We were living in peace before the oil companies came. We were sharing our forests with animals, but when they came, they started setting one community against the other and before we knew it, they started killing our people,” Chief Joseph Efanya of Uruma, a community in Niger Delta, told CITY & BUSINESS GUIDE recently in an interview.
Although the afore-mentioned observation was made with respect to Uruma, the statement holds true for virtually all the Niger Delta communities, where oil is being extracted by transnational companies and their local counterparts and collaborators.
CITY & BUSINESS GUIDE’S visit to some communities in the oil producing region, which were peaceful prior to the commencement of oil extraction activities, revealed the devastation in the area as a result of oil wars. Every community has its own string of pathetic stories to tell from violence occasioned by accumulated anger due to decades of neglect; exclusion from the benefits that accrue from the oil being mined under their soil, the devastation of their environment, as well as divide and rule strategy, among others.
This paper also observed that most of the people in the region, the treasury base of Nigeria, have been impoverished as a result of the destruction of their sources of livelihood. The unemployed youth are easily turned into political thugs by desperate politicians seeking their parochial interests.
“With the advent of oil companies such as Shell, Total, Elf, Agip, Chevron and ExxonMobil, the story of Niger Delta’s communities gradually changed as their expectations from the companies became a mirage,” Chief Efanya noted, adding that hope was replaced by hopelessness and anger as a result of irresponsible methods of operations adopted by the oil companies.
He continued that the oil companies seem to be comfortable when their host communities were engaged in war, alleging that Government gives them military protection to extract oil.
Apart from Uruma, Rumuekpe is another oil producing community in the Niger Delta that has had its portion of a resource curse. According to the residents, the community used to be very peaceful before the oil companies arrived.
In the past five years, Rumuekpe has remained a war zone and as at the time of filing this story, the once vibrant community had been engulfed in thick bush after years of abandonment by villagers, who fled the ferocious wars.
“The war started with a minor disagreement among youth over who should control the youth association that had become very powerful due to oil companies’ patronage. And like a wildfire, the war swallowed the entire community of eight villages,” Ekechuku Ekiezie toldBusiness Guide.
Most of the houses including school buildings, churches and shrines were burnt down.
Over a hundred people were killed, many of whom are still in the mortuaries awaiting burial.
“As the guns boomed, the oil companies, protected by heavily armed soldiers, busily extracted oil from the troubled land,” Celestine Akporbari, a prominent civil society activist in Nigeria, stated when this paper paid a visit to his office at Port Harcourt.
“Why should we be poor in the midst of plenty?” he quizzed.
Nigeria is among the major petroleum exporters in the world. The transnational oil companies, acting in the interest of their shareholders in Europe, North America and Asia, operate under joint ventures and other related agreements with the Nigerian government and earn huge revenues from oil and gas exports.
However, despite 50 years of increasing oil and gas production, heightened exports and huge revenues to national, state and local governments, poverty in Nigeria has soared.
Social infrastructure has collapsed. A strong democratic culture is needed else proceeds from these resources are widely plundered by unaccountable leaderships that enjoy immunity from prosecution for corruption and associated crimes.
Although the actual volume of oil produced and exported by Nigeria may not be known as a result of the unbridled corruption in the oil sector, coupled with the lack of institutional skills and capacities to enforce standards of oil-field practice, there are some estimates.
For instance, the Social Development Integrated Centre, a civil society organisation in Nigeria, reported that in 2006, the Nigerian government earned about $45 billion from the petroleum industry.
In 2007 and 2008, the Nigerian Government at the federal, state and local government levels received increased revenues as a result of record increases in global price of crude oil and natural gas. In 2008, crude oil price averaged $97 per barrel. During the year, the price reached a peak of about $150 per barrel. At average production of two million barrels per day, proceeds from Nigerian crude oil exports would have been over $70 billion. This does not include Liquefied Natural Gas exports.
In 2007, Shell’s net profit rose to $11.56 billion from $8.67 billion a year earlier. According to reports, Exxon, the world’s largest privately-owned oil company, reported a 14 per cent rise in income to a record $11.68 billion, which was adjudged the largest ever for a US corporation. In the first quarter of 2008, Exxon made nearly $90,000 profit.
“Oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta have borne the real costs that allow for such huge profits,” the Social Development Integrated Centre had stated in a report entitled: “Fuelling Discord.”
On her part, Constance Meju, a journalist working with National Point newspaper, told this paper the Federal Government of Nigeria, which by law owns all mineral resources, takes all revenues from oil but willfully shirks its responsibility to the Niger Delta.
“Government officials have colluded with oil companies to perpetuate a system of divide-and-rule as a means of controlling the host communities.
“Traditional authorities and local opinion leaders have also out of greed, negotiated with government and the oil companies to satisfy their personal and parochial interests rather than the needs of the communities,” Meju lamented.
Lessons For Ghana
In January 2011, Ghana exported its first oil from the Jubilee oilfield and thus joined the exclusive club of oil exporting nations. When asked about lessons Ghana could learn, Chief Joseph Efanya of Uruma Community said Ghanaians needs to be very cautious about the oil companies operating in the Jubilee Oilfield as their actions could destabilize the nation.
“When the oil companies invite you to big hotels and offer you big envelopes, reject their offers,” he told Business Guide.
He noted that the oil companies operating in Nigeria have adopted what he termed ‘divide and rule’ tactic, adding that they identified influential people in the community, paid them money and then asked them to fight their own people.
“I will not be surprised if this practice is repeated in Ghana. Oil companies know what is right but would not do it. The Niger Delta has been producing oil in commercial quantities since the early1950s but is still wallowing in abject poverty,” Chief Efanya stated.
He said for Ghana to succeed in the oil business, the leaders representing the masses must be sincere and should not betray the trust of their followers. He also charged them to always have the interest of the country at heart, adding, they should not allow the oil firms to buy them with money.
Another opinion leader in the Uruma community, Chief Ishmael Yacob, said oil companies operating in the Niger Delta over promised yet under-delivered. He therefore asked Ghanaian authorities to ensure that the youth are trained to take up managerial positions in the burgeoning oil sector.
“The youth may not be as skilled as what the oil companies would want but they can be trained to acquire the skills,” he suggested.
He said oil firms are fond of employing people outside the community in which they operate, alleging that in his community those who even qualified for the jobs are deliberately ignored by the oil companies during the job interview session.
“We have over 1,000 members in the Uruma community but we do not have more than 10 people working at the managerial position in these oil companies,” Chief Yacob mentioned.
Contributing, Chief Howels Idibo Ebifate of Etiema, another community in the Niger Delta, said oil companies are powerful and would do everything to prevent journalists and politicians from reporting their ills.
“They make all the monies here and leave the community in poverty. We don’t even have potable water here even though we have abundant rivers in Niger Delta,” he lamented, noting that “we want the oil to remain in the ground so that it would feed our food.”
Chief Howels advised the Government of Ghana to ensure that a significant proportion of oil revenue must consciously be channelled into the local economy of the oil producing communities.
A system that seems to be working well in the Niger Delta currently is what has been termed the Global Memorandum of Understanding, which matches funding from the oil companies and government to the development needs of the communities, and which are then managed as a commercial enterprise with strong involvement by the local community.
“Ghana must be looking at mechanisms that allow efficient utilization of oil revenues,” Chief Howels stressed.
By Felix Dela Klutse (Back from Niger Delta, an oil producing community in Nigeria)