Any cheers for oil discovery in the South East?

About 15 or so years back, Nnewi in Anambra and Aba in Abia states respectively were reputable for local manufacturing of quality automobile parts and shoes but the steady decline in the amount of electricity power generated and distributed to the residents of the South East like their brothers and sisters elsewhere, led to the virtual collapse of the then thriving industries in these two towns. The immediate consequences of the near-total collapse of small and medium scale enterprises in the South East is the unprecedented rise in organised social crimes of violent armed robbery, kidnapping for ransoms and politically motivated assassinations.

 

At a point this year, Anambra became a no-go-area for most people especially the hardworking Nigerians from even some South East states who may not have easy access to police protection unlike the local politicians who have cornered the majority of the armed police operatives to protect them and their family members in the crime-infested parts of Anambra State.

Abia has now assumed notoriety for all shapes of armed criminality no thanks to the breakdown of infrastructures that would have encouraged private investors to invest massively in the state and especially in Aba that is seen in those days as the commercial hub of the South East. The police operatives in the South East rather than deploy the use of intelligence to track down the real perpetrators of these dastardly acts have embarked on extra legal executions of suspects in their custody who in any case ought to be accorded Constitutional protection in line with section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution pending the determination of any criminal charges against them in a competent court of law.

The police operatives especially in the South East have become so notoriously incompetent that ordinary cases of kidnapping by gangs of young persons are not successfully dislodged even when regular telephone communications are maintained between the alleged kidnappers and family members of the kidnapped person. In view of all these negative developments, a lover of the South East would have embraced with cheerfulness, recent news that Total discovered oil in huge commercial quantities in some parts of South East, hitherto unknown to harbour potential crude oil deposits. But going by the negative experiences of some parts of Imo and Abia that are currently ranked as one of Nigeria’s nine oil producing states, are there cheers for the discovery of oil in other parts of South East like Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi?

Put differently, any cheers for new discovery of crude oil in other parts of South East when the current oil producing communities are facing some of the most disturbing and traumatising experiences because of massive environmental degradation, no thanks to the poor operational methods adopted by the multi national crude oil companies including Total? On Monday, December 21, 2009, Daily Trust ran an eye-catching story that Total has discovered oil in South East.

According to the report; “Total Corporation has announced that its subsidiary, Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Ltd, has discovered hydrocarbons in the southern portion of the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 223 deepwater offshore South-Eastern Nigeria.

“The Owowo South B-1 well was drilled in a water depth of 670 metres and is located 20 kilometres east of the Usan field, currently under development.The well reached a total measured depth of 2,227 metres and discovered several oil bearing reservoirs with a fluid qualified as light oil according to findings during drilling and from logging data.”

“Under the production sharing contract governing the OPL 223, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is concessionaire of the license, which in turn is operated by Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Ltd (18%) in partnership with its co-ventures: Chevron Nigeria Deepwater Ltd (27%), Esso Exploration and Production Nigeria (Upstream) Ltd (27%), Nexen Petroleum Exploration and Production Nigeria Ltd (18%) and Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) Ltd (10%). Total has been operating in exploration and production in Nigeria for close to 50 years….”

The fact that Total has operated like every other notorious multinational crude oil companies in Nigeria’s oil-endowed Niger Delta communities in the last 50 years makes it imperative that the inhabitants of those South East communities where the new discovery has just been made must be wary of the antics of this and other big oil corporations including their joint venture partner- the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which is one of the worst abusers of the environment in the Niger Delta because of its role in gas flaring.

Khadija Sharife’s beautiful piece in the December 2009 edition of Focus on Africa, a British Broadcasting Corporation’s news Magazine titled “All fired up” painted a graphic picture of what will become the inevitable fate of the South Easterners when their crude oil deposits start disappearing, courtesy of the exploration activities of Total in cohort with the Federal Government.

Khadija wrote thus: “Unlike high-income nations, dependent on taxation of their citizens for over 30 per cent of their budgets, many African regimes are primarily accountable to corporations, via secretive development agreements for revenue. They therefore have no need to engage with their citizens. This results in the expansion of informal economies where the bulk of citizens are criminalized and locked out of legal, constitutional rights.”

“Such poverty is not caused by a lack of development finance; rather, it is artificially manufactured. Each year, the continent loses over $148 billion in illicit deals through partnerships comprised of corrupt elites and multinationals shifting Africa’s development finance to secret jurisdictions-and taking the climate down with them. The deliberate drain of development revenue leads to the lack of government investment in, among other things, electrification and housing which causes deforestation and the contaminations to water, air and soil through slum sewage.”

Apart from the salient issue raised by Khadija, the communities in the South East where these new oil deposits were found should brace up to face the environmental challenge that may come by the activities of Total and other oil companies which will not observe international best practices in their exploration activities which accounted for the devastation of most Niger Delta environment.

How does any one want any lover of the South East to smile and be happy that oil has been found in huge quantities in other parts of South East when that region has not combated the ravaging effects of gully erosion?

Professor Boniface Egboka, a reputable hydro geologist and the Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University painted a disturbing graphic picture of the devastation caused to Anambra state by gully erosion as follows:”The gully erosion in Anambra state is horrible. It is better seen than imagined. The whole place is giving way to gully erosion….”

What is the guarantee that Total will carry the South East people along in the exploration of these massive crude oil deposits now discovered in some parts of the South East? What is the guarantee that the discovery of oil by Total in the South East will as Adam Smith said, become one of the causes of improvement in the productive powers of labour, and of the order according to which its produce is naturally distributed among the different ranks of the people?

Total must respect the time-tested policy of Nigerian content in the exploration of the crude oil deposits in the South East as is being canvassed regarding the operations of oil companies in the Niger Delta so as to give the people the sense of belonging.

Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria.



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