Our demands from FG — Niger Delta monarch
On March 25, 2017, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, in his acting capacity as the President, visited the Niger Delta region, where he held meetings with stakeholders.
At one such meeting in Port Harcourt, Osinbajo told the gathering that the Federal Government was planning to establish modular refineries in the region to engage youths involved in illegal oil refining. He said government was sincerely committed to ensuring that young men and women in the region were properly engaged.
He also said Federal Government would continue with the amnesty programme despite suggestions to end it, and that there was more commitment than ever.King Bubaraye Dakolo, Agada IV, Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, Bayelsa State was present at the meeting in Port Harcourt. He shed light on the core issues discussed.
There has been a lot of acrimony in the Niger Delta region, with the people agitating for their share of the nation’s wealth. Has the situation improved now?
No, the situation has not improved. The situation in the Niger Delta is still the same. All the promises, as far as we can see, are just lip service. The Niger Delta people deserve much more till tomorrow morning. And though there have been palliatives here and there, but they are not substantial enough, for anyone to say things have improved the manner they should have.
The then acting President Yemi Osinbajo came and made some fairly acceptable statements, which promised some reasonable palliatives, but that is essentially what it is. The Niger Delta people that have been funding this country for the last five decades and beyond deserve much more.
For instance, there is no reason why Bayelsa State should have just eight Local Government Areas. From the Federation Account, it is just those eight local governments that are being funded, while places that are bringing nothing to the table have 24, 30 and even 50 local government areas. Recently, there was employment at the Department of State Security (DSS) by the Federal Government. Sadly, it was the parasite states that contribute nothing to the Federal table that had more allotment than most states in the Niger Delta. How can anyone define such issues as this? Goes to show how the Nigerian system is screwed against the Niger Delta people, and this is done deliberately.
What really were the major issues discussed at the meeting?
When the Vice President came here, our grievances were made known to him. Different positions that have been taken at different fora in the past were read to him. Largely, these positions talked about ensuring that the people of the Niger Delta are treated fairly in the Nigerian scheme of things, particularly, when it has to do with oil and gas revenue.
It included for example, the immediate redress of this issue of security agencies, who, in spite of the V.P’s public statement, went about destroying what they called “Bush Refineries.” But in the process, they spill crude oil in the creeks without actually considering the consequences on the local communities.
We told him there were needs for those mini-refineries to be properly harnessed and regularised. Personally, I have always seen failure to regulate as the reasons we suffer so much in this part of the country. And to that extent, when the regulatory bodies are not able to do their jobs, they end up putting the blame on everyone else, which is not supposed to be the case. But if Federal Government agrees to turn these bush refineries into modular refineries, as we already agreed upon, the smaller refineries will be in a position they can be paying taxes into Federal and state coffers.
Once the small refineries are guided to properly do the refining, they will eventually help in making petroleum products readily available for Nigerian market. With time, they will grow and become a major source of employment for the youths in this part of the country. It will also lead to fewer spillages, fewer grievances, and a better, more secured Niger Delta for all Nigerians.
Essentially, the vice president agreed it was worth doing. We also talked about local communities flaring oil and gas; that they are not really benefiting, as they should. We, therefore, argued that there is need for some kind of equity for these communities. The idea is: As the oil and gas companies are making profits, their host communities will be given a little token from the profits for their developments.
Other people argued that there should be a special percentage reserved for these communities, other than the 13 per cent being presently given to oil producing areas. We all agreed 20 percent of the profits would not be a bad idea, as the current 13 percent arrangement is not good enough. We also discussed enterprise, youth employment and education, among others.
Since then, has there been any concrete step to show that the Federal Government is serious about the implementation of these suggestions?
Personally, I would say that what Osinbajo discussed with us here was mere lip service, as there are no indications whatsoever that the Federal Government is ready to walk the talk. Although the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Kachuwku and the rest of them seem to be doing some work, but I have not been briefed. So, to that extent, I don’t know how far they have gone in trying to actualise what the VP promised, while in Port Harcourt.
What would you say is the general security situation in the Niger Delta presently?
I was an environmental activist and a very loud one at that. I, therefore, believe in justice. If a company causes problem, it should also be ready to own up and deal with the problem(s). Some 30 to 40 years ago, there was peace in the Niger Delta region as a whole. It was the attitude of the oil and gas companies towards Niger Delta people that has caused the problems we are presently trying to deal with.
And to that extent, there is a need for them to also accept responsibility for whatever problem(s) they have caused and not look for someone to blame for it. We, the traditional rulers in these areas are trying to preach peace and make the people understand that peace is a good, as it is an invaluable asset. There are very many ways to let grievances be known without breaching the peace. So, we make our people know that violence is not the best way to get issues resolved. We try to tell them to always push their grievances across through the media, which is better than taking up arms to settle matters.
The young men, particularly in my kingdom, have been reasonably peaceful, as there has not been any type of violence here for sometime now, just like there has not been any kind of sabotaging of oil facilities. We have been able to dialogue in all the cases we have had.
In spite of all the peace, however, our people are not properly trained in the areas of oil and gas. This is part of the reasons for the crisis that will not go in the Niger Delta region. Those who have had training are very minimal, and these were trained about 10 years ago. If I must say, there is no gainful employment here. That is enough cause for concern. Aside that, there is this aspect people don’t look at, which is the socio-economic damage to the people of Ekpetiama Kingdom in particular, and Gbaran Kingdom, as other Niger Delta communities.