FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA'S
INVASION OF ODI, BAYELSA STATE, NIGER DELTA
By Lanre Arogundade, Assistant Editor,
Monday, 22 November, 1999
Youíve been attending the Nigerian Gas Association first annual workshop here in Abuja for about two days now. What is your special interest?
My key interest is that Iím a person at the top management level of a state as a Deputy Governor. In the state of Bayelsa, we donít have any industries now; the oil and gas industries are the only industries that we have. So, when they are having some of these technical workshops we always want to know. At least it gives us direction and we will be able to use that knowledge to impress on the Federal Government and the oil companies to get what we think is good for the state. We feel a bit worried because when you look at the activities of the oil industry, Bayelsa State belong to what they describe as the upstream activities that is the area where you exploit and extract the oil or gas but in most cases even for employment opportunities, they are given to areas involved in down stream activities that is the area where they load the gas or where they refine or where the refineries are situated.
When we heard about the Gas workshop,
we became so interested because if we look at the Nigerian Liquefied Natural
Gas Project, about 50% of that gas is being extracted from the Nembe area
of Bayelsa State. But in the whole of the LNG Project, no Bayelsan is employed
and of course they have this Nigerianisation policy where they are employing
Nigerians to work there. But for now no Bayelsan has been employed there,
nobody has been employed even as a trainee staff but they are getting about
50% of the gas from Bayelsa State. So these are some of the issues that
sometimes disturb us, so we
always feel like coming to know what is the policy of the government on Oil & Gas. It is when you know the policy of the government and when you attend such workshops and the policy of the government is not suitable to your own socio-political and economic direction then you will be able to make some moves, not necessarily destructive and negative moves, but some kind of positive and constructive moves.
Looking at the oil and gas industry there has been a lot of restlessness especially among the youths, today you hear that they have given a declaration or seized one flow station, tomorrow one person has been kidnapped. What is the situation of things in Bayelsa State and what are you doing to ensure that the people get what they want?
By the time we were sworn-in this restiveness reached its peak and I know that this is because when you allow a system to deteriorate, to build on becomes a very difficult task. But we are trying our best we are bringing the tempo down. Weíve been touring these oil-producing communities and they are regaining their standing. If you remember when we took off Texaco Overseas closed down completely so we had to step in, have a lot of dialogue with the oil producing communities in that area and came up with a memorandum of understanding between the company, the government and the communities. Now Texaco is fully back and there are no interruptions again. So, though we still have some problems especially in the Agip operational areas, in fact my Special Adviser on Petroleum was supposed to be here but because of the information we had I had to ask him to go back to Bayelsa State to begin to dialogue with the communities before I return tomorrow. So we are trying our best and the tempo is coming down. But when you really look at the basic realities, these problems are caused by the oil companies and relatively may be the Federal Government. I say relatively because oil companies feel that the Federal Government has 60% of the income that is being taken from oil and if the Federal Government has up to 60% that means the Federal Government owes the oil producing communities the responsibility of developing these places. Why are the people arguing?
The basic thing is that this oil is being taken away from this place called Bayelsa since 1957 and the exportation started in 1958. So since 1957/58 that oil was struck in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State the oil has been extracted and sent out for forty years. We all agree this oil has made people billionaires in different countries all over the world, not just Nigeria. Look at the development in Abuja for example. Look at the development of great cities in this country. You will agree with me that in these past 30 years or so the bulk of income that comes in through foreign exchange is from oil. So no matter how you look at it, it is oil that is now the nucleus or the base of development in this country.
But now travel to Bayelsa State, in fact you donít even need to leave the state capital, the whole state has no NEPA line, they donít know what is called NEPA. In the whole of the state there is no telephone system because what we manage to use are the Yenogoaís telephone using Port-Harcourt lines. We use the Port-Harcourt code so it is like saying no telephone line. No water. Even the so-called PTF that people praise has nothing to show for Bayelsa State. In fact in my very village, PTF went there and stole our water pump. It was the water project that a group managed to do for the community and the borehole they installed about 5-horse power and PTF came and said they wanted to rehabilitate it because there were some minor problems not even a major problem. PTF took away the 5-horsepower and replaced it with 1.5-horse power that cannot even pump water. So now we in the state government want to replace it with another 7-horse power. So the whole thing was like there was a war to perpetrate poverty and suffering for the Bayelsan. Now you have these young boys who are fairly enlightened today because they have travelled to other parts. They know Texas as a state in the United States is great because of oil, they know what Libyans are enjoying and what is happening in all other parts of this world that produce oil. They now come to see Bayelsa and Bayelsa State if you use any standard indices you see that it is the poorest state in the country, the least developed state in the country. And still if you talk about oil per unit person Bayelsa State produces the highest because if you talk about the volume of oil produced per unit individual living in Bayelsa State then Bayelsa State produces the highest, though when we talk about overall production we know Delta State produces more.
So in a state that produces the highest volume of oil in terms of oil per unit person the people are supposed not to suffer. If you go to our schools the conditions are so deplorable that teachers and even youth corpers donít want to stay because there is no money to improve. The Federal Government is now allocating resources according to the number of Local Governments based on what they called population. Bayelsa State was created with only eight local governments even though most of what we call wards are more than local governments in some other states like Kano State.
You need to travel to Bayelsa State and you need to travel to these other states that have so many of these things. You really see that Bayelsa State need a minimum of 35 local governments. The creation of Local Government is done the same way across the country. But weíve been cheated. This marginalisation has been there. They now say we have eight Local Governments. So, when they are sharing the income at the revenue allocation meeting, when they share by local government, by state and so on Bayelsa is still always the lowest when you consider the total income being sent to the states and the ones given to the local governments. And this was state created without take-off grant and this is a state that the development because of the swampy nature takes more money. That is why even when the Military Administrators were there, when the Federal Government gave some money for the building of the House of Assembly, the building of the main Secretariat and the building of the High Court complex, all the other states created with Bayelsa State had their own completed. But our own we are still constructing because the whole of the money went into land reclamation because the cost of foundation is more than one-third when you build in Bayelsa State.
But when they are giving out this money, they donít know, they donít bother about the terrain, so they give the same amount of money, so we couldnít complete our projects, so in fact like people say that God is a just God, he knows that that area is difficult to develop that is why he gave a little oil there to help the government to develop the area. But the oil is being taken and the income from oil is not pumped back to the development of the area, so these young boys who now read from the papers, who know what is happening elsewhere and who have travelled across the country, know the development in Abuja and elsewhere and they go back to see the level of poverty, the pauperised nature and the neglect by the Federal Government, they are provoked to some level of anger. So to an extent their demand is justified because if you are a Bayelsan you feel bad.
The oil companies themselves have a very discriminatory policy against employing our boys. Just like I told you about Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas, where they are getting about 50% of the gas from Bayelsa State and they have employed more than 36 Nigerians, but not even one from Bayelsa State. Is that a deliberate discrimination? So, these are the issues, the boys know this and demand that it is not fair. Though we agree that giving such struggles, giving such legitimate demands, some criminals take over and do some criminal activities. We are trying to sort out these things properly. The people who are actually demanding for genuine development are very constructive, they are not destructive. They dialogue and demand. But there are some criminals who now invade some oil installations and loot property and seize helicopters and ask for ransom. If somebody is demanding genuinely he will not ask for ransom because it is not ransom you want, you want development. So these other group are the ones we are trying to get out of the system. We donít want to play with that. So we are really dialoguing and if you follow, the tempo of seizing this, seizing that is dying down. The destruction has lasted for quite some time and of course to bring it down will take a long time. We hope by the middle of next year, Bayelsa State will be very calm, very peaceful for the oil companies to operate maximally and for private investors to come in and operate freely. We only hope that the Federal Government will give us 13 percent so that as a state we can provide facilities, jobs, for our boys and through that weíll be able to re-orientate them. But we are still pleading that the Federal Government and the oil companies, should even as a deliberate policy try to make sure that the area is developed.
The Niger-Delta Commission Bill is before the National Assembly. But weíve had OMPADEC. What is your view on this Niger-Delta Bill?
I only pray that the Niger-Delta Bill will not be another deceit of the Niger-Delta people. If you look at the history of the demand for the development of Niger-Delta area, it predates the history of oil. That struggle was on before oil became the main stay of the Nigerian economy and that led to the development of the Niger-Delta development port in those days because a commission now recommended that the people have been marginalised, they need special attention. That commission recommended that that area needs special attention and the Niger-Delta Basin Authority was formed, that authority was not given enough power, they were only asked to be experimenting, there was no real development.
At a point, the Federal Government
really wanted to develop the basin authority, instead of really concentrating
on this Niger-Delta, ten River basin development authorities were established
in this country. Imo River, this river and this river and so much money
was pumped into these so-called river basin development authorities. And
the Niger basin was starved of
fund, in fact the headquarters of the Niger basin development authority was supposed to be at Yenogoa but because there were no funds really to build the headquarters so they continue to manage some structures in Port Harcourt till today. And that one died down because they donít want to develop the Niger-Delta. Even when OMPADEC came, the amount of money it received within that period was not up to 10% of what it was supposed to receive. So, OMPADEC too was frustrated.