The Difference in Quality of life between oil block (Stock) owners and those who bear the brunt of oil and gas exploration in Nigeria: A call for a state of emergency declaration
By Priye S. Torulagha
Nigeria is a funny country indeed. Nigerians like to claim that they are a very religious people. As a result, they scream to high heavens about their Christianity and Islam. As a very religious people, it is assumable that they are deeply concerned about the concepts of ethics, morality, equality, fairness, and justice since these virtues are closely intertwined with religion. Yet, despite their religiosity, when it comes to oil and gas ownership in the country, they immediately throw away or ignore the noble virtues concerning the distribution of the wealth. The same thing happens when it comes to sharing the burden of bearing the brunt of the pollution and environmental degradation that emanates from oil and gas exploration. They want the wealth but do not want to share the burden of sacrificing their environments, means of livelihood and health. Likewise, they want the oil wealth but do not want to allocate funds from the wealth to clean the pollution that has destroyed the oil region and make life unbearable for the indigenes of the territory.
Apparently, due to a burning desire to share the oil wealth, a considerable number of Nigerians, especially those from the Non-Oil Producing Regions (NOPRs), are unequivocal that the oil and gas resources found in the Niger Delta/South-south are NATIONAL RESOURCES that belong to all Nigerians. As a result, they insist that the resources must be controlled nationally and the wealth shared across the board, regardless of the fact that the burden of bearing the brunt of the pollution and degradation of the environment lies exclusively with the inhabitants of the oil region.
Surprisingly, while oil and gas are regarded as NATIONAL RESOURCES, most of the oil blocks (shares/stocks)) are owned by highly connected and privileged individuals and the oil companies. The oil block owners and the oil companies make tremendous profit from resources that supposed to be owned nationally. Unfortunately, the Nigerians who claim that oil and gas are national resources do not scream loudly in protest over the fact that a selected group of individuals are allowed to reap unnecessary personal profits from the “national resources.” However, if disaffected, deprived and marginalized youths in the oil region make any attempt to show their disaffection by interrupting the exploration and flow of oil and gas, the same Nigerians would scream loudly and call the South/South youths and people all kinds of derogatory names. In other words, many Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions expect Nigerians in the oil region to suffocate to death and die in silence and not decry the unethical, immoral, unfair and unjust manner in which Nigeria violates their right to own and manage the resources found in their territory. It might be very informative to explore the quality of lives of those who own oil blocks vis-a-vis those who own the lands in which the oil blocks are located.
Purpose of this write up
Thus, the purpose of this writing is to examine the quality of life of oil block (Stock) owners and those who own the lands and bear the brunt of oil and gas Exploration in Nigeria. To accomplish the task, the following arguments are made: (1), the difference between the quality of life of those Nigerians who own oil blocks and those who bear the brunt of oil and gas exploration is like night and day; (2), the difference between the quality of life of those who own oil blocks and those who bear the brunt of oil and gas exploration is due to the fact that Nigeria’s politico-business and military elite from the Non-Oil Producing Regions control and manipulate public policy on oil and gas exploration and production to their advantage in Nigeria; and (3) due to massive pollution and gas flaring, the oil region has reached a critical point, as acid rain and soot begin to fall, thereby, threatening the existence of the people and the environment and (4) since the oil region has a reached a critical point, it is time for the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency.
In order to determine the outcomes of the arguments raised, it might be necessary to first briefly discuss the nature of oil and gas operations by focusing on oil block owners, the special relationship between oil companies and Nigerian elite from the Non-Oil Producing Regions (NOPRs) and the lives of those who own the lands and bear the brunt of oil and gas exploration in Nigeria. For purpose of this article, the Oil Producing Region (OPR) is made up of Abia, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers State. Lagos State is now an oil producing entity but it is not included in this article as part of the oil producing region because it has not experienced the kind of pollution and gas flaring that the other states (particularly the nine original oil states) have endured for decades.
Oil Block Ownership
Nigeria exists in a perpetual state of contradiction. It claims to be a federal republic and yet operates under a unitary system. It claims that oil and gas are national resources, yet, oil stocks/shares are given to individuals. About three hundred ethnic groups make up Nigeria, yet, one or two ethnic groups try to dominate the country to the disadvantage of others. Those who own the lands in which oil and gas are explored gets little and those who have nothing to do with the lands in which oil and gas are explored get most of the reward for doing nothing. Even though the oil region sustains the national economy, the region is treated as an appendage to the Nigerian project.
Hence, oil block owners in Nigeria are individuals who are highly connected to the military and political rulers of the country and the major multinational oil companies (MNC). The individuals, through their connections, bid and are awarded oil blocks, regardless of their technical expertise in the field of oil and gas exploration. After gaining the blocks, some of them sell their shares to the oil companies and make incredulous profits and instantly become millionaires. Some of them actually establish oil companies and align with the foreign companies that have the technical expertise to carry out exploration. In some cases, the oil companies apply and are awarded stocks directly. Thus, a vast majority of the richest Nigerians seem to have acquired their wealth primarily through the acquisition of oil blocks.
Generally, most oil block owners originate from the Non-Oil Producing Regions (NOPRs) of the country due to the fact that Nigeria is controlled and manipulated by them to enhance their regions (Nairaland, 2018, May 16). Therefore, the word “nationalization” is a tactical term designed to transfer wealth and political power from the non-power wielding groups in the oil region to the power-wielding groups. Basically, those who wield power enact decrees, acts, laws and regulations that favor themselves, their cronies and regions. This means that national policy on oil and gas exploration in Nigeria is made by individuals who do not originate from the oil region. This is why they do not care about the environmental damage and the enormous health problems that are associated with oil and gas exploration. Some former senior military officers and selected traditional rulers, business tycoons, and politicians own the blocks. However, due to the manner in which oil blocks were acquired, those who owned them generally do not say anything about the blocks, fearing public scrutiny and outcry.
The individual oil block owners and the oil companies make tons of money and become very rich and the owners of the lands in which oil and gas are explored inherit all the negative consequences that are associated with the exploration of these minerals. It is their reward for being generous to a country that does not appreciate their generosity.
A Shared strategic Interest between Nigerian Elite from the Non-Oil Producing Regions and the Oil Companies
Nigeria is a funny country in the sense that the ethnic groups (Annang, Edo, Efik, Engenni, Ibibio, Igbo, Ijaw, Ikwerre, Ilaje, Isoko, Itsekiri, Ogoni, Urhobo and other groups which actually own the lands from which oil and gas are extracted have no input whatsoever in contributing to national policy regarding the exploration and management of the resources. The oil producing states cannot make their own arrangements with oil companies to explore the resources. The decision is wholly made for them by others and they are expected to smilingly agree with whatever proposition that is put in place. The British Government, the former colonial power, initiated the policy of taking away the rights of the owners in making decisions about oil and gas exploration in Nigeria when it enacted the Mineral Ordinance of 1914 and the Petroleum Act of 1934. After Nigeria supposedly gained independence, it continues with the colonial policy of depriving the owners of the lands the right to contribute to public policy concerning exploration and management of the resources. However, various Nigerian military regimes, starting with that of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, are largely responsible for the total nationalization of the ownership of oil and gas resources when they enacted the Petroleum Act of 1969, the Offshore Oil Revenue Decree of 1971, the Exclusive Economic Zone Act of 1978, the Petroleum Production and Distribution Act of 1975 and the Land Use Act of 1979. In addition, there are also the Oil in Navigable Waters Act of 1968, the Oil Pipelines Act of 1969, and the Associated Gas Reinjection Act of 1969. These acts and decrees technically transferred the right of ownership from those who actually own the resources to those who have nothing to do with the region that produces the resources. Under the pretext of “national resources,” Nigerians, who ordinarily have no right to make decisions about resources that are not located in their territories are responsible for making national policy and controlling the exploration and management of the resources and the rightful owners are rendered merely as “hapless onlookers and beggars.”
In closely examining the relationship between Nigeria and the oil companies, it seems that the oil companies actually prefer a business arrangement in which national policy concerning oil and gas exploration and production is made by Nigerians who do not come from the oil region. The reason is that it allows them to form an alliance with Nigerians who have no other interest apart from a desire to maximize the exploitation of the oil wealth in the Niger Delta/South-South to enrich themselves and their regions of origin. Therefore, a large proportion of Nigerians who make public policy about oil and gas seem to have the same strategic interest as that of the oil companies. They want to accumulate as much personal wealth as possible by maximizing the exploitation of the petroleum and gas wealth. This is why corruption is rampant in the oil sector in Nigeria. The Nigerian National Petroleum Development Corporation (NNPC) is the heart, soul and blood of corruption in Nigeria because it is the primary instrument for transferring national wealth into private wealth through oil blocks and various contracts.
The fact that national policy on oil and gas exploration and management is made by Nigerians from outside the oil region does not take away the fact that some of the sons and daughters of the Niger Delta/South-South have served as the heads of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Ministers of State for Petroleum Resources. However, having a son or daughter of the oil region serving as the head of the national oil corporation does not contradict the fact that policy decisions on oil and gas are crafted by those who wield military and political power. In a nutshell, the sons and daughters of the region merely serve as figureheads while the real decisions are generally made by those who wield political power. This accounted for Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke’s statement that “I have stepped on many big toes, particularly the feet of cabals” (Agande, 2015, April 23). The cabal refers to those who wield power and control the oil industry. Even former President Goodluck Jonathan was not free in making certain decisions due to the overwhelming political influence exercised by those who control the oil industry. Therefore, the fact that a son or daughter of the oil region is a major figure in NNPC and its-related agencies does not give the individual substantive power to actually create and implement policies that might be beneficial to the oil region and the country as a whole. This was vividly demonstrated by the frustration Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, (Minister of State for Petroleum Resources) a son of the oil region, expressed in his letter to President Muhammadu Buhari over the awarding of contracts and the appointment of people into the NNPC. Part of his letter included the following statements which pleaded for presidential involvement in the matter:
That you save, the office of the Minister of State from further humiliation and disrespect by compelling all parastatals to submit to oversight regulatory mandate and proper supervision which I am supposed to manage on your behalf.
You kindly instruct the GMD to effectively leave the NNPC to run as a proper institution and report out along due process lines to the Board and that Your Excellency instructs that all reviews be done with the Minister of State prior to your decision (Eboh, 2017, October 3).
It is evident from Dr. Kachikwu’s letter that those who originate from the regions that supposedly wield power and control the oil wealth in Nigeria disrespected and ignored him because he is from the South-South, which does not wield power in Nigeria. Apparently, even though he was supposed to be at a higher political and administrative position, the bosses of the NNPC subdivisions did not accord him respect. There is no doubt that Mrs. Alison-Madueke went through a similar experience dealing with those Nigerian elites who assumed that they own Nigeria and the oil wealth. It is apparent that the Economic and Finance Crimes Commission (EFCC) is not interested in probing the $25 billion contract allegation as well as other hidden contracts that allow certain people to lift oil because the allegations involve individuals who originate from the regions that supposedly wield power in Nigeria. This means that the EFCC is only fighting a tactical war on corruption against those who do not support the current administration. Those who support the administration have nothing to fear since the EFCC is not interested in them.
In any case, due to a commonality of interests, both the oil companies and those Nigerians who benefit greatly from the oil wealth do not care about the inhabitants of the oil region. Their primary goal is to exploit the resources and accumulate wealth. Therefore, “nationalization” is merely a euphemism for private ownership of the oil wealth. It allows non-indigenes of the oil region to lay claim of ownership and make decisions about the resources in their favor. Hence, the principle of derivation is frowned upon because it would deprive those elites from the Non-Oil Producing Regions the ability to accumulate wealth.
Since the oil companies and the highly connected Nigerians have the same interest, Nigerian leaders allow the oil companies to roam the breadth of the oil region and dig for oil and gas as much as they want. It does not matter whether the oil companies violate sacred lands and waters of the inhabitants of the region. It does not matter whether they pollute the environment and destroy the means of livelihood of the inhabitants of the oil region. As a result of a shared interest, Nigerian political and military elites, allow the oil companies to flay gas and destroy the environment and create health problems for the indigenes of the oil region. To achieve their goal, they recruit some of the sons and daughters of the oil region to join them in order to falsely create the impression that the inhabitants of the oil region are in support of nationalization. Instead of the Federal Government acting proactively to support its territory ans citizens, it is the host communists and their state governments that put pressure on the oil companies to clean the environment after any reported oil pollution. For instance, after many incidents of oil leakages and pollution, the Bayelsa State Government issued an ultimatum to Agip Oil Company. A journalist, Arodiegwu Eziukwu reported:
The Bayelsa State government on Monday directed the Nigerian Agip Oil Company, NAOC, to clean up over 1000 spills in the state before December 31, 2015. In the letter to the management of NAOC, made available to newsmen in Yenagoa, the state government frowned at the poo oil spill response by the oil firm (2015, December 22).
Oil spills are so common in the oil producing region, hence, Vanguard reported on December 21, 2016 “Fresh oil spills suspected to emanate from American giant oil facility- ExxonMobil
have hit more than 10 communities situated on the Ibeno shoreline in Akwa Ibom.” All the oil producing states, including Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers State experience massive pollution of their farmlands and waterways. Anambra and Lagos States would soon experience the frustration of dealing with the oil companies. Generally, the Federal Government of Nigeria which is responsible for oil and gas exploration in Nigeria rarely take action to force the oil companies to clean the mess generated by oil exploration and gas flaring.
To make sure that the special relationship between the oil companies and Nigerians who benefit most from the oil and gas wealth is unbroken, public policy makers in Nigeria allow and encourage the oil companies to establish their headquarters in places other than where oil and gas are found. The anomaly compelled the oil region’s stakeholders to put pressure on the oil companies for decades to relocate to the oil region to no avail. Eventually, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while acting as the president of Nigeria, during a visit to Akwa Ibom Stare, “directed the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, to engage with International Oil Companies ‘on the way forward’ over repeated calls for the relocation of their head offices to the states where they produce oil from” (Ukpong, 2017, March 3). Despite the directive to relocate their headquarters, the oil companies continue to resist or ignore relocation because some of those Nigerians who wield power and benefit from the oil wealth do not support relocation. This hinders the ability of the inhabitants of the oil region in contributing to the process for oil and gas exploration. It also prevents the oil producing states from being able to earn income through taxation of the oil companies. Lastly, it makes it very difficult for the sons and daughters of the oil region to occupy high-level management positions in the oil companies.
Due to a special relationship, Nigerian leaders allow and encourage the oil companies to hire most of their employees from the Non-Oil Producing Regions. This strategy is designed to render the inhabitants of the oil region poor and powerless so that they do not threaten the ability of Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions to control and manipulate the oil and gas industry. This seems to be the case regardless of whether a son or a daughter of the oil region is the head of the NNPC or is the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources or the president of Nigeria, as Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was.
As a result of the special relationship, the Nigerian government is not serious about enforcing anti-gas flaring laws that it enacted. The Federal Government keeps extending the deadline for the total stoppage of gas flaring whenever the oil companies plead for extension of the deadline. Similarly, the Federal Government does not penalize the oil companies when they pollute farmlands and waters of the region. Consequently, each time Nigeria extends the deadline and does not penalize the oil companies for polluting the environment, the inhabitants of the oil region pay steeply with their lives, their economic means of livelihood and their environment. Journalists Emma Amaize and Chioma Onuegbu of Vanguard reported:
Indeed, at several communities in Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states in Niger Delta region, the people are still lamenting the effect of acid rain, fallout of oil pollution and gas flaring on their environment…A visit to the area showed that besides Kokori and Orogun communities, several other settlements, including Umono, have been experiencing the side effects of flared gas
from the flow station. The heat according to Dr. Igbuzo, “is so intense that locals normally bring their cassava flakes to dry close to the flow station to make Tapioka (2018, April 6).
Following the sharing of a common interest in the exploitation of the oil wealth, Nigeria is more likely to punish its own citizens for interrupting the flow of oil and gas rather than penalize any oil company for violating the rights of Nigerians who own the oil region. Hence, security forces are sent over to watch and punish the citizens of the oil region who interrupt oil and gas operations. Apparently, the oil companies are above the law in Nigeria. This is why the only way to compel them in Nigeria to bear responsibility for their actions is for the indigenes of the oil region to seek justice by suing or taking legal action against them in Western rather than in Nigerian courts. This accounted for the reason many cases filed against oil companies have taken place in the United States and Western Europe (Britain, France, Switzerland, Netherland). The Niger Delta/South/South people know that they have a little chance of winning cases against the oil companies in Nigeria due to the symbiotic relationship between the national wielders of political power and the oil companies. Even when they win a case against an oil company in Nigeria, the chances of receiving compensation for damages is very low. For example, the people of Bayelsa State won a case against Shell in 2000. A Nigerian federal high court rendered judgment in support of the compensation in February 2006 (Carrol, 2006, February 24). Yet, Shell has not responded in a manner that shows good faith, hence, the $1.5 billion compensation for damages has not been paid. Similarly, in 2005, Shell agreed to pay $70 million or 63 million euros in compensation to more than 15,500 people in Bodo, Ogoniland (Vanguard, 2017, June 22). Like the situation in Bayelsa State, the Bodo people are still waiting to be paid. Nigeria is not compelling the oil company to comply with its legal obligations. It is obvious that Nigeria regards its citizens in the oi region as foreigners who do not deserve governmental support against the international oil companies.
Thus, the owners of the oil region have a better chance of winning cases against international oil companies in American, British, Dutch and French courts, rather than in Nigeria. It is rare to hear of the Federal Government of Nigeria siding or joining its citizens to take legal action against an oil company in Nigeria. Otherwise, the Attorney General of Nigeria would have supported the effort of the Bodo people who have been trying to compel Shell to bear responsibility for cleaning the oil mess in the community in Ogoniland. In fact, “ A British court Thursday ordered a stay of proceedings against Shell in a suit brought before it by the Bodo community of Rivers State until July 2019” (Alike, 2018, May 24). Rather, the Federal Government always prefer to work with the oil companies against its citizens in the oil region. Therefore, it was not surprising during Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime when Nigerian security forces, led by Maj. Paul Okuntimo, joined Shell to actively participate in the destabilization of Ogoniland through the use of violence. It was during this time that prominent Ogoni leaders, led by Chief Ken Saro Wiwa, were arrested, tried and hanged by Nigeria without giving them an opportunity to appeal the death sentences. Paul Carrol of New York Times wrote:
Internal military documents show the Government hoped that by crushing the Ogoni protests it would persuade Shell to resume operations in the region. In May 1994
1994 the commander of an internal security task force, Maj. Paul Okuntimo, wrote to his superior, Lieut. Col. Duada Komo, the Military Administrator of Rivers State, which includes Ogoniland. The message, later obtained by dissidents, said, “Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken.
It called for “wasting targets cutting across communities and leadership cadres, especially vocal individuals.” It detailed special allowances for the troops and suggested applying ‘pressure on oil companies” to help pay the costs of the operation (1996, February 13).
Since the fateful Ogoni operation by Maj. Paul Okuntimo, Nigerian security forces have been working with the oil companies to intimidate and cower the people of the oil region. The oil region is filled with evidences of horrendous actions by the security forces, including Odi, Odioma, Obuama, Ogboinbiri, Tombia, Alakiri, Gbaramatu, Choba, Egi, Agge, Ayakoromo, and so on and so forth.
Likewise, due to special economic and financial interests, the home countries of the major international oil companies too seem to prefer Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions serving as industry leaders in the management of oil and gas in Nigeria. They are strategically prompted to favor Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions due to the realization that many Nigerian political and military elites from those regions are interested more in self-enrichment through the oil wealth. At the same time, the home countries of the oil companies seem to be wary of the political elite in the oil region wielding power in Nigeria. They are fearful that such individuals could drastically change policy towards the way the oil companies do business in the country. Perhaps, the concern that former President Goodluck Jonathan had a higher strategic need to change policy on oil and gas exploration probably contributed partially to the desire to prevent him from winning a second term. Thus, “corruption” was used as a pretext to oust him. On the other hand, there was an eagerness by some of the home countries of the oil companies to have someone from the Non-Oil Producing Regions take over the mantle of leadership in the country. This view is buttressed by the fact that despite the revelation by Transparency International that the Corruption Perception Index jumped from 136th least corrupt during Jonathan administration to 148th under current administration (Tomorade, 2018, February 22), the home countries of the oil companies are not screaming about corruption in Nigeria the way they did when Dr. Jonathan was the president. Similarly, despite the fact that human rights abuses continue to go on under the current administration, there is no calculated effort by some home countries of the oil companies in refusing to sell military hardware to Nigeria the way they did to the Jonathan administration. Well, the security situation in Nigeria today is much perilous than in the immediate past as herdsmen are rampaging throughout the country to kill people and destroy communities. The silence on the part of the home countries of the oil companies in criticizing the current administration concerning security and human rights says a lot about the strategic motivation for campaigning to oust Dr. Jonathan as the president of Nigeria.
Some critics might view the perspective that the home countries of the oil companies prefer Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions to serve as the leaders of the country as being preposterous. However, an historical review of international oil politics showed that in the 1953, President Mohammed Mossadegh of Iran was overthrown in a coup staged by agents of the home countries of the oil companies that did business in Iran (Cassidy, 2013, August 19). Dr. Mossadegh was replaced by the Shah of Iran. Therefore, the view that Dr. Jonathan was compelled to be defeated because some of the home countries of the oil companies did not want someone from the oil region to exercise substantive political power in Nigeria due to the fear that such a person might drastically change the lucrative oil business in the country should not be dismissed off-handedly. In fact, the international political system is filled with cases whereby heads of states have been kicked out of power by the home countries of multinational corporations. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has not recovered from the manner in which Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was killed to make way for a politico-military leader that was easily controllable from the outside. Likewise, the manner in which President Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown in Guatemala in 1954 due to the business interest of the United Fruit Company greatly influenced the emergence of bloody revolutionary and counterrevolutionary wars and rightwing dictatorships in Latin America (Kurtz-Phelan, 2008, March 2). Even the disastrous political situations in Iraq and Libya today seem to be the byproducts of the oil factor in international politics.
Additionally, as a result of the special relationship between the oil companies and some powerful Nigerian elites from the Non-oil Producing regions, it is very noticeable that the home countries of the oil companies rarely speak about the abuse of human and economic rights in the oil region by the oil companies and the Nigerian government. They rarely talk about the environmental pollution that is wrecking the region. Quite often, they express their concerns when the operations of their oil companies are threatened by the youths of the region. Hence, they always focus their discussions on security in the oil region, meaning security for their oil companies. This means that the lives of the indigenes of the region are not as important as the facilities of the oil companies. This contributes to the reason why Nigeria always send security forces to teach the indigenes of the region a lesson when oil operations are disturbed.
It is obvious that those Nigerians who benefit the most from the oil wealth do not care much about the suffering in the oil region. Neither do they care about the environmental destruction that is taking place in the Niger Delta/South-South. They do not have to care because oil and gas operations have no negative environmental impact in their own communities and regions of the country. For instance, Vanguard described the bleak situation in Ogoniland and elsewhere when it wrote:
Under a leaden sky in oil-rich southern Nigeria, young men hang around with nothing to do, covering their noses from the noxious fumes of the polluted swamp…The sight in Bodo, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) southeast of Port Harcourt, is repeated in communities elsewhere in the maze of creeks that criss-cross Ogoniland… One year after the launch of a much-heralded clean-up programme, the oil slicks which blackened the waters, killed the fish and ruined the mangrove remain untouched (2017, June 22).
Those who own the Oil Territory and Bear the Brunt of the Burden of Oil and Gas Exploration
Before oil and gas exploration took center stage in the Niger Delta/South-South, the region used to be bountiful. Farming, fishing and trading provided economic self-sufficiency to the people to the extent that they did not depend on the outside for food assistance. The environment was clean and the ecosystem worked according to the dictates of nature. The people generally had a robust health since poverty was a strange word in the region. Vanguard quoted one Ignatius Feegha, a 41-year old civil servant who described the way it was then and what is happening now when he said: “I used to wake up around 5:00 am with my father to fish and would come back with baskets of fish before going to school. Today, fishermen are lucky to catch even periwinkles” (June 22).
The intensification of oil and gas exploration changed the lives of the people and the environment drastically. As gas flaring and oil pollution increased threefold, following an increase in oil and gas production, the ecosystem started to feel the negative effect. Gradually, the farmlands started yielding less agricultural products and the rivers, lakes and creeks too started producing less marine food resources. One Buddy Pango described the difficulty of catching fish when he said “We can’t see no fish in this water because the water is stained with crude oil. Before we can get some fish, we (must) go to the ocean and it is very far” (Vanguard, June 22). Hunger, which was unknown in the past, started rearing its ugly head.
As the rivers, lakes and creeks are polluted, drinkable water becomes a scarce commodity. Forced to drink polluted water, diseases increased as many people started getting sick with complicated diseases. After a prolonged period of gas flaring, fresh air becomes a rarity and people started developing heart, liver, kidney and pulmonary medical conditions. Dr. Otive Igbuzor describes the effect of gas flaring in Erhoike in Delta State by stating:
I was born over 50 years ago and grew up to meet the light (gas flaring) at Erhoike. I saw pregnant women having premature labour as a result of the exposure to the light in Erhoike as people used to go there to fry garri; so you cannot know the details of the impact of those things except we carry out a medical study. But from observation, in my compound at Imono, which is about five kilometres from Erhoike, you can see the level of soot (Amaize & Onuegbu, 2018, April 6).
Each time the inhabitants of the oil region plead for an understanding from the oil companies and the Federal Government of Nigeria, they are ignored. Instead of listening to them, national officials and politicians speak about increasing oil production even more. Each time the indigenes of the oil region express their frustration with the unbearable situation, Nigeria sends in security forces to intimidate them. Each time the inhabitants of the region call for cleaning the pollution, they are viewed as troublemakers. Each time they express their inability to gain employment in the oil companies that operate in their backyards, they are ignored and other Nigerians are hired in large numbers to work. The hostile attitude of the Federal Government towards the oil region prompted the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) in 2016 to say:
The people of the Niger Delta are born into polluted environment since the day they discovered oil in Oloibiri in commercial quality and quantity. The oil companies and the
government have been good in tagging the host communities saboteurs, vandals, etc. for pollution of the environment everyday to evade their responsibility, as they did in
Ogoniland, even though there is an ongoing political charade they call clean up. However, it is part of the sacrifice Niger Delta communities and people will bear to tak back their land and resources (Amaize, Yafugborhi & Brisibe, 2016, July 11).
Nigeria refuses to do anything about the suffocating chemicals that pollute the air, rivers, lakes and creeks and destroy farmlands. The hopelessness of the situation compelled the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to conduct an environmental study of pollution in Ogoniland and issued a report about its findings. Then, it persuaded Nigeria to start cleaning Ogoniland. Even then, Nigeria still drags its feet. The unwillingness to address the problem prompted Fegalo Nuske of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to say “The progress made on the Ogoni clean-up is known only to the government. The people of Ogoni still cannot have access to safe drinking water, not to talk of electricity, basic schools and roads” (Vanguard, 2017, June 22). Anytime there is a suggestion for cleaning the pollution, Nigerian leaders and officials pretend not to hear because they do not want to spend money which is generated from the oil wealth in the region to clean the region.
While the Federal Government of Nigeria is fully aware that the Niger Delta/South-South region is highly polluted, federal officials still talk about increasing oil and gas production. This means that either they want the inhabitants of the region to die out or leave the region. Even the Federal Ministry of Health has not made any pronouncement or take active step to provide health guidelines to the citizens of the oil region on how to minimize exposure to the growing danger of pollutants emanating from oil and gas production. Thus, ACID RAIN and SOOT are the clearest demonstration of the fact that oil pollution and gas flaring have done tremendous environmental damage to the region that lays the golden egg. Dr. Igbuzo added:
We have inhaled dangerous things from gas flare, as a pharmacist, I know that those things can have dangerous impact on the lungs as nobody knows the kind of cancer that these things may have generated….It is really a thing that we need to urgently call the companies and government to put an end to because it is destroying the lives of the people, and that is in addition to the oil spills Amaize & Onuegbu, 2018, April 6).)
Like Dr. Igbuzo, Mr. Christopher Majemite described the dangerous effect of acid rain and soot when he said:
When I bought this aluminium zinc for my one-storey building, I was told it would last for 10 years before the colours start wearing off. But two years after, I noticed
that the red colours it came in had turned black and peeling off. I found out later it was caused by pollution from acid rain…A friend told me it is the common problem in the Niger Delta and that you find more of it in Bayelsa and Rivers. When it rains sometimes, you will notice the water on your vehicle and the roof top (Ibid).
It is very sad that whenever the citizens of the oil region call for federal intervention to arrest the deteriorating environmental situation, many Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions react by blaming the sons and daughters of the region for causing infrastructural underdevelopment, massive corruption, poverty and degrading of the environment through militancy and illegal refinery operations. Truly, it is a fact that some of the sons and daughters of the oil region are very corrupt and irresponsible. It is true that a sizable amount of funds allocated to the region have been mismanaged and looted some public officials and contractors. It is also a fact that when oil and gas pipelines are blown, oil will flow into farmlands, rivers, creeks and lakes. Similarly, an exploded oil or gas pipeline will lead to massive fire and the burning of the forest and farmlands.
Nonetheless, the totality by which Nigeria nationalizes the oil and gas industry, to the exclusion of the indigenes of the oil region in the decision-making process, is greatly responsible for breeding corruption, mismanagement, massive pollution and degradation of the oil region, infrastructural underdevelopment, irresponsible leadership, poverty, establishment of illegal refineries, blowing up of pipelines and the anger towards the “colonization of the oil region.” Indeed, the oil region is totally colonized, hence, decisions about oil and gas production is wholly dominated by Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions (NOPRs) while Nigerians from the Oil Producing Region (OPR) are strategically ostracized and marginalized.
For instance, the Petroleum Act of 1969 empowers the Ministry of Petroleum to license oil blocks through the Department of Petroleum Resources. The oil block licenses include the (1) Oil Prospecting License (OPL), (2) Oil Mining License (OML), and (3) Oil Exploration License. In overall, there about 65 Oil Prospecting Licenses (OPL) and about 65 Oil Mining Licenses. Generally, the decision to award these licenses are made without taking the oil region into consideration. As a result, the licenses are generally awarded mostly to Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions and the international oil companies. Why is it that most oil blocks are owned by Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions while Nigerians from the Oil Producing Region have little or nothing? Why is it that about 80 Percent of the oil blocks are owned by Nigerians from Northern Nigeria? Why is it that the leadership of the top management of the oil companies is dominated by Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions? Why is it that the president of Nigeria always want to be the Minister of Petroleum? Why does the NNPC operate as if it is a state within a state? Currently, the Board of Trustee or Board of Directors of the NNPC is dominated by Nigerians from the Islamic North? Since it has become an established tradition to ignore the oil region, instead of the NNPC to focus attention on reducing pollution and gas flaring in the Niger Delta/South-South, the corporation wants authorization from the National Assembly “to split the licenses issued for development of oil fields in Nigeria into two components, one for prospecting and another for production phases under the draft Petroleum Industry Administrative Bill (PIAB) (Okafor, 2018, 16). Here again, the NNPC does not seem to care about the plight of the owners of the oil lands, it only seems to care more about exploiting the oil resources. Indeed, the actions of the NNPC in particular and Nigeria in general, are pushing the indigenes of the oil region to a point of desperation in an attempt to survive the suffocating chemical warfare that is being launched against them daily.
In Overall, the combined negative activities of the sons and daughters of the Niger Delta/South-South pales in comparison to the environmental atrocities that the oil companies have caused for decades due to Nigeria’s lack of concern for the wellbeing of the citizens and the environment. Indeed, it is the Nigerian system of nationalization that has contributed to massive corruption throughout the country, not only in the oil region. It is also the Nigerian political system that foist corrupt elements as leaders in the oil region because the country wants to control the flow of oil and gas by any means necessary. It is joblessness and the feeling that other Nigerians are getting rich from resources taken from their lands that is forcing many people to operate illegal refineries. They listen to the news and are keenly away that Nigeria applies a double standard in nationalizing mineral resources. While oil and gas are totally nationalized, minerals in other regions of the country are less nationalized, thereby, enabling individuals to mine gold, tin-ore, coal, columbite, bitumen, marble clay, lignite, tantalite, bentonite, gypsum, magnesite, barytes, bauxites, talc, gemstones, kaolin, and limestone. In other words, if the Federal Government of Nigeria looks the other way and allow Nigerians in other regions to engage in private mineral exploration, why can’t the citizens of the Niger Delta/South-South also do the same? Why is the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Army patrolling the oil region to stop any private exploration effort while the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Airforce are not deployed in other parts of the country to stop the private mining of gold, tin, bauxite, etc.? States in the Non-Oil Producing Regions can initiate contracts with mining companies to explore gold in their states but the Niger Delta/South-South states cannot engage mining companies to explore oil and gas because these minerals are totally operated by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). For instance, Governor Nasir El Rufai of Kaduna State stated:
We are focusing on mining and agriculture in creating jobs in this state. The mining company we are discussing with is going to take our local miners and train them and will group them into cooperatives so that they would become like sub-contractors to them and be able to work with them. We are working with federal government very closely to ensure that this happens (Nathaniel, 2016)
This statement by Governor El-Rufai clearly shows that local miners are allowed to explore gold in Kaduna State. The statement also implies that governors in the Non-Oil Producing states can negotiate with mining companies to explore gold and other minerals in their states. They can even make arrangements with the mining companies to train their local miners. Likewise, the governors in those states can make arrangements with mining companies to hire their citizens and boost economic development. On the other hand, local miners are not allowed to mine oil and gas in the Niger Delta/South-South. This is why the Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Army patrol the region to destroy local refineries. In addition, the governors in the Oil Producing States cannot engage the services of private mining companies to explore oil and gas in their states. The almighty NNPC is totally responsible for oil and gas exploration. The Oil Producing States cannot even make arrangement with the oil companies to train and hire their citizens since the headquarters of the oil companies are located outside the oil region. Thus, the governors and peoples of the oil region can only plead with the Federal Government to persuade the oil companies to relocate their headquarters in the oil region. It is the unfairness and imbalance in the way the Federal Government does business that has compelled Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State and other Nigerians to call for a restructuring of the country to ensure equity. According to Governor Dickson:
We should not shy away from the issue of restructuring. The more the opinions the better. That is the reason we need this debate. Nobody should tell Nigerians that our unity is negotiable. A lot of people talking about restructuring do not even know the issues…But we must break down the barriers. We have to challenge ourselves to see how we can create a Nigeria that is sustainable. The current state of Nigeria is not one we can hand over to our children…Lets us start with the basic of amendments. We don’t have to amend everything at the same time. How many amendments has America had in over 400 years of its existence (The News, 2017, November 25).
It is very noticeable that Nigerian leaders rarely consider the Niger Delta/South-South when planning and developing the national budget. On the other hand, they always allocate national funds for the construction of major roads, dams, irrigation projects, railway lines and other industrial projects in other regions of the country. As a result, President Buhari proudly announced to the people of Jigawa State the efforts of the Federal Government to develop infrastructure in the state. Elombah News reported a press release which states:
President Buhari listed the ‘Shuwarin overpass’ and ‘Dutse-Shuwarin-Kiyawa’ portion of the Kano-Maiduguri expressway as well as the ‘Dutse-Laraba highway extension as part of areas in which Jigawa State has benefited from the federal government’s commitment to infrastructural rejuvenation (2018, May 15).
The Federal Government has never been enthusiastic about getting directly involved in infrastructural development and rehabilitation in the Niger Delta/South-South region. Time after time, the citizens of the region have to plead repeatedly for federal commitment. Even then, the national government is always uninterested. The unwillingness of the Federal Government to deal with the oil region in a committed manner prompted Chief E. K. Clark to “bemoaned the refusal of the Federal Government to implement the 16-point agenda presented to President Muhammadu Buhari by the Pan-Niger Delta Forum” (Umoru, 2018, May 11).
The Federal Government only thinks about the oil region when oil exploration is threatened. Thus, the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta were prompted by the need to stop the oil war in the region. However, due to the mammoth needs of the oil region, the NDDC alone cannot handle the infrastructural developmental needs of the region. The Federal Government must be directly involved through the Ministry of Works, Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture. It is a fact that most of the major infrastructural projects in the Non-Oil Producing Regions are carried out directly by the Federal Government through the Ministries of Works, Transportation, Agriculture and Health. For instance, the major railway lines that the Federal Government plans to construct are coordinated by the Ministry of Transportation. So, why can’t the Ministry of transportation directly gets involved in rehabilitating the Lagos-Benin Road and the East-West Road? The Federal Ministry of Transportation even wants to build a railway line from Kano to Daura and from Nigeria to Niger Republic. It is fervently hoped that the proposed $11 billion Lagos-Calabar coastal railway (African Business, 2017, April 27) line receives the same amount of political support as those proposed in other regions of the country. The concern in the oil region is that the Federal Government might focus its energies in completing the rail projects in the Non-Oil Producing Regions and ignore those proposed to connect the South-West, South-East and South-South regions due to political considerations.
It is a fact that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is actively involved in assisting farmers in the Non-Oil Producing Regions by creating programs that enhance their ability to engage in productive agricultural activities. In fact, the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Audu Ogbeh even proposed to subsidize the establishment of cattle colonies throughout Nigeria to assist cattle herders. Yet, he has not spoken about the need to assist farmers and fishermen and women whose means of livelihood have been devastated by oil pollution and gas flaring in the oil region. As important as the oil region is to the national economy, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture has not developed any program to prevent further destruction of farmlands and fishing waters in the Niger Delta/South-South. If the Non-Oil Producing Regions were facing agricultural challenges, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture would have initiated action to help.
The Federal Government does not even respect the elders and leaders of the Niger Delta/South-South, despite the mammoth contributions that the oil region has made to the national coffer. The leaders of the Niger Delta have submitted proposals that could assist in turning the situation around in the region but the Federal Government makes promises and then ignore them. The only time the national government appreciates the leaders of the oil region is when the youths threaten the national economy by promising to blow up oil and gas facilities. For instance, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), noted “Until we resumed operations, nobody reached out to us and government did not establish any genuine platform to address our grievances (Amaize, Yafugborhi and Brisibe, 2016, July 11). When the group noticed that President Buhari was not acting in good faith, it declared:
Until President Buhari takes our demands seriously and set up a genuine framework to address the Niger Delta question, we will continue to obstruct all avenues to export our
crude oil to develop his 97 per cent (95 percent). In fact, whenever we have any contact to establish genuine negotiation and dialogue, we will not hesitate to let the world know that we are in dialogue with the government and her representative (Ibid.).
Whenever the flow of oil is threatened, the Federal Government runs down to the Niger Delta/South-South to plead with the elders and leaders to beg the youths to cease operation. During such visits, the Federal Government makes generous promises to the peoples of the oil region. Unfortunately, as soon as the youths cease operations and allow oil and gas to flow again, the Federal Government responds by immediately ignoring the leaders of the region. For instance, it was the elders and leaders of the oil region who persuaded the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the Joint Revolutionary Council and other groups to accept amnesty and cease operations in 2009. Again, when the Niger Delta Avengers, Niger Delta Liberation Front, Niger Delta Sea Commandos, Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders and other armed groups drastically reduced oil and gas operations in 2016, it was the political leaders and elders of the oil region that begged the youths to cease operations. As part of the plan to stop the destruction of oil facilities, the Federal Government agreed to a 16 point agenda submitted by the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), as indicated by Chief E. K. Clark above, to develop the oil region. As soon as the armed youths stopped their operations, the Federal Government decided not to act on its promise because oil is flowing again undisturbed. So, the Federal Government has not acted upon the agreed 16-point agenda.
One of the arguments often made by Nigerians from the Non-Producing Regions against further funding of the oil region is that the leaders of the oil region cannot account for all the funds that have been allocated to the region through the Federation Account. They point out that the oil producing states receive a larger share of the Federation Account, yet, little infrastructural development takes place in the oil region. Likewise, they point out that despite the large shares that the oil producing states receive from the Federation Account, the lives of the citizens in the oil region have shown little or no improvement. Based on this perception, they insist that there is no need to send more money to the region since the political leaders of the oil region have not been able to demonstrate to the world with concrete evidence of what they have done with the funds. In fact, when the current Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu said “there is nothing on the ground to justify the over the $40 billion that has been accrued to the Niger Delta region in the past 12 years through various intervention agencies,”(Idowu, 2016, August 27) many Nigerians from the Non-Oil Producing Regions as well as some from the Oil Producing Region concurred. The problem is that Nigerians are regularly told through the media about how much money that have been allocated to the oil region through the Federation Account and other sources of funding but the politics involved in the allocation and spending of the funds are never explained to the public. This is why many Nigerians have a distorted view of the situation. Hence, the view that the political leaders of the oil region are very corrupt. Indeed, some of the leaders are very corrupt but they are not more corrupted than political leaders in other parts of the country. Actually, the corrupt elements in the oil region actually learn the trade from those who wield power in the nation.
It might be necessary to pinpoint some of the reasons why funds allocated to the oil region rarely make impact on infrastructural development and the socioeconomic status of the masses in the region. (1) It is the national political power wielders who control the military and political parties that determine who becomes a governor or a senator or a representative in the oil region. Any individual who does not dance to the musical tune of the power-wielders cannot succeed as an elected official in the oil region. This means that it is powerful individuals outside the oil region that actually determine who rules the states in the oil region. (2) In order to succeed as a governor or a senator or a representative, an individual must make a deal with the powerful individuals in Abuja or elsewhere on what he or she will do to return the favor to those who anointed him or her. Quite often, the deal involves giving out generous contracts or donating large sums of money to the political godfathers and godmother who made it possible for the individual to become an elected official. (3) Since 1999, governors from the oil region have been pressured to shoulder a large proportion of presidential campaign funding. Thus, donating large sums of money for presidential campaigns drastically affects the ability of the states to carry out major infrastructural development projects in the oil region. It is not a coincident that whenever presidential election time approaches, presidential candidates always visit the Oil Producing States to beg for money to finance their campaigns. This partially contributes to the reason why there is nothing to show for the $40 billion that have been allocated in the past 12 years. (4) Nigeria tends to allocate large sums of money to the oil region only when the youths threaten to stop the flow of oil. This means that Nigeria does not take the oil region into serious consideration before preparing its budget. It simply reacts to the threat of oil stoppage by pumping money to the oil region without carefully planning what to do. This leads to massive embezzlement of funds by political tycoons on the ground in the oil region and those in Abuja who want a share of the money allocated. (5) Moreover, it is not enough to rely merely on a parastatal agency to develop a region that has been neglected by Nigeria since independence. Quite often, the parastatal agency is a treated as a financial and political football by those who wield power. In other parts of the country, the Federal Government is directly involved in infrastructural developmental activities while in the oil region, Nigerians expect a mere parastatal agency to carry out all the activities needed to develop the region.
In a nutshell, a large proportion of the funds that are allocated to the oil producing region are recycled back to Abuja political godfathers and godmothers through generous contracts, donations to presidential campaigns and support for pet projects of the power-wielders. By the time the funds are shared between the Abuja political tycoons and those in the oil region, very little is left to cater to the needs of the masses and the communities in the oil region. It should also be noted that while the Federal Government always publicize the amounts of funds allocated to the oil producing states, it rarely announces the financial figures that are allocated to local governments throughout the 36 states of the country. There are fewer local governments in the Oil Producing Region compared to the number of local governments in the Non-Oil Producing Regions. Evidently, when the amounts allocated to the states are compared with the amounts allocated to the local governments, it becomes obvious that the Oil Producing Region is actually not getting much. States like Kano and Jigawa have as many local governments as three or four of the oil producing states. In fact, local governments in Kano and Jigawa States receive more funding from the Federal Government than the local governments in Lagos State, even though Jigawa was part of Kano State and Lagos State has a higher population.
Obviously, the difference between the lives of those who own oil blocks and those who own the oil territory and bear the brunt of oil and gas exploration is like night and day. Those who own oil blocks and their families smile to the banks and those who live in the oil region and bear the brunt of oil and gas exploration struggle daily to breathe. Those who own oil blocks tend to believe that they have a right to exploit the oil wealth while those in the oil region are getting hungrier and hungrier. Those who own oil blocks are counting their millions and billions while those who live in the oil region are getting poorer and poorer. While those who own oil blocks go overseas for medical treatment, a vast majority of those who live in the oil region are too poor to go anywhere and are getting sicker and sicker. While children of the oil block owners are born with less medical afflictions, an increasing number of children in the oil region are being born with serious medical problems, including stunted growth due to pollution emanating from oil and gas exploration. The children of the oil block owners attend some of the most prestigious universities in the world, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Sobbonne and so on and so forth, while most children of those who own the territory in which the oil blocks are located attend mostly Nigerian universities, except when they are on scholarship.
In Nigeria, the richest region of the country is also the poorest region of the country. The people in the oil region are forced to beg for everything even though their region produces the wealth that Nigeria relies on to run the entire country. The wealth generated from their region makes the oil companies and other Nigerians become financially endowed. The wealth generated from their region is used to develop and modernize the infrastructure in other parts of the country. The Federal Government of Nigeria finds it difficult even to spend money to rehabilitate the Lagos-Benin Road and the East-West Road. In fact, the Federal Government under President Buhari is planning to build a railway line from Kano to Daura, his hometown in Nigeria and from Daura to a city in Niger Republic, as indicated earlier. Meanwhile the people in the oil region are ignored. Due to the nature of politics in Nigeria, the Niger Delta/South-South people have no vocal voice in the National Assembly because their representatives and senators are “super minorities” in the National Assembly. Hence, their legislative proposals are easily defeated by those from the Non-Oil Producing Regions, on issues dealing with oil and gas. No wonder, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which is now PIBG, danced around in the National Assembly for over fifteen years. The bill has not been signed into law yet even now.
Not until recently did the managing director of the NNPC attempted to respond to the increasing danger of gas flaring by announcing a three-pronged plan to stop gas flaring in the oil region, even though the NNPC is aware that the oil region is seriously threatened by acid rain and soot. In fact, the oil region is under a medical emergency situation. Vanguard reported:
According to the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, a three-point strategy is in the works to ensure that zero flare is achieved in the country withinthe next two years. … The NNPC boss explained that to end gas flaring in future, all companies must submit Field Development Plans to the Industry regulator, the Department of Petroleum Resources (2018, May 18).
While the NNPC announcement is appreciated, it is necessary to exercise caution about the seriousness of the intention. The reason for caution is prompted by the fact that such pronouncements have been made before by federal officials. Then, when the time comes to enforce the regulation, the deadline is always extended, thereby, enabling the oil companies to continue on their destructive path. Even industry experts are not convinced of Dr. Baru’s plan to end gas flaring in two years. Professor Wumi Iledare, the President of Nigerian Association for Energy Economics (NAEE) doubted the feasibility by saying:
We have the policy, we have the commercial entities that have bought into it, and we have the National Assembly that is trying to pass a law to make sure that there are investments to harness gas for economic growth and development. But it is not possible in two years… It takes years to get the bill together before they can even begin to prepare for the implementation, I think 2020 is just not realistic. Passing the bill that will make the incentives backed by the law may not come before the end of the year. How can you put together, the equipment and the projects that will bring an end to gas flare within one year? The incentives have not started to work and there is no law backing the incentives. So, there must be an act before you can set policies in terms of taxes and royalties (Pkeh, 2018, May 6).
Due to the doubtfulness of the NNPC’s intention, it is appropriate to say that Dr. Baru’s strategic plan to stop gas flaring in two years is probably intended as a political ploy to garner support for the current administration in the coming presidential election of 2019 in the oil region. This view is guided by the fact that a two-year plan to end gas flaring coincides with the elections of 2019. If he is really serious, he would have taken an official trip to the oil region to see the situation regarding oil pollution, gas flaring and the resultant acid rain and soot. He would have taken a trip to the region to speak to the leaders and citizens that are bearing the brunt of the suffering. Apparently, the two-year time period that Dr. Baru promised to stop gas flaring is politically equivalent to someone saying “vote for me because I am the one that is cleaning the pollution in your territory.” In other words, if the indigenes of the oil region do not support and vote for President Buhari and the APC party, the cleaning would not take place.
The Expiration and Renewal of Oil Blocks
It is widely reported that about 51 Oil Prospecting Licenses (OPL) and Oil Mining Leases (OML) have already expired (Okere, 2017, April 25) and about 47 more will expire by 2019 (Akintayo, 2016, September 20). This provides an excellent opportunity for the Federal Government to amend its behavior in the way it awards oil blocks in the country. The citizens of the oil region are watching to see whether the national government, through the NNPC, will renew those licenses that were awarded clandestinely to a selected few in the country. This is why the Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators wrote a letter to President Buhari asking:
For a re-distribution of all expired Oil Mining Licenses and Oil Prospecting Licenses earlier allocated to companies and individuals… The agitators suggested that 13 of the 49 oil blocs be reserved for the Niger Delta states, companies and individuals while the remaining 36 be opened to other states and security in the oil-rich region and for smooth oil prospecting activities (Adetayo, 2018, May 17).
If the national government renews the licenses without making adjustment to ensure regional equity in oil block ownership, then it would mean that President Buhari is not serious about the anti-corruption war he promised. It would also mean that the national government does not care about the feelings of Nigerians in the oil region. Indeed, it is a contradiction to say that oil and gas are national resources and then award individuals the right to own oil stocks while the communities in which the oil blocks are located end up with nothing.
Determining the Outcome of the Arguments
Having elaborated on the issues pertaining to oil block ownership, the special relationship between the oil companies and the Nigerian elites that control and manipulate the oil and gas industry, the massive pollution due to oil and gas flaring and the suffering that is going on in the oil region, it is now necessary to determine the outcome of the arguments raised.
In reference to the first argument “that the difference between the quality of life of those Nigerians who own oil blocks and those who bear the brunt of oil and gas exploration is like night and day,” the evidence is irrefutable. The citizens in the oil region are getting poorer and sicker by the day due to lack of employment, increasing hunger as food resources diminish, massive pollution and national neglect. Okhumode H. Yakubu, in his study titled “Particle (soot) Pollution in Port Harcourt Rivers State, Nigeria –Double Air Pollution Burden? Understanding and Tackling Environmental Public Health Impacts (2017, December 24) cited a research study conducted by A. N. Nwachukwu, E. O. Chukwuocha and O. A. Igbudu, who found out that the “levels of all the criteria air pollutants in Rivers State was significantly higher than the WHO specification. They determined that air pollution was associated with air related morbidities and mortalities.” He also cited a study conducted by A. R. Godson, M. K. Sridhar and E. A. Bamigboye which found that there is a “strong relationship between air pollutants, including PM with morbidities, such as respiratory diseases, traumatic skin outgrowth, and child deformities”. Meanwhile, oil block owners are getting richer and more powerful financially and politically. In addition, the Vanguard report, as quoted above, clearly indicates that the citizens of the oil region are getting sicker and poorer.
In reference to the second argument “that the difference between the quality of life of those who own oil blocks and those who bear the brunt of oil and gas exploration is due to the fact that Nigerian political, military and business elites from the Non-Oil Producing regions control and manipulate public policy on oil and gas exploration and production in Nigeria,” the fact that Nigeria has largely been ruled by military and political leaders from the Non-Oil Producing Regions, particularly the Islamic North, is irrefutable. Moreover, since more than 80 percent of Nigerians who own oil blocks are from the Non-Oil Producing Regions (Ojiabor & Onogu, 2013, March 6), this indicates that those who control the oil blocks are living a very luxurious lifestyle while a vast majority of those who own the lands and bear the brunt of the effects of oil and gas exploration are suffering immeasurably, is irrefutable.
In reference to the third argument “that due to massive pollution and gas flaring, the oil region has reached a critical point, as acid rain and soot begin to fall from the sky, thereby, threatening the existence of the people and the environment,” the fact that many parts of the oil region are experiencing acid rain and soot are a clear indication that the region has reached a critical point. Likewise, since the rivers, lakes and creeks are polluted, fish is becoming a scarce commodity. In addition, due to gas flaring and oil pollution, the farms are yielding less agricultural products. This is in addition to the fact that there is scarcely a safe drinking water anymore. The combination of these factors indicate that the people of the oil region and the environment are threatened. This observation is also backed by Vanguard’s reports titled “Anger in Southern Nigeria over oil spill clean-up delay (2017, June 22) and “Pain, tears of oil exploitation: Gas flare, acid rain still haunt Niger Delta (Amaize & Onuegbu, 2018, April 6). In addition, the research study by Akhumode H. Yakubu, (2017, December 24) shows that the Niger Delta/South-South is now a health danger zone.
In reference to the fourth argument “since the oil region has a reached a critical point, it is time for the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency,” there is no doubt the Niger Delta/South-South region requires an immediate proactive national action to prevent a potential disaster that could irreparable harm the people and the environment. The facts cited above support the need for an emergency action. The looming danger also compelled Dr. Vincent Weli of the University of Port Harcourt to call upon the Federal Government to “declare a state of emergency” (Vanguard, 2018, May 31). If the Federal Government fails to do so, then, it must stop further oil exploration. The NNPC should stop behaving as if oil and gas are more important than the people who are suffering, suffocating, starving and dying from petroleum exploration.
It is necessary to end this article by making some suggestions that might alleviate pollution, poverty, suffering and diseases that are wrecking the oil region:
- The Federal Government must stop distributing oil blocks to individuals. However, if the Federal Government decides to continue the practice of awarding oil blocks to individuals and companies that are owned by individuals who have political connections, then, it must share the blocks in a manner that benefits all regions of the country.
- For decades of their generosity, the oil producing states deserve three or four oil blocks each, even before individuals are considered for oil block awards.
- Due to the critical health situation in the oil region, the Federal Government should immediately declare a medical emergency in the Niger Delta/South-South region.
- It should set up a medical program for monitoring and treating people with oil and gas pollution-related health issues.
- The Federal Government must start immediately to institute a regime for cleaning the oil environment. There is no more time to procrastinate. Baru’s plan to reduce gas-flaring is not encouraging since immediate action is needed.
- The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIBG) must contain a budgetary allocation of at least 10% to compensate host communities for decades of suffering and violation of their human and economic rights. If the president really cares about the lives of the people in the oil region, he should quickly sign the PIBG when the bill arrives on his desk. This bill has dragged on for too long.
- It is absolutely critical to restructure the country so that states can make substantive economic decisions that benefit their citizens without waiting helplessly for the Federal Government to give them financial hand-outs through the oil wealth.
- Part of the discourse on the restructuring of Nigeria must include the principle of derivation. It is time for the oil producing states to have control over the exploration and management of oil and gas in Nigeria. The reason is that nationalization of resources leads to undue politicization, excessive corruption, inefficiency and drags the country down. Moreover, it is unfair for states that have gold, tin, gypsum, columbite and other minerals in their territories to be able to enter into contractual agreements with mining companies to mine those minerals while oil producing states cannot do so.
- Nigerians must know that the people in the oil-producing region have exhausted their patience as their survival now hangs in the balance. Gas flaring and oil pollution have turned the Niger Delta/South-South into a living hell.
- Stop blaming the oil region for problems emanating from nationalization that encourages corruption, mismanagement, and underdevelopment of the oil region.
- The situation is critical because oil and gas pollution is destroying the environment and killing the people.
- If the NNPC does not develop a proactive pollution cleaning program to clean the oil region, it must stop further oil and gas exploration. It is unethical and immoral to take from the land without putting anything back in return in the form of environmental rehabilitation.
- The Federal Government must be directly involved in the development of the oil region and not rely merely on four-lettered parastatal agencies to do so. It is an open secret that the Federal Government is directly involved in the infrastructural development of other parts of the country through the federal ministries
- If the Federal Government is not willing to engage in a proactive pollution reduction activity to clean the oil region, then it must hand over the right of ownership of oil and gas resources to the oil producing states.
- No state governor in the oil region should agree to sponsor presidential election campaigns by using state funds anymore. It is well known that since 1999, the oil producing states have been greatly responsible for coughing out huge sums of funds to sponsor presidential campaigns. Such funds should be used to create programs that directly benefit the citizens of the oil producing region. The citizens of the oil region must watch and put pressure on their elected governors from donating public funds for presidential campaigns.
- Since nationalization of oil and gas resources has resulted in the marginalization and deprivation of the citizens of the oil region, no representative or senator or governor in the oil region should support the Federal Government’s effort to nationalize water in the country.
It is obvious that acid rain, soot, and other dangerous pollutants have saturated the Niger Delta/South-South region. As a result, the people and the environment are paying dearly for oil and gas exploration. This means that it is time the Federal Government becomes very serious in taking active measures to clean the environment. If it is not willing to do so, then, it must stop the exploitation of the resources to save the people and the region from an impending catastrophe. The notion that citizens who own oil and gas resources must sacrifice to the point of death while those who have political connections can inherit the wealth is no longer tolerable. If Nigerians from the Non-Oil producing Regions continue to insist that oil and gas are national resources, then, they must put pressure on the Federal Government to start cleaning the oil region immediately.
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