akwa Ibom that is represented in the Niger Delta? We don’t do militancy. We don’t join in the violence.
But you cannot be very sure of that…
I am telling you what I know! I am fully aware of what is happening.
You never can tell, I mean you don’t even know the militants personally…
Militants or not, what I want you to know is that Akwa Ibom as a state, is always relegated to a corner, when the broader region is involved. And over time, we see that the few privileges that got to, say, Rivers State and Bayelsa, didn’t get to us. And I think it is because we hardly get involved in the violent struggle. We are very peaceful. So now, we have decided to also come out and make our own demands known, though not violently. All we want to hear is that they have accepted to relocate. That is all. Even the governor of the state asked them to relocate, giving them the reasons why we need that. Even if the preparation will take months or a year before they fully relocate, it’s not a problem. We don’t have insecurity challenges that will stop Exxon Mobil from their daily activities. Nobody will wake up any day to disturb their operations. Hoodlums are everywhere 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? Right now, industrial activities are low in the state and their relocation can on its own attract investors beginning from partnering companies. Let them agree to come in first and see if something will go wrong. Then, they can have the moral right to leave.
You have mentioned what the people are suffering due to the industrial activities. Does their relocation solve these problems, if they simply relocate, build their facility and continue their work just as they do in Lagos? How does their presence solve those problems?
First of all, we are not asking them to relocate because of what they will do if they relocate. We know there are benefits but we want them to do the right thing first. They have to be here. But then, there are things our state will benefit from their presence here. Over time, we would always see their billboards advertising what they have done without us really those things in reality. As we speak, there is a case in the state assembly: they said 18billion naira was spent on the Eket-Ibeno Road, but cannot defend how. The same road done by the state government, they put up a billboard too say we did this for the people. How? So they have to make us understand. The second day of their meeting with the assembly, they refused to show up. 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?
Does this not suggest that there are certain people in the institutions that empower them, maybe after receiving kickbacks from them?
If we think about such situations, I think we may not even begin this campaign. There is a current philosophy in the state, DAKADA. And it’s helping us forego such thinking. I, for one, have decided to fight for this thing till the end, even if I fail. I am not driven by the gains but the wrongs in the society. I put up the hashtag online for them to see it. I have received a lot of calls from past directors of Exxon Mobil because of this campaign and they tell me this is the right time to talk about this because there is restructure going on in the company. So this is the right time that is why I’m calling all Akwaibomites home and abroad to rise up and join in this petition. When we are done, justice will be done.
Have you been getting any support from people?
Yes. People are fully in support.
Now, you mentioned that the new philosophy makes you think differently but you must know that what you think is different from the reality. Oil producing communities complain of individuals who betray them to get enriched by oil firms. They receive money and block certain things for the people. You are saying such people don’t exist in your state?
You are not entirely wrong. This campaign was actually sabotaged. People were paid to stop it, even o twitter. I agree with you totally that there are such people around.
So how do you intend winning the war with such people around?
We are not going to look at such things. All we do is try to outsmart them. We do things the right way, open to everybody so that the people know what is happening and can detect such moves. We feel satisfied that we are rising up to do something, instead of sitting down to criticise. Let it be that we said and did something.
So what if Exxon Mobil gives you a call and makes you an offer of what you haven’t dreamt of, telling you this might be a waste of time, will you accept it and back out?
I have been a youth volunteer for so many years. I have done a couple of volunteer jobs and I am currently doing a consultation for the state government. I have a spirit of sincerity. And before I embark on anything like this, I know what it means. If they call me, I will answer their call and listen to what they will say, but my demand will remain relocation. Years ago, they said there were no good roads in the state; poor network system; but that is changed now, so what is holding them back? That will remain my demand. I will be very sincere and blunt to tell them this is why we are doing what we are doing. I also know the calibre of people working with me and how far we have worked together. So I can’t forgo all that for anything they will offer me. I understand the state of the campaign we are into, bearing in mind what it means for those in the rural areas who are denied what is due them. They will just go to a school and paint the fence with a design of their logo and say it’s part of their social responsibility. How is that possible?
There is a general belief that anyone who begins a campaign in the region does so to get attention and money and the matter remains unresolved till another person or group comes up again.
If you have made that resolve, how do you ensure the people working with you don’t fall into such temptations and spoil the whole campaign?
Since July 1, we’ve had several calls from different quarters, including political heads, aids to the governor, stakeholders, who volunteer their groups and finance for the campaign. We refused those offers because it might get things muddled up. All we want is for individual volunteers and participants so we can raise an army of voices that cannot be turned down. Let the government do what they are doing let us do what we are doing. We don’t need that institutional assistance for now. We are not operating as an institution or agency. In fact, we have no name. This is just a movement of individuals of like minds that want Exxon Mobil to relocate to Akwa Ibom. We don’t want sponsorship. Some of the persons left their jobs to attend meetings on how to do this, and they know what it means. I left my work for a whole week to fix things. We all understand what we are losing to make this happen. These people are already sacrificing the little things they can, offering to play various roles: print things, get contacts, get pictures, all for free. So you understand the level of pains people are bearing. I am confident that such committed people will want to betray the rest of us. It won’t happen.
On the whole, what do you think the region has gained from the oil explorations so far?
I think we’ve been robbed. All the government tiers have allowed the companies for so long. A baby cannot wear pampers after infancy. We have been robbed. People have died. Children have been denied educational benefits. The environment has been devastated. Count them. These companies are supposed to help in road constructions, electricity supply, health and education provision, but nothing is being done. Some of the things they put up to be doing are things that even individuals can do by volunteering.
Who is to blame for the perceived indifference of the oil companies?
I will blame the oil companies the most. I don’t think it’s the fault of the government
But the government is supposed to create a system that will regulate their activities
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?
So why are you people particular about Exxon Mobil, are they the only people operating here?
We are taking them on because they have the highest field in the state and then we signed MOUs with them and they neglected many things, though they have some. So when we are through with them, we can move on to other companies.
So what are your last words?
We shouldn’t wait for us to overdo things before they hear us. They shouldn’t wait for us to block their gates or resort to the creeks. We are educated and peace loving.
What if they don’t listen to you for a long time to come?
We will not stop the campaign as long as they keep drilling our oil. And at some point, justice must come. To the youth of my state, nobody should say I’m not from an oil community so I won’t join. Let us rise up and fight this out. Go to gopetition.com and sign this petition so we can make things better for our younger siblings. Thank you.