When things go bad in the Niger Delta, who really loses? By Dabiri Ekperi

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Switzerland, May 09 – The NigerDelta makes up 7.5 per cent of Nigeria’s land area but contributes over 80 per cent of the Nigerian government revenue. Although blessed with abundant petroleum resources, the region has not derived enough benefits from the wealth that sits under its land over the years. Decades of oil exploration has not yielded the desired prosperity for the region, partly due to self-induced causative factors.

 For the NigerDelta, oil exploration has brought mixed results. However, the unpleasant side effect associated with it is usually not the fault of the oil companies alone; it is a burden shared by all parties, including the government, the companies, and members of the community. While, some oil companies cannot extricate themselves from blame due to poor community relations and irresponsible oil production, often times, the problem is more complex and deep-seated.

Oil pollution, corruption, oil theft, vandalism, militancy, kidnapping and a host of other problems have contributed immensely to depriving the people of the NigerDelta of their deserved prosperity. Nevertheless, I believe the most potent of all maladies befalling the oil rich region is falsehood.

For decades, the people of the NigerDelta and the rest of Nigerians have been lied to by different people at different times, and on different issues. We have been misled by politicians, the military, oil companies, local leaders, the media, and so on, for such a long time that it is difficult to separate truth from falsehood.

By lying to us, the people who want to perpetrate their selfish notoriety have pitted us against each other. We have blamed each other when we should seek to work with each other to make things better. We have taken up arms against others when we should be seeking to understand how we got here. We have resorted to using the problems of the NigerDelta as material for needless rhetoric in an attempt to perpetrate our myopic ideas rather than seeking for real solutions. It is now time to search ourselves and ask whether we are really agitated about getting out of this conundrum or using the situation as a tool.

It is therefore, unbecoming, for the governor of a state to twist issues in order to score political points, such as what our Governor Seriake Dickson has done with his attack on oil companies operating in Bayelsa state. At an international event where he could have seized the opportunity to market Bayelsa to prospective foreign investors, governor Dickson launched into needless attacks on Aiteo and Agip, two prominent oil firms in his state.

The governor accusing these companies of forming a mafia to take over the state’s resources is not only a gross exaggeration capable of inciting the public wrongly, it is completely ludicrous coming from the commander-in-chief of the state. I don’t hold brief for oil companies, and I believe they have the capability to defend themselves. However, I am aware that some of these corporate entities have invested considerable resources in Corporate Social Responsibility projects in the community. Providing jobs and stimulating economic activities vital to development. Including awarding contracts for logistics and supplies to members of the community in the spirit of community development.

Truth be told, whilst corporates must endeavour to demonstrate good faith by partnering the host community and engaging properly across the value chain, we cannot continue to play the proverbial ostrich and miss the elephant in the room. What is the role of our own state governors and the economic saboteurs in midst of all this?

While oil companies are making efforts to give back to their communities, I admit that there is still a lot to be done, but that’s a story for another day. Today, we will look inwards: rather than blaming, South-South governors should give account of the benefits their people have derived from their states’ 13 percent derivation fund. That’s the starting point, let’s remove the logs in our eyes before being fixated by the spec in another’s eye. Afterall, to continue to do the same thing whilst expecting a different outcome is crass insanity.

Instead of focusing on real development issues, our leaders continue to peddle diversionary falsehood in the bid to shift attention from their responsibilities. Their shamelessly started to plumb new depths when they resorted to contracting known blackmailers in the bid to achieve their inordinate ambitions.  One of such is a set of accusations levelled against oil companies operating in Bayelsa by Point Blank News, a media outfit that has been proven, beyond any contradiction, to be an established  scam a long time ago. Jackson Ude, the publisher of Point-Blank News, has long been exposed as a liar and serial blackmailer who is backed by some forces with vested interests. One of his media outfit’s many atrocities is blackmailing the wife of the Vanguard newspaper publisher; Sam Amuka. This is a story that Vanguard had covered extensively in 2009.  For any detractor to then descend so low as to take their campaign of calumny and falsehood to such a character is a testament of their desperation.

The report on Point Blank News accused these companies of arming and funding criminal elements in Bayelsa. Such toxic reports have fuelled wrongful agitations that have led to needless destruction and distress before people realize they are being manipulated.

The oil companies, especially the indigenous ones among them, have continued to cry themselves hoarse that they (at least in recent history) have continued to play their part in the engagement of vital stakeholders in the value-chain. Most of the people that call the shots in these oil companies are even of Niger Delta origin and lo be interested in the well-being of their native land.

While it is not my business to exonerate the oil companies, I feel it is my responsibility and should be that of us all, to find out the truth and project it in the most unbiased manner. 

The truth we must realize soon enough is that when things go bad in the Niger Delta, everyone loses; the oil company loses, the host community loses, the government loses, and ultimately, Nigerian lose. It is therefore in the best interest of everyone to truly analyse issues fairly and pragmatically and avoid unnecessarily flaming the embers of discord just to score political points.

We all should have a deep sense of grievance about what oil theft is doing to our collective wealth and environment; what it is costing the nation as a whole and a shared burden on how we can better protect what is the mainstay of a national economy. When oil facilities are damaged due to infraction from oil thieves and vandals, we shouldn’t just put all the blame on the oil company but seek for practical ways including dialogue to reach a solution. This is because, when things go bad, everybody loses.

Ekperi writes from Lagos

Editor’s note

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