There is an irony in the situation of Andoni and Opobo/Nkoro local government areas of Rivers State. They are endowed with oil which should translate into petrodollars. Yet there is little or no development there. In fact, the LGAs are not connected to the national grid, forcing them to power their communities with generators.
Leaders of the Rivers LGAs accused the oil companies operating in the area and the Federal Government of being behind the plight. To uplift the LGAs, however, the leaders are organising an economic summit. The Andoni LGA chairman, Orom Ntem Ereforokuma, and his Opobo/Nkoro LGA counterpart, Maclean Bethel Uranta, as well as the chairman of Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Economic Zone Development, Emiyarei Bertram Ikuru, speak on the situation in the LGAs and the summit.
Shell, Total and Chevron operate in your LGA, you have representatives in the National Assembly and the Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, is the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF). Has the council utilised these opportunities for development, considering the fact that you have tagged the Federal Government and Shell as the worst enemies of Andoni LG?
Andoni people are proud of and very happy with Governor Amaechi. Rivers State government is constructing Unity Road to Andoni LG, not the Federal Government.
To come to Andoni LG before now, you would have experienced a lot of difficulties, but we now drive on the new road. By the grace of God, Unity Road will soon be completed. Just like the Rivers governor has done for other local governments, Andoni people also have model primary and secondary schools, new health centres and other projects.
Last week, we had a meeting with Governor Amaechi and we discussed the Andoni electricity issue. For about four months, we have had issue with allocation, with low income coming to the local government. The (former) Minister of Power, Barth Nnaji, visited Governor Amaechi. Rather than explaining what he could do for Rivers State, the minister was thanking Governor Amaechi for the good works he is doing.
The linkage to the national grid Andoni LG council is embarking upon, we prefer to be connected to the Rivers State government-owned gas turbine at Afam. It will help our people more than linking us up to the popular and normal Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) grid. Afam power plant linkage will ensure regular electricity supply.
The representative of Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Dakuku Peterside, is doing well. I am very happy having him as our representative at this time. He has exposed the two local governments he is representing to the nation and other parts of the world.
The Federal Government and Shell are my LG’s worst enemies. There is no way Shell will be taking crude oil from Andoniland and the oil company’s officials know that there is no electricity supply in Andoni LG, without doing anything.
They write their Global Memoranda of Understanding (GMoU) and do all that they want, not minding what we want. We need electricity supply, road, water and other social amenities in the LG, but the oil companies are not bothered.
We have just won 86 oil wells from Akwa Ibom State and the 86 oil wells are located behind us (the secretariat of Andoni LG at Ngo). There is no impact of the 86 oil wells, won over eight months ago. The oil wells are in addition to the ones that we have already.
The oil companies are not people-oriented. They want Andoni people to perish. They do not expect anybody to live on this land. They just want to do their businesses, make their money and go away, without developing the host communities and empowering the people. If their officials have human feeling and human kindness, they ought to do the right things. I will not change, until they change.
SPDC, Total and Chevron that operate in Andoni LGA have GMoU with the people. Why are you still expressing displeasure?
In the last six years, Shell has not paid one naira to Andoni, as a local government. When I became chairman, I called them to a meeting and the reasons they gave were flimsy; your people are fighting; your people have different representations in our company. What is due to the local government should be paid.
How can oil companies sign GMoU with Andoni people, without putting into cognizance, the government that exists in the locality? It is not possible.
Shell would want to sign GMoU with Andoni people, without putting me on notice and they would use the hall at the council’s secretariat. Have the oil company and its officials done the right things? When I complained, they then wrote and invited me to come to the hall for a meeting with Andoni people. Is it not funny? We are supposed to be partners in progress.
They sit in their offices and write anything they want as GMoU. With the GMoU they had with Andoni people, how much have they expended in the LGA? Shell claimed to have spent N33 million for Andoni people. Our people are predominantly fishermen.
In the so-called GMoU, Shell planned to establish cassava farms in Andoni. Who is ready to plant cassava with Shell? Why not help our people in deep sea fishing or modern aquaculture? Why not diversify? Why not tell our people that there are easier ways to grow the fishes, without entering into deep sea?
What do you intend to showcase at the Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Economic Zone Development Summit?
In Andoni LG, we have crude oil, diamond, gold, clay, iron and other natural resources. Investors should come. They should partner with us. Andoni LGA is very peaceful.
We are pleased with our representative in the House of Representatives, Hon. Dakuku Peterside. For the first time, he is selling us to the world. We are no longer perturbed about the Federal Government and oil companies. We are taking our destinies in our own hands. We are looking inwards. The summit will be an opportunity to tell the world about our potential in Andoni LG.
We want more oil companies – Chairman of Opobo/Nkoro LG, Maclean Bethel Uranta
How prepared is your local government for the summit and what have you to offer?
We are prepared for the summit. The aim of the summit is to showcase our potentials, which most people do not know and to use the opportunity to call for investors. It is a good thing happening to the people of Opobo/Nkoro and Andoni LGAs.
We have so many things to offer. We have crude oil and gas. Shell, Total and Chevron operate in the LGA. We are surrounded by rivers.
With the little we have done and with the help of the member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dakuku Peterside, who represents Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency, a Chinese team visited us two weeks ago to see how our rivers can be used for cage fishing. Also about three weeks ago, in collaboration with an Israeli team, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi allocated a farm to Opobo/Nkoro LG for fish farming. The clearing of the land is being done at the site at Iwokiri, just behind us (Opobo, headquarters of Opobo/Nkoro LG).
What motivated you to be building three-star hotel in Opobo?
By the vision of this administration, knowing full well that we have natural endowments all around, we decided to look into tourism. One of the things that host tourists is hotel accommodation.
Investors coming into an area for the first time, before putting up their places to carry out their activities, they need decent accommodation. In tourism, one of the best places you can use to accommodate everybody in the world is not personal houses, but hotels.
It will come a day, investors will be all over the LGA, and we decided to start the hotel project in Opobo, from the site of the former council secretariat, having built a new secretariat complex at the council’s headquarters.
How will you assess the oil companies operating in your LGA?
The oil companies (Shell, Total and Chevron) have not been treating us well. I am asking for more oil companies to come into Opobo/Nkoro LGA. One thing is sure, one day, they will pay us. If I have more companies operating in the LGA, it will also create more employment opportunities for our people and more payment to the LG council.
Right now, we are taking it up with companies that are operating in the LGA. When the oil companies came in, Opobo/Nkoro was not a local government. So, there was no opportunity for good negotiation. Today, any oil company that is coming to invest in the LGA must also speak with the LG council, for us to negotiate and plan properly, in order to empower our people. That is why I want more companies to come, because I have more products to give out.
What is the financial position of the LGA?
We spent a minimum of N13 million monthly in sustaining the security operatives that we have in Opobo/Nkoro LGA. They always ask for special allowances, because of our peculiar terrain. One needs special security personnel that can operate on the sea, not land issue.
Immediately you come to the LG, you are facing wide river. One way in, one way out. There is no road linking the LGA, for now. We all pass through the river using boats. When Governor Amaechi visited us in Opobo/Nkoro LG in a town hall meeting, we presented the issues and he promised to assist us, but we are still trying to get assistance from the governor.
Opobo/Nkoro LGA is yet to be linked to the national grid. The LG council supplies electricity to the people of the LGA through a new generator of 2,000 KVA, which Governor Amaechi gave us in 2009. In a night, at the Opobo headquarters, the generator consumes between 10 and 13 drums of diesel, depending on the number of persons in town, when they put on their appliances.
If the people are completely in darkness, communication will be difficult, as they will find it difficult to charge their mobile phones’ batteries. We run the generators as much as we can, mainly on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, except on other days, where we have special cases.
We need more assistance to develop Opobo/Nkoro LGA.
Our shoreline is long and well endowed -
Chairman of Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Economic Zone Development, Engr. Emiyarei Bertram Ikuru
What is the Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Economic Zone Development Summit all about?
The Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Economic Zone Development Summit is a platform, in the series of things we want to do. During the summit, we will bring people together to listen to the story of Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro economic zone. We are taking development to the area, to complement what the government and other development agencies have done. We are trying to build on existing structure. We want to tell the world our own story. We want to make the world know what we stand for and the issues confronting us.
Many people do not know where we are, partly because of the terrain around us, because people cannot drive to where we are. We want the world to know that we exist and we are in Rivers state, not in Akwa Ibom State or Cross River State.
There is no way we can actualise the economic potential, without development. We want to move the Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro economic zone forward.
Presently, Andoni and Opobo/Nkoro remain the only local governments in Rivers State that are not fully accessible by road. We thank God for Unity Road. Right now, we can drive to Nkoro, Kalibiama, Asarama and others, but the two local governments’ headquarters are not accessible by road. Ngo, the headquarters of Andoni LG; Ikuru, another major town in Andoni LG; Opobo, the headquarters of Opobo/Nkoro LG and the Atlantic shore cannot be reached by road.
What do you have in the Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro economic zone?
Our shoreline is long and well endowed. Whereas, if you look at the shorelines of Lagos, they are receding, because the Atlantic Ocean is eroding the shorelines. The things being eroded in Lagos and other places are being deposited in our area.
We have calm water and we also have Oyokoto fishing port, which some people describe as the largest in West Africa. The Oyokoto fishing port is very large and direct to the Atlantic Ocean. You do not need to go far. Fishing trawlers, with a good cold room at Oyokoto and access road, the area will be transformed.
We also have oil and gas, with Shell, Total and Chevron operating in our area. From the work we did in the technical sub-committee, we have clay, elephants’ sanctuary and other natural endowments in a peaceful zone.
Why are there no Federal Government projects in the zone?
There are no Federal Government’s projects in Andoni and Opobo/Nkoro LGAs of Rivers State because people do not go there. People fear water a lot. That is why the summit wants to put the area on the map of Nigeria and on the world map, for people to know who we are, what we are and the handicap we are having. Because we have not taken time to develop a road map, there is no basis of engagement.