09 July 2017, Sweetcrude, Lagos – Environmental activists have berated International Oil Companies, IOCs, operating in the country, accusing them of having not made meaningful impact on the lives of people and the environment in the Niger Delta region where they operate.
Community leaders also say efforts by the government to secure peace in the oil heartlands of the Delta are empty promises.
SweetcrudeReports gathered that ex-militants in the Delta are threatening to return to the creeks, with dire implications for the country’s rising crude oil production and exports.
Community leaders in the Kingdom of Gbaramatu, specifically, say the government has failed to come through on its promises to them.
Environmental Activists, Akinbode Oluwafemi and Philip Jakpor, told SweetcrudeReports that the Niger Delta people “do not feel the presence of the IOCs in terms of improved lifestyle and environment” in the region.
According to Philip Jakpor, Head Media & Campaigns for the Group, the “nonchalant attitude” of successive governments to develop the Niger Delta is a cause for concern.
“I do not know what the IOCs are doing. Perhaps they should tell us. But in reality, if they are doing anything meaningful the people would have noticed,” he said.
Regarding the call for IOCs to relocate their headquarters to the Niger Delta as directed by the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, Jakpor said that the multinationals are yet to comply with the directive.
Hearing from the locals, “the firms are yet to comply with that directive. That’s is why some of the communities recently staged a protest in Abuja”, he said.
Oluwafemi said that the reasons for the IOCs’ foot-dragging is not far-fetched. According to him, the IOCs are afraid of the hostile communities they have created as a result of the negligence.
“In the past, the IOCs through their divide and rule activities created the atmosphere for the current unrest and hostile work climate that they have found themselves in. The government will have to work creatively and in concert with the host communities to create a climate that will make the IOCs feel safe among the communities”.
He, however, said becoming militant about the issue will not solve the problem. “It will not be through militarisation. Our immediate past history has shown that it will not work. One of the ways to do this is to make the firms responsive to the needs of the people – stop polluting and clean up their polluted environment, honour agreements and MOUs entered into with their true representatives”. He said.
On the part of the government he said, it “must enforce laws that will make the companies accountable to us as a nation. When and where there are breaches they must be penalised”.
He then revealed that the people of the Niger Delta, do not “trust” what the government is doing with the Petroleum Governance Industry Bill (PGIB). He claimed the PGIB will not favour the Niger Deltan.
“They do not trust the drama on the Petroleum Governance Industry Bill (PGIB) which has now being balkanised into fractions that focus more on revenue and not the people and environment”, he added.
Ex-militants and local chieftains say that since “town hall” meetings with Vice President Osinbajo earlier in the year aimed at bringing and sustaining peace in the Delta, little has been done – the government has not followed up on issues raised, is stalling on key demands and has not even appointed a full-time negotiating team.
“The people of the Niger Delta can hold this government or any government to ransom because we are the people feeding the nation,” said Godspower Gbenekama, a chief in the Kingdom of Gbaramatu.
Their demands are varied. Some want environmental clean-ups from oil spills that have devastated the forests and waterways; others want roads, better power supply and jobs.
Niger Delta communities also ask for ownership of oil blocks, and for all states in Nigeria to become fiscally independent – a move that would see oil revenues pooled in the southeast.
“We don’t have a very big agenda,” said Gbenekama, the Gbaramatu kingdom chief, adding: “The general agenda of the Niger Delta people is the political and fiscal restructuring of this nation.”