More thoughts on the Niger Delta conundrum

Vice preisdent Yemi Osinbajo flanked by Chief Edwin Clark and Delta State governor Ifeanyi Okowa during as the vice president addresses leaders of the Niger Delta during his visit to the region recently. PHOTO: TWITTER/PRESIDENCY

The consultative visits of the Acting President to the Niger Delta have started to yield fruits. This is evident in the decision to respond to one of the symbolic demands of the beleaguered region. During his visit to Akwa Ibom State, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo reportedly directed the Minister of State for Petroleum to ask all the big multinationals to move their headquarters to the region, away from the deceptive allure of the Federal Capital and Lagos. It is a symbolic action, or it will be a symbolic action once the movement takes place. But it would be a great step in the right direction. It makes commonsense to situate the headquarters of the oil extractors in the land where the goose lays the golden eggs.

To be sure, the CEOs are likely to pull strings to make the Presidency change its mind. We know that they will run to their home governments to pressure the Federal Government to change its policy. We know also that their home governments would post strong messages to Abuja and request or demand or order that the status quo be maintained. We know that they will run to big stakeholders who are not indigenes of the region to pressure the presidency to let sleeping dogs lie. Some are likely to await the return of the President to drive in a wedge between the two men who currently hold the presidency, one standing in for the other. Our prayer is that the Presidency should hold firm, should maintain its stand. It is a laudable policy and it will serve the overall interest of the country. It will please the people of the region. It will reduce tension. It will build trust between the current administration and the hot-headed boys that the elders can no longer really control. The years of arrogance by the big firms should end. By the way, the dogs are no longer sleeping!

The big firms are likely to give all kinds of excuses as reasons why Abuja or Lagos is preferred. They are likely to argue that the region is not safe for them. They could also argue that they want to be close to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) headquarters and the seat of power- the Federal Government beehive in Aso Rock. By the way NNPC should also move its corporate headquarters to the region too. The big oil boys could argue that the Niger Delta boys are hostile and that kidnapping is a huge menace in the region. They could also argue that it would take years to physically move from Abuja to Warri or Port Harcourt or Benin or Calabar or to Uyo or Yenagoa. Of course, we all know that it is balderdash. Once the will is there, there will be a way. The State governors, Senators and Honourable Members of House live in those towns. If they can live there, we don’t see why the big ogas of the giant firms cannot live there. Besides, security is likely to be beefed up so that criminals cannot freely threaten the land.

In the first place, it was the suck-to-death policy of the Mobils, the Shells and the Chevrons that led to the violent agitation that is nearly crippling oil production in the country. Nowhere is this scorched-earth policy as evident as in gas flaring. Nearly 60 odd years after the Oloibiri curse/blessing, red flames still bruise the angry skies in the region, posing serious environmental hazards to everyone. There is the alibi that it is cheaper to burn the gas into the atmosphere than to condense it into a valuable product. Indeed, I grew up believing that those giant fires were beautiful for the environment! We actually took time off to stay close to the blazing hotness of the flames as part of fun after a swim! The bliss in ignorance can destroy the world!

With a friendlier disposition towards the host States and communities there will be fewer acts of belligerence from the boys. We also know the multiplier effects of locating the headquarters of a behemoth in a particular region. Apart from the security of creating jobs for the people of the locality, it would also compel the giants to build or cause befitting structures to be built. It is on record that most of the staffers of the oil firms do not live in the region; they consider Warri, Port Harcourt, and Benin too dangerous for them to live in. They want to work in Escravos in Delta State and pay their taxes to Lagos State government!

What the Presidency has done to pluck from the low hanging fruits of the garden of the Niger Delta conundrum. This is commendable. It should not end there please. It should be matched by a given timeline for the movement. There should be a well advertised publicly-stated commitment by the firms to the timelines so that the nation, particularly the people of the region can hold them to account.

In addition to this and as part of harvesting the low-hanging fruits policy the Presidency should give a directive on ending the gas-flaring policy in the region. We are aware that certain pronouncements were made in the past. Nothing came out of it. Something can come out of it now. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Mr. Acting President Sir, may I also appeal to you to move the headquarters of the Petroleum Development Trust Fund (PDTF) from Abuja to the heart of the region where its funds are sourced? It is one of the sure ways to healing the deep wounds that have been caused by the politics of exclusion which the region has suffered since the 1960s. Do pause for a moment and picture the PDTF Towers clasping the skyline of say Warri, Port Harcourt, or Uyo! It is possible. It is laudable. It is worthy of attention. The time for change has come. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Prof. Eghagha is a visiting member of The Guardian’s Editorial Board.

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