By Sunny Awhefeada
THE Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, manifests ambivalence in its dealings with the people of the Niger Delta region where it has explored and exploited crude oil for six decades beginning in 1956 when it struck fortune in Oloibiri. Shell (as SPDC) is generally and sometimes fondly called among the people of the Niger Delta region has become a significant index in the consciousness of the people. Shell registered its presence in many communities where it found oil and turned their fortunes around for good or for ill, but more of the later. Shell lubricated the economy of capitalist Europe, but turned our homelands, from Oloibiri to Olomoro, Ogoni to Ugono, Uzere to Evwreni, and many more into empty shells. However, as part of Shell’s ambivalent manifestation of fortune and misfortune, it also had a salutary effect on the region by way of boosting the local economy, creating new jobs and accelerating urbanisation.
Shell had significant presence in Warri where its headquarters of Western operations was located. By 2013, Shell closed shop in Warri due to intrigues and manipulations as well as the company’s propensity for duplicity. It set in motion a process of divestment. Its reasons for ditching Warri were anchored on the facile claim of insecurity and drying up of oil wells. But it has now come to the fore that vested interests who eventually became undertakers and inheritors of what was left of Shell actually manipulated the company’s exit. In spite of the people’s ambivalent experience with Shell, they didn’t want it to leave. Thus, after its stealthy and eventual exit, the people protested, requesting that it should return.
The people’s clamour for Shell’s return derives from the economic benefit which its operation generated. Shell actually made Warri and its environ boom. Besides, Shell’s direct staff, are many indigenes and non-indigenes that were gainfully employed by oil servicing firms and contractors providing ancillary services. Other human activities and businesses sprang up around the area and the city oscillated between boom and burst. Shell’s presence also engendered a multicultural and international ambience in Warri as among its workers are Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, Esan, Bini and foreign nationalities.
Then Shell left in 2013. Sometime in 2017, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, directed all oil companies operating in the Niger Delta to relocate their headquarters to the region. The people saw that intervention as a wakeup call to hasten Shell’s return to Warri. As if to reinforce their intention the Federal House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) requested that stakeholders should send in memorandum regarding Shell’s relocation to Warri. The development was applauded by all people of goodwill, and responses calling for Shell’s return to Warri were clamorous. Individuals, NGOs, ethnic nationalities, government among other stakeholders sent in memorandum that coalesced in one request, which is bring back Shell to Warri.
Unfortunately, a few elements, of Isoko, Ijaw and Itsekiri provenance, guided by ulterior motives, trod the path of subversion and published an advertorial at page 29 in the Vanguard newspaper of Wednesday, December 5, 2018. The crux of their self-serving intervention was that it was not possible for Shell to relocate to Warri. The three signatories turned themselves into Shell’s advocates and made unverifiable and untenable statements which made the people of Delta State to recoil.
Posturing as if they had the mandate of their ethnic nationalities, the three signatories struggled hard to entrench sophistry. The conclusion reached by many readers was that the trio was doing the bidding of Shell. The advertorial adumbrates Shell as Esau’s hand and the trio as Jacob’s voice. Shell was the one paying the piper and dictating the tune of the said advertorial. It should be emphasized that the authors of the advertorial spoke for themselves and not the ethnic nationalities they purport to represent.
Perceptive observers easily decipher the hand of SPDC as the manipulator of those who signed the advertorial. This stratagem is not new. SPDC used it in fanning the embers of discord and creating disunity among similar and different groups in time past. It did it in Ogoni, it did it in Evwreni, Oleh and Olomoro and in many other places by setting the people up against one another. Those who signed the advertorial should interrogate the past and retrace their steps. They should not mortgage the interest of their people over a mess of pottage Shell is throwing at them with derision. They should gauge the mood of the moment which is anchored on the consensus that Shell should return to Warri.
The SPDC should stop the hanky-panky of setting people against one another. Shell should return to Warri at the earliest possible time. This is the position of majority of the stakeholders. The ambience is favorable for Shell’s return. And when it does it should implement the best practices inherent in the oil industry all over the world. It should open a new page devoid of exploitation and despoliation. It should embark on the remediation of the environment and take on a number of corporate social responsibilities.