THE First Urhobo Economic Summit organised by the Urhobo Foundation took place on the 27th and 28th of November 1998 at the Petroleum Training Institute, Effurun, Delta State. The theme of the Summit was Forty Years of Oil and Gas. Seven papers were presented touching on various aspect of the oil and gas industry and the Urhobo people.
The Summit took note of the fact that Urhobo produce at least 64 million barrels of crude oil annually, therefore representing about 10% of the total national production. The Summit further notes that at an average price of $14 per barrel, the oil produced from Urhobo land fetches approximately $900 million annually or N76.5 billion, at the autonomous exchange rate of N85 per dollar, for the Joint Venture partners. The total value of oil produced in Urhobo land to date amounts to over $25.7 billion or N2,185 billion with little or nothing to show for it. The Summit notes the continued degradation of the environment and the marginalisation of the Urhobos in all spheres of the nation's economic and political life after forty years of oil and gas exploitation in Urhobo land, and calls for an immediate halt by addressing the following:
1. Ijerhe (Jesse) Fire Disaster
The Summit calls on the Federal Government to immortalise the souls of the 1063 Nigerian lives lost during the inferno by building a specialist hospital as a national monument at the site of the disaster or nearby. Government should as a matter of urgency supply food as well as drugs to the affected people, in addition to paying compensation to the families of those affected. Furthermore, the Government should set up an independent panel of inquiry with international participation as the existing inquiry being carried out by NNPC (a key actor) cannot yield any justifiable result. The Summit notes that petroleum product is still leaking at Jesse and other points along the line of the 20 year old pipeline and serious efforts need to be made to prevent another explosion and further environmental pollution of the rivers and sub-soils.
2. Objectionable Legislation
The Summit notes the existence of several petroleum legislative instrument promulgated to strangulate the oil producing areas. Such legislation include the Land Use Decree of 1978, the Interpretation Act of 1964, the Constitution of 1979 and the Petroleum Act of 1969. These selective legislations have not been similarly enacted for the exploitation of other lucrative minerals like marble, tin, gold etc.
The PTF decree should be abolished as its design is lopsided and over-centralised operation has not and cannot achieve the desired goals in the Niger-Delta. The OMPADEC decree should also be replaced with legislation giving the oil producing areas the right of exploitation and utilisation of all resources in their territory and the responsibility for the development and environment protection of their ancestral lands.
These organs have presently only created room for excessive administrative money transfer and handling between parallel and unconstitutional agencies of Government thereby whittling down the funds before getting to the communities. The PTF's nationwide micro-management strategy from far away in Abuja in particular has been a total failure. PTF and OMPADEC cannot supplant the simple principle of community minerals ownership with the payment of mutually agreed taxes by them to the various tiers of government. This is in consonance with the laws of true federation which were abandoned following military incursion into the body politics of the country.
The Summit notes with great concern the economic enslavement of the oil producing areas through the massive reduction of the application of the principles of derivation from 100% to 50% (1951), and further to 45% in 1970. Between 1971 and 1985, derivation principle was removed by the Okigbo Commission and Aboyade Technical Committee. Following wide protest and discontent, derivation which was 1.5% was increased to 3% in 1990, and the constitutional Conference of 1995 recommends 13%. The Summit wishes to replace the principles of derivation, with complete ownership and control of oil and gas wealth in our domain as the only way out of forty years of marginalisation and deprivation. Government at all tiers as earlier stated can then charge and be paid taxes by the Oil Producing Communities (OPC)
This principle should be the guide in the future devolution of government share-holding in Oil Companies.
4. Employment, Training and Entrepreneurship
The Summit notes the systematic and complete take-over of all facets of the oil industry by the three majority ethnic groups in the country who do not produce oil, and also do not suffer the environmental degradation resulting from oil exploration. Neither do they know the pains of "economic pollution" suffered by the communities resulting from the huge disparity between their wages and those of resident oil company employees.
The Summit notes also the movement of corporate headquarters of the oil companies from their zones of operations, thereby making it very difficult for the indigenes in the oil producing areas to secure employment. The Summit calls for immediate and unconditional implementation of the Federal Government Policy which restricts the employment of non-skilled labour entirely to indigenes of oil producing areas, and 70% of skilled labour also to indigenes.
The Summit also calls on Shell to implement fully its June 1994 policy on Indigenous Contractor and employment, as well as increase the scholarship award to indigenes in the oil producing areas.
The Summit further calls on all Oil Companies to establish an Indigenes Recruitment Centre to counter the use by other ethnic groups of the advantage of NYSC posting to take up employment in the oil companies. Oil Companies are also called upon to individually or jointly establish Business Development Centres to provide education, counselling and technical assistance to entrepreneurs in the Oil Producing Areas so that they can improve their participation in this sector in the long term.
5. The Oil Companies
The Summit notes that the oil companies are paying lip service to the issue of environmental pollution and degradation and in collaboration with government have created opportunities for disunity among ethnic groups in the oil producing areas. The oil companies have been more interested in hand outs and not partnership. They stay aloof as government enslaves the oil producing areas. The situations in Ogoni and Ijaw lands are signals to the government and the oil companies about the urgent need to redress the marginalisation of the oil producing communities. The Summit therefore calls on government and oil companies to work out a Marshall Plan for the immediate development of the Niger Delta oil producing communities comprising of nine states out of the thirty-six states but producing 80% of total government revenue and 95% of foreign exchange revenue.
6. Development Programmes
Shell Petroleum has in response to the complaints of massive unemployment embarked on some development programmes like the youth training programme, entrepreneurship training programme, and scholarship schemes. These programmes are laudable, and the Summit calls on Shell to intensify these programmes and ensure that they are not high-jacked by non-indigenes as a majority of the key positions in the company are manned by those not from oil producing areas.
Nevertheless, the Summit commends Shell for the efforts so far and calls on other oil companies to follow suit.
7. Urhobo Language
The Summit notes that with the environmental degradation, the loss of traditional occupations of the people, and the discrimination in employment and contracts, many Urhobos have migrated to other urban centres, leading to the abandonment of the Urhobo language and culture. The Summit recommends the immediate establishment of Urhobo Language Centres at Delta State University, Abraka and the College of Education, Warri to propagate Urhobo culture in its entirety and offer scholarship awards for the study of the language.
8. Urhobo Empowerment Committee
The Summit notes the total marginalisation of Urhobos in government, federal parastatals (including those located in Urhobo land) and the oil companies. The Summit notes that forty years of oil production has led to environmental pollution, gas flaring, oil spillage, emission from refineries, poor infrastructural development and unemployment.
The Summit calls for the establishment of Urhobo Empowerment Committee that will tackle all issues of marginalisation in government parastatals and the oil companies. The committee shall also collate a data bank on the human resources of the people, and seek placement for them appropriately.
The Summit recognises the convergence of the desires and grievances of all communities in the oil producing areas of the Niger Delta. Any development that benefits any area will always similarly impinge on other neighbours. Therefore, there is the need for a focus on the real issues and full cooperation not conflict among nationalities. Only in collective efforts way can mutual and lasting goals be achieved.
It concludes that in forty years of oil and gas, Urhobos have lost the past and the present. Surely, we must not lose the future.