By Daniel Reyenieju Oritsegbubemi
In order to rebuild the nation’s weakened economy, the proceeds from oil were used to prosecute critical government projects across the country post-civil war. More than half a century after, Nigeria remains a federation of a kind, and every time a people demand restructuring, the government asks insensitivity what that – restructuring – means. Being the leader of the South-south governors forum, I unreservedly congratulate you therefore for leading in a manner you expect others to go also.
The crude oil that has continued to sustain everything Nigeria presently is in all ramifications is thankfully in abound in the South-south region. Before you stand in open wonder at the opulence the people so blessed, then you are pushed to almost causing their ill-luck. The air is carcinogenic with gases, water is beyond what their lean resources could be made portable and affordable, roads constantly beg for attention, the fishes have taken to flight and government projects are hardly completed.
Curiously yet unapologetically, the proceeds of oil are causing an aggressive agro-revolution in the north while the south remains abysmally poor. Most of the foods consumed are therefore gotten from our amalgamated half. The goose that lays the golden egg is not even allowed to incubate her produce as the refineries that should employ some of our sons and daughters are constantly out of production.
Excited at the news of artisanal mining activities in Zamfara State, the Federal government quickly birthed a presidential initiative for he artisanal miners so that they get value for the gold that comes out of the mines and to also develop healthier ways of mining while reducing its impact on the well being of the miners and surrounding communities. The proceeds of the Zamfara gold barely gets into the coffers of Nigeria rather, the government of Zamfara is selling gold to the central bank of Nigeria, headed by a son of the deprived Niger-delta yet there is no move by the same bank to buy crude oil or gas from the states in the region.
Gold is expensive. An ounce is currently $60.75 as against a barrel of oil that is presently selling at $42.67. Interestingly, most of the gold leaving Nigeria is unaccounted for thus leaving us several billion dollars poorer, and more pressure is put on the resources of the Niger-delta and her people to sustain and develop critical infrastructure even in gold-producing states.
To deal with the issues of underdevelopment in the Niger-delta, several initiatives have been made. The will to drive them home is always the bane. It seems we are always given a poisoned chalice to drink from. But we are at the brink. The price of oil is never as sure as gold, the value of crude to the world’s economy will not always be where it presently is. To make our hey, we must produce our sunshine where we stand resolved, and here is how:
1. Relocation of IOCs’ to their Main Operational Bases. In the wake of Brexit, a lot of European companies quickly initiated moves to move their headquarters from the UK. The reason for that it would be morally wrong for the UK to benefit from taxes and other benefits of companies from a block it was no longer going to be a part of. In Nigeria, most of the oil companies have their major operations in Niger-delta states and their headquarters are predominantly cited outside of the South-south region. The logic of that is without comprehension.
The government has given deadlines for their relocation and every time, the dates are expended with no effort by the companies. Critical developments that the companies should put on ground are hardly there yet, the one that does nothing more than hosting the companies’ offices get jobs that should be for the host or impacted communities, and taxes that should accrue to the south-south governments are paid elsewhere. This meeting should as a matter of urgency and critical policy, see to the immediate relocation of the IOCs with at least 60 percent operations in the Niger-delta relocate forthwith in this order: Chevron to Warri, Shell, and Snepco to Port Harcourt, Agip to Bayelsa and Exxon Mobil to Akwa Ibom.
2. Deep Water Logistics And Support Base Must Relocate to the following States for cost-saving measures and to further boost the economy of the South-south region. Logistical constraints as envisaged were planned with the construction of the Osubi Airport in Warri, meant to serve Chevron and Snepco. The proposed Ekeki project by Total and Bonga Southwest by Snepco, will see the creation of more than 100 Jobs between them. With such a move, we will be able to critically monitor the local content as applied by the companies and our youths will be positively engaged as skilled and unskilled labour. The indirect jobs that will be created in the states will also mean that more local businesses will be developed and crimes will abate drastically.
3. Not a Perilous Location. The policy by some past administration to label the South-south region a dangerous location led to the relocation of the IOCs to Lagos. But contrary to that, the companies and their workers continue to thrive. Presently, the Niger-delta is far from being insecure as agitations and grievances are channeled through constitutional means. Locations like the North-west and northeast that have seen untoward levels of violence have continued to see unwavering developments injected into them. Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other troubled spots around the world where these IOCs operate are hotbeds of armed rebellion yet they operate so why the Niger-delta? Bogus sums budgeted for securing the headquarters in alien lands can be injected into the economies of the states where they have their major operations.
The actions of the government have also been in dissonance with its words of making the Niger-delta viable for development. The proposed and already budgeted NIMASA floating dock that was to takeoff alongside the Nigeria Maritime University in Warri Southwest Local Government Area of Delta state is fast becoming a mirage. The reason? The draughts!!!. According to the government, the proposed site is too shallow to accommodate such a strategic project even when dredging the river is a solution. So in its wisdom, another part of the country is the proposed midwife for the dock. Ironically, the same government is running railway lines to Niger republic, a gas-line is being run from Warri to the North-west, a Refinery is existing in the North-west and all the funds for these are from the Niger-delta. An unwavering demand that must be made is the immediate construction of the floating dock in Delta, so that’s maritime prowess that has remained underutilized at the security and economic detriment of the region can be unlocked.
4. Effective Legislation to Protect the Region. Politically, we reach compromises but there are times when politics is not enough. There are times that call for leadership and much as we do not expect miracles, we expect action. The recently reintroduced Water Resources Bill opened a Pandora’s box about the intent of the government of Nigeria. The Niger-delta is what it is because of its peculiar terrain and has given much to Nigeria. Within the ambits of the constitution, the state assemblies must be proactive with support from the executive at enacting laws they will protect all that is ours. There is no need to play to the gallery for the sake of political correctness as we may soon realize that we are paying dearly for the ills we fail to stand up to.
5. Legal Interpretation and Redress. A lot of perceived extra-judicial acts that are of concern to the people or her gatekeepers must be given legal interpretations. When a wrong is established, the court should be approached and the best legal minds that can prosecute such cases to logical ends should be employed. Key among prayers should be for speedy hearing and ruling so that delayed justice is not perceived to be prejudice. The Zamfara gold and the Niger-delta oil imbroglio are a classic place to begin.
6 . Restructuring. The government must stop playing the ostrich when concerned citizens call for restructuring. If they are inept at understanding what that means, then an assembly of those who understand what it means from all across the country should be made to congregate and agree on the ways the country should travel on. Presently, we are at variances on how to travel because the lopsidedness favors some.
Much can be achieved when we are agreed. Our differences on whatever level must be set aside in favorites of a healthier and progressive future for our children. The deliberations and ways of achieving set goals will demand much but with the right attitude and purposeful leadership as the one you bring, much will be achieved.
May you succeed
Daniel Reyenieju Oritsegbubemi