As part of the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s consultations with stakeholders in the Niger Delta, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was in Akwa Ibom State and, in keeping with what this newspaper has consistently advocated for years, ordered all major oil companies to relocate their headquarters to the neglected region.
This is a good development, after such a long time of its desirability. It is, therefore, a policy directive that should be carried out with utmost vigour, sincerity and a sense of urgency. Peace in the Niger Delta is synonymous with peace and security in the country and an execution of this directive will be one major step towards an enabling environment for Nigeria’s greater prosperity.
Soon after the discovery of oil in Oloibiri in 1958, the Niger Delta became host to major oil prospecting firms. Through the years, whereas exploration and extraction were carried out in the interior of the region, the major oil firms maintained their headquarters in Lagos and Abuja.
The effect was that these multinationals became insensitive to the ecological and human disaster that exploration created for the oil-bearing communities. To make matters worse, even their middle level workers insultingly hopped in and out of the region indicating that management and middle level staff had no obligations whatsoever to the communities. It did not take long before the people of the region became restive. The many years of neglect had taken its toll and the people thought enough was enough. Given this insensitivity of the oil companies and the neglect of the people by the Nigerian state, the rise of militancy in the Niger Delta was inevitable. And it has been relentlessly violent.
In spite of many years of extracting billions of dollars worth of crude oil from the soil of the region, there is virtually nothing to show in return. The social and economic conditions of the Niger Delta are simply appalling. Apart from poor infrastructure, the region lacks basic necessities which the wealth that had been extracted from its earth could provide. There were instances where host communities lived in years of darkness while their ‘guests’ (the oil firms) provided twenty-four hours of electricity for themselves. Aquatic life was destroyed. Farmlands were often covered with huge oil spills, and clean-ups were half-heartedly embarked upon by these firms.
It is against this background that the symbolic importance of the administration’s order to the oil firms should be appreciated. By relocating to the region, they would not only be obliged to make contributions to the economies of the host states, they would be sending the right signals to the people that they are with them. It is on record that once oil majors moved out of Warri and its environs, the economic life of that once-boisterous town went downhill. Therefore, if the oil majors move their headquarters to Warri, Port Harcourt, Uyo, Calabar, Benin and Yenagoa, they would be more sensitive to the plight of the host communities. Leadership which feels the pain of the people is usually more responsive and progressive. The state governments would also have the opportunity of dealing directly with the companies on policy formulation and implementation.
Also, the multiplier effects of their relocation will be enormous. Apart from jobs that would naturally be at the disposal of people of the region, all ancillary services would be provided by small scale businesses in the host towns. This will create employment and help reduce tension. To be sure, the oil majors would be compelled to address the imbalance in employment quota which activists and stakeholders in the Niger Delta have always complained about.
Peace in the Niger Delta is crucial to the survival of the Nigerian state. The violent attacks on pipelines and oil installations have affected the finances of the country, owing to decreased output of oil. It is instructive that the Acting President’s visits calmed nerves and created a stable environment for discussions. It is only in a peaceful environment that issues surrounding resource control can be discussed and mutually agreed on. The Federal Government should, therefore, maintain its stand on the issue of bringing peace to the Niger Delta.
To give strong backing to the order, a time frame for relocation should be given and the oil majors must act in good faith and show corporate social responsibility to the host communities.
On their part, the host communities and state governments should welcome the oil firms with open arms. They should ensure that an atmosphere of peace is truly ensured to allay the fears of the returning firms and corporations. By reining in the youths and fostering positive engagement, normalcy would return to the relationship between and among all the parties involved in the process of nation building.