By EGUFE YAFUGBORHI, Port Harcourt
Bonny community in Rivers State is home to a Shell oil terminal and the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG. Over the course of these corporate tenants’ business of tapping crude oil and gas deposits in the shores of this tiny island, there has been established, as in most oil host communities, a love-hate relationship in which the natives repeatedly feel compelled to sack the operating companies for perceived unsatisfactory returns to the landlords.
Recently, youths of Bonny led another of these persistent protests to demonstrate the community’s frustrations over not gaining returns commensurate with their status as prime oil host community.
In the latest case, however, the community’s anger was not intended to halt Shell or the NLNG operations in the area for the commonplace cries of unemployment of natives, indifference to inadequate or failing amenities or environmental degradation by the companies.
The peaceful protest heralded by a press briefing in Port Harcourt by the umbrella of Bonny Youth Federation, BYF, was targeted at the Federal Government over alleged stalemate in the establishment of the Federal Gas Polytechnic, Bonny.
Leader of the BYF, Mr. Gift Furo Hart, lamented to Vanguard Metro, VM, that the “elasticity of patience by the people of Bonny on this matter has been overstretched to break point as we can no longer come to terms with the Federal Government on any defence it can advance for the delayed commencement of the Federal Gas Polytechnic, Bonny”.
State of the project
“We are aware that a mandate was handed to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, PTDF and the National Board on Technical Education, NBTE, to look at the requirements and harmonise responsibilities for eventual take-off of the specialised institute. Why has that objective continued to hit the brick wall?” Hart fumed.
According to the BYF leader, the Gas Technology School was conceived as the National Technical Institute for Petroleum and Gas by the government of Rivers State in year 2000 as a feeder institution to serve the NLNG middle level manpower training and development needs.
The foundation stone for the project then was consciously laid to coincide with the commissioning of the NLNG that year. In 2006, the Federal Government took over the initiative under President Olusegun Obasanjo who entrusted the project to the PTDF for completion as part of government overall plan to develop the Niger Delta.
Under incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, the Federal Government capped its interest in the project by upgrading the National Technical Institute into a full-fledged Federal Gas Polytechnic that will specialise in gas technology, alternative energy and environmental science. “The presidential decision charged the PTDF to provide funding and NBTE (technical guide) to ensure a smooth take- off of the school,” Hart explained.
The community stressed that the school, when put on stream would not only serve the interests of Bonny. Hart said: “As the immediate host, we stand to benefit a great deal. But the school is expected to train and provide career windows for all people from oil producing communities in the region, across Nigeria at large and, in no time, beyond”.
Over the determination to ensure urgent take-off of the institute, the Bonny people tasked the Federal Government to hand over custody of the ready structures and facilities at the project site to either the Bonny Kingdom Development Committee, BKDC, or a government empanelled Governing Council to oversee security and maintenance of what is already on ground. The agitated youths also expect the intended Governing Council to immediately recruit needed staff to commence academic activities, while seeing to completion of outstanding projects for the school to run fully.
“This has become imperative because a similar council set up for a similar polytechnic being developed by the PTDF in Ekowe, Bayelsa State, has helped in no small measure in resolving the teething infrastructures, administrative, community, academic and sundry challenges encountered in the establishment of that project initiated about same time as the one in Bonny by the PTDF, but is now near completion,” the youth leader emphasised.
The Bonny people are also confident that a see-for-yourself visit by the Minister of State for Education, Chief Nyesom Wike, who hails from Rivers State, would also go a long way in recharging government concern for the institution, just as they also pointed to the Ministry of Petroleum as an interested party that must intervene, in harmony with the Education Ministry, to put on stream the school as one of a kind.
Community’s disgust with poor Federal presence
The media protest over the delayed take-off of the school also afforded the aggrieved youths a chance for a general appraisal of Federal Government’s disposition to the development of the oil and gas host community. Their verdict was that: “Federal Government plays politics and treats with levity everything meant to benefit the people. There are many unfulfilled promises; the lingering construction of the Bonny/Bodo Road promised the Bonny people since the era Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s is just one among many.”
Incidentally, Gowon has been among recent high profile visitors, including former Head of Interim National Government, Earnest Shonekan, to the Bonny Island. The protesting youths were disappointed that while the former national leaders were mainly in the island to “perhaps strategise in safeguarding their interest in the delivery of coming Train Seven of the NLNG, not even Gowon was able to use the opportunity of the visit to condemn the non-completion of the Bodo/Bonny Road which he initiated but still remains a lingering subject of bad politics several years after”.
It would be recalled that Gen. Gowon during the visit stated that Nigeria has lost well over $2b from flared gas which, according to him, is wasted daily. In a rejoinder to Gowon’s statement, Mr. Furo Hart said: “The Bonny people are vexed that while the former Head of State had a firm mental picture of the Dollar value of the wasted gas, he cared less about how the flared gas affects our community, health of the people and the damage to the environment. The flared gas if well harnessed by government could support cottage industries which consequently would have been generating employment for the teeming unemployed among us.”