THE 2010 Nigeria oil and gas conference/exhibition which ended last week in Abuja threw up some key issues that would dominate debate on both the political and the oil and gas arena for some time to come.
While discussions surrounding the pending Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) elicited interested exchanges between the international Oil Companies and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the community development session elicited so much passion from discussants, with some calling for dismemberment of the country.
The most exciting session of the whole event was a discourse on the Niger Delta region. Two out of the nine governors of the region were on ground. The session was chaired by a journalist from the British Broadcasting Corporation and an author, John Simpson. The panelists were governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state, governor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa state, Donu Kogbara, Philip Chukwu, Ledum Mitee, Anita Omoile and Tony Attah
Donu was the first to speak. She called for a situation where the region would exercise more control over the oil resource. She said the region was disposed to sharing the oil with other zones of the country but it should be allowed to exercise control over the oil. Anything short of this; the region would not hesitate to secede.
Donu later made herself clearer after reactions from some of the panelists to her position on cessation. She said she was not against the region sharing the oil resource with other zones of the country but she was against domination of these zones â€œwho have no more rightâ€
In his comment, Bar Ledum Mitee who is president of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) said he shared the sentiments expressed by Donu. Nevertheless,Â Â he pleaded with the government to take steps that will steer the country away from the path of violence.
â€œIf I say we are close to being another Somalia unless we take steps to avert it, I will not be an alarmist. We should design programmes to carry the people alongâ€. He urged government to make the people be part of the process of driving its post amnesty programme in the region. â€œWe want to see a programme that is driven by the peopleâ€.
Philip Chukwu, Group Executive Director Exploration and Production, NNPC, said oil firms actually made mistakes in the past in the way it went about its operations in the Niger Delta region. He said the industries failed to understand the people. They merely professionalized their operations by restricting hands to only Geologists, engineers etc.
They never saw need for Sociologist that would come up with issues like knowing the people of the area. He said the amnesty which has brought peace to the region should be seen as a milestone in the history of the region. â€œWithin three months the oil industry recorded about twenty five percent rise in production â€œ
He said the oil industry had come with an arrangement that would work within the post amnesty programme. The committee would address challenges of youths in the region with a view to raising credible leaders from the area for the country.
On his part, governor Timipre Sylva said actually the oil companies when they resumed operation in the region they did not take the feelings and needs of the people into consideration. He was happy with the peace the amnesty has brought to the area. Adding, he said the federal government should regionalize the post amnesty programme so that state governments in the region could play active roles.
He also called for governments, oil companies and other stakeholders to harmonize their development programmes for the region. This will avert the problem of unnecessary duplication of effort on the same issue, he said
Sylva said the oil industries should be seen to be doing more for the region.
But they should not do this under a common umbrella because such arrangement would weaken their commitment to the development programme.
Tony Attah, Manager Social Performance and Community Affairs of the SPDC, said a tripartite arrangement that would involve government, multinationals etc to develop the area was not a bad idea but the government should create the atmosphere to enhance production in the region. He also charged governments in the region to lead the way for others to follow
Anita Omoile, Principal, Deep Blue Energy Services, toed a similar line. According to her, the problem in the region at the moment had to do with inability to cost risk. â€œYou can’t speculate riskâ€
Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi took her quickly on this. For Amaechi, it is not only in the region that the business climate is unpredictable.
Amaechi also disagreed with call by Donu that the region should pull out of the federation if it is not allowed to exercise control over its resources. â€œI agree to fiscal federalism but we must allow the country survives. We don’t say we must keep the oil to ourselves. I always call for wholesomeness on all issuesâ€. He said governments should deal with security challenges and also address the problem of poverty which he said was largely responsible for tension and conflicts witnessed in the region.
To deal with these problems according to the governor, you have to deal with the oil economy. â€œThe oil companies are taking the oil economy to Lagos. There is no state in the country where there is no crime. You have oil and gas football in Lagos. When you continue like this you are impoverishing the peopleâ€, Amaechi said.
Amaechi also called for creation of empowerment opportunities for people of the region as a way to making the amnesty succeed. He said it should not just be all about provision of infrastructural development for the region. The poverty nature of the people should also be taken into consideration if the amnesty is to succeed, he argued.