The oil majors: Yet to relocate

Nearly three months after the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo gave the order to the oil majors to relocate their headquarters to the Niger Delta, the ‘big boys’ are yet to do so. It was clear to most Nigerians and those who know the oil sector that they would resist the order, that they would create subterfuges, give reasons why they should not be commanded to obey the Presidential order. It was even postulated that they would try to drive a wedge between the two main occupants of the Presidential seat. We do not know how and what they have done to remain seated in the ephemeral comfort of Abuja and Lagos.

In a previous essay on the same subject where I celebrated the Acting President’s order, I hazarded a guess that their home country governments would try to arm-twist the Presidency to modify or change its order. Now, I really do not know whether this has happened. But in the brave new, mercantile world, everything is possible, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Our Acting President is a man of his words. He will not wilt under vigorous pressure from home governments. His promise to the region is golden. He should please ensure that the IOCs move.

Of course, the oil majors have been known to form an alternative government wherever they operated. They have the resources to explore and give account. It is what they tell us that we accept as gospel truth in terms of production. They have been known to help topple administrations, either covertly or overtly. Their strong connections with the powers of the Western world are almost legendary. So we understand how they usually make their own rules and leave a legacy of wealth exploitation, environmental degradation and economic misery in their wake. But with the firm directive by the Presidency, I thought there would be a difference. Now we are beginning to wonder.

The House of Representatives, as representatives of the ordinary folks of this country came into the matter. The motion was sponsored by Hon. Goodluck Opiah (PDP, Imo) requested the headquarters of International Oil Companies (IOCs) to be moved to the oil producing communities, to make them more responsive to the problems of pollution, environmental hazards, degradation and underdevelopment,’ was virtually shouted down by the opposing group. In a most shocking manner, they concluded that the region was not safe for the oil majors to relocate their operational headquarters to. The presiding officer, Speaker Dogara, made a statement which the suffering people of the Niger Delta will never forget: that he cannot be forced to site his business in an environment that is not safe. We shall remember those votes when he comes asking for votes to be President some day! The region is not safe for the IOCs to live in, but it is safe enough for them to make billions.

Acting President Osinbajo recognised the sensitivity of the matter while visiting the region. He therefore gave the directive in the overall interest of the nation’s economy. His intervention helped to soften the hard stance of the militants. It strengthened the hands of the elders of the region in their dialogue with the hotheads. It was no magic that he performed. He communicated; he was believed and my reading is that that is why there is relative peace from the zone. By thwarting the Presidency’s directive, the IOCs are threatening the efforts of the executive arm of government.

The IOCs should be called to order. Even if the movement would be more symbolic than economic, it would be a sign of respect for the feelings of the people of the region. It would accentuate the perception that we now have a listening presidency that is genuinely ready to act.

Dangerous terrain has never deterred oil production anywhere in the world. In spite of all the threats in Iraq, the IOCs are there producing oil. They have simply enhanced their security. In the Niger Delta, I dare say that once there is a mutual agreement and the IOCs move their headquarters, the people themselves would provide security for them, in addition to what the Federal Government would routinely do. It does bear reiteration that relocation to the region would ease tension, put the IOCs in direct contact with the realities on the ground, and affect how they initiate and implement policies. The Presidency knows this. This accounts for the order.

It is my humble view that the Presidency should repeat and enforce its order. The IOCs should not be seen to flout the order of the President and sit peacefully in the comfort of faraway lands. Else, such pronouncements will not be taken seriously by industry watchers or the people of the region. There are high expectations following the visits of the Acting President, acting in consonance with his principal. By ignoring the Acting President, they are showing contempt for the Nigerian people. A time frame for the movement should be given in the reiterated and confirmed order.

A word for the IOCs. The people of the region are fed up with their lame excuses. They claim to be afraid of violence. But they forget that it was their arrogance and criminal neglect of the environment that led to the upsurge of violence. If they had been up to their duties in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR) from the beginning the boys would not have taken up arms. They also claim that they never shut down their offices in the region! Did Shell move from Warri or remained in Warri? They should redeem their image now. The people of the region are willing to guarantee their comfort and safety.

Finally, I call on our respectable Acting President to ensure that his order is carried out. It would only strengthen his hands in future dealings with the leaders and people of the region because he has already discharged himself as a man of integrity, commonsense and strong administrative acumen.

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