The recent visit of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) to the Southsouth for discussion with stakeholders on the way forward may have laid a foundation for the resolution of the Niger Delta crisis, reports OSAGIE OTABOR
The people of Benin City, the Edo State capital, will not forget in a hurry the day Acting President Yemi Osibanjo visited the state as part of his fact-finding visit to the Niger Delta.
Stakeholders, who were invited to the ultra modern Samuel Ogbemudia College, venue of the meeting with the Acting President, had a hectic time getting to the venue. Those with invitation letters were allowed to pass security blockade while others parked their vehicles at adjoining streets.
However, speakers at the meeting, bared their minds on issues affecting the 38 oil producing communities in the state. Representatives from the three oil-producing local government areas – Ovia Northeast, Ikpoba-Okha and Orhionmwon – were allowed to air their grievances.
Chief David Edebiri, who spoke on behalf of Ovia Northeast, urged the Acting President to ensure that projects earmarked for the Niger Delta region were completed without delay. He wondered why projects meant for the Niger Delta were abandoned.
According to him, “After Oloibiri, Ovia Northeast is the next place oil was discovered, but there is nothing to show for what it produces. We are not among those agitating for militants’ allowance. Our youths are patriotic citizens. The oil company exploring oil has not shown sufficient zeal to better the life of our people.”
Johnson Achelonu, who spoke on behalf of Ikpoba-Okha Local Government, said oil exploration has been going on in 11 communities for the past 40 years but the people have remained poor.
He said schools in some of the communities have only two teachers, which showed that the oil companies have been insensitive to the plight of the people.
The sad story of Orhiomwon Local Government, which has the largest gas reserve in West Africa, was narrated by the traditional ruler of Oben, Odoligie Ogiemwonyi. He said communities in Orhiomwon where the gas field is located suffers from gas flaring.
He appealed to Osibanjo not to ensure that projects abandoned by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) were revisited and completed.
He said Seplat Petroleum Development Company should implement the agreed employment quota of 30 per cent senior staff and 60 per cent junior staff. He also called for the implementation of the Federal Government Local Content Policy, the establishment of a Federal Government Institute of Science and Technology and the provision of a skill acquisition center.
Niger Delta women group under the auspices of Society for the Protection of Women Welfare in Oil and Gas Producing States described the direct payment of 13 per cent derivation fund to states government as illegal and unconstitutional.
The group, in its presentation by its President, Princess Nomwen Uhununagho and Secretary, Obi Nneka Esther, said the fund should be directed to producing communities as compensation for the loss of fishing rights and productive farmlands.
According to them, “Two mandatory provision of the 1999 constitution of the federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
“Section 162 (2) of the 1999 constitution as amended confirms that 13 per cent derivation fund is the first charge on the Federation Account.
“Thirteen per cent derivation fund as enshrined in the amended constitution of 1999 is exclusively for the oil and Gas Producing communities, primarily as compensation for the loss of fishing rights and productive farm lands arising from Oil exploration and activities.
“The Chairman Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RMFC) had insisted further that it was an act of gross mismanagement and misappropriation on the part of the state government to have diverted the 13 per cent derivation fund to develop their state capitals and non-producing communities in abject poverty and penury” and that this includes “elites everywhere and it is not just in the oil-producing areas have very frequently deprived the people of the opportunity to enjoy the fruit of the land.”
The Executive Director of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, Rev. David Ugolor, who submitted an extensive report his group had carried out in the Niger Delta region, said the Federal Government need to focus more on capital projects.
He said a visit to many of the communities showed that projects claimed to have been completed were not.
There was commotion in the town hall meeting as members of oil producing communities insisted that the Acting President should leave the meeting and visit the communities.
A representative of the oil producing communities, Don Ben, grabbed the microphone and told the Acting President to leave the oil alone, if the communities were too insecure to be visited.
He said they had been at the Benin Airport waiting for the Acting President only for them to be told that the visit to the communities had been cancelled.
Osibanjo assured the protesters that he would reschedule another visit to the state to enable him go to the oil producing communities and see things for himself.
He said the new vision for Niger Delta region would define a bright future for the communities, adding that the Federal government would hold any defaulting contractor handling projects in the Niger Delta as well as prosecute those that abandoned projects.
Osibanjo said the Buhari administration wants to ensure that the people get the real benefit of the wealth the country has.
He said: “I have read out and I have listened to several of the complaints in several areas.. I can tell you precisely how much had been voted of same in several of our own communities and there is no sign of development in those areas. I can tell you how many of these projects are supposed to have been completed and when you look into some books, they said they had been completed, but they have not been completed. They have not even been done; many have not even been started at all. That is the story not just in the oil producing communities of Edo State but it’s the story everywhere.”
“There is the story of neglect, there is many cases of corruption that have deprived our people at the expenses of people in the oil producing areas their means of live,iBook for so many years. That is one of the issues that we intend to address and this is why I have come on behalf of the President and Commander In Chief to put a new way of doing things, to signpost a new era in the oil producing areas of Delta and everyone of the state’s of Nigeria. This is an important engagement that we are not taking lightly at all”
Osinbajo added: “We are committed to every one of the things that we say we want to do, it does not make sense for leadership to look at the plight of the people, especially, in the oil producing areas. This is the source of the wealth of the nation and to ignore the people even if it is for a while; the time will come when you can no longer ignore them. So, there is no question at all that we are committed to doing what we said we would do and that is a pledge coming directly from President Muhammadu Buhari.”
Governor Godwin Obaseki informed the Acting President that there were 38 oil producing communities and 205 flow station in the state.
Obaseki said oil communities in the state had their own share of neglect, adding that several projects by the Federal Government projects in the area had yielded no results due to corruption, ineptitude and lack of capacity.
He said the youths have a very strong feeling of deprivation and marginalisation which was why they express themselves earlier in the prograamme.
Obaseki said his administration has planned to develop a masterplan for the 38 oil producing communities, adding that he would not allow any agency to carry out any project without adhering to details in the masterplan.