Niger Delta and guilt of oil companies

Daily Trust - - OPINION - Eu­gene Ena­horo dr_e­na­horo@ya­, 0807 493 2395 (SMS Only)

Any­one vis­it­ing the Niger Delta oil pro­duc­ing ar­eas will agree that they have ex­pe­ri­enced a dis­grace­fully un­ac­cept­able level of ex­ploita­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. There is also no dis­put­ing that all at­tempts to com­pen­sate the peo­ples and change the way oil op­er­a­tions are car­ried out have failed. Some­thing ur­gent needs to be done, not only to clear up the mess, but also en­sure it doesn’t con­tinue to hap­pen. The only dis­pute in the whole sorry mess is who is to be held re­spon­si­ble. It’s ei­ther the na­tion as a whole, var­i­ous gov­ern­ments or the oil companies. Hold­ing all Nige­ri­ans re­spon­si­ble doesn’t make sense. Our na­tion suf­fers from some of the worst poverty in the world. 70% of our pop­u­la­tion lives be­low the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted poverty line and have not ben­e­fited in any way from oil ex­plo­ration. It sim­ply does not make sense to blame them. In­deed very few of the ills of this na­tion can be at­trib­uted to the peo­ple them­selves, they are al­ways the vic­tims. This leaves govern­ment and the oil companies. Def­i­nitely suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments over the years must share part of the blame. Af­ter the First Re­pub­lic Nige­ria dis­pensed with pa­tri­otic, self­less lead­er­ship and mil­i­tary ad­ven­tur­ists to­gether with a new po­lit­i­cal class took it upon them­selves to lead the na­tion to ruin by en­trench­ing cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence. As a re­sult over the years suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments failed to al­le­vi­ate the prob­lems of the Niger Delta. All the huff and puff over in­creased oil deriva­tion al­lo­ca­tion, the Niger Delta De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sion (NDDC), the Amnesty Pro­gram and the cre­ation of a Min­istry of Niger Delta came to noth­ing be­cause cor­rup­tion hi­jacked the pro­cesses. A class of in­stant bil­lion­aires was cre­ated while or­di­nary peo­ple wal­lowed in ab­ject poverty. Niger Delta lead­ers let their peo­ple down mas­sively by el­e­vat­ing cor­rupt gov­er­nance above ser­vice to the peo­ple. That aside the oil companies must take the largest share of the blame. For too long they have ex­ploited the area with lit­tle or no ben­e­fit to Nige­ri­ans other than to the fraud­u­lent and cor­rupt elite. For decades the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has called on Shell to im­prove op­er­a­tions in the Niger Delta. Where they op­er­ate else­where in ad­vanced na­tions there is sel­dom news of oil spills and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion. Even when such tragedies oc­ca­sion­ally oc­cur im­me­di­ate ac­tion is taken to rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion. The cost. But in the Niger Delta where oil spills and fires are an al­most daily oc­cur­rence and peo­ple suf­fer all types of ail­ments from breath­ing con­tam­i­nated air, the likes of Shell and Chevron sup­press the news and try their best to en­sure that they can get away with do­ing noth­ing. In or­der to su­press ag­i­ta­tion and de­mands for com­pen­sa­tion oil companies have in the past sup­plied weapons to govern­ment for the sole pur­pose of killing Nige­ri­ans to en­sure the con­tin­u­ous flow of dis­pro­por­tion prof­its. It’s not a ru­mour. Shell have been in­volved in an em­bar­rass­ing court case for years with a Nige­rian com­pany called Hu­man­i­tex over an arms sup­ply is­sue. Hu­man­i­tex were be­ing rep­re­sented by cur­rent Vice-Pres­i­dent Yemi Osi­banjo whose in­tegrity earned him a rep­u­ta­tion in le­gal cir­cles for not tak­ing cases un­less there is merit in them. How­ever Shell has also earned its own rep­u­ta­tion for try­ing to es­cape their busi­ness li­a­bil­i­ties and frus­trat­ing all at­tempts to be held ac­count­able for their ac­tions in Nige­ria. Res­i­dents of the oil-pro­duc­ing ar­eas live not only in fear of both the po­lice and army who have a rep­u­ta­tion for ex­tra-ju­di­cial killing, but also quite in­cred­u­lously in fear of Shell’s pri­vate army re­put­edly com­pris­ing 1,200 sol­diers who act like an army of oc­cu­pa­tion and ter­rorises the peo­ple at will. The Niger Delta Avengers have cor­rectly iden­ti­fied oil companies as be­ing re­spon­si­ble for their plight. If they had mis­tak­enly de­cided that all Nige­ri­ans are their en­e­mies, they would be ran­domly killing peo­ple rather than at­tack­ing oil com­pany in­stal­la­tions. How­ever there is a prob­lem with the means they have adopted to act against those ex­ploit­ing them. Un­til fur­ther no­tice the oil be­longs to Nige­ria. Presently oil pro­duc­tion is the low­est since 1989 be­cause over twenty oil pipe­lines have been blown up and aren’t func­tion­ing. Since ap­prox­i­mately 70% of our na­tional in­come comes from the Niger Delta re­gion, it has had a de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fect on the econ­omy. The Niger Delta Avengers aren’t to blame for the fact that ac­tions against oil companies are harm­ful to the na­tion as a whole. If over the years State Gov­er­nors had made their States self-suf­fi­cient rather than col­lect­ing hand­outs from oil sales, then the ma­jor­ity of Nige­ri­ans would only be look­ing on in semide­tached in­ter­est at the hap­pen­ings in the Niger Delta. As with so many other tech­ni­cal ar­eas like road and es­tate build­ing which we al­low for­eign­ers to do for us for their ben­e­fit in­stead of ours, drilling oil isn’t rocket science. The change mantra must in­cor­po­rate chang­ing the man­ner in which the na­tion con­ducts oil op­er­a­tions. There is no rea­son why Nige­ri­ans can­not oil op­er­a­tions and use the prof­its for the ben­e­fits of Nige­ri­ans in­stead of repa­tri­at­ing them over­seas.

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