Chief Thomas Ereyitomi is the House of Representatives member-elect for Warri Federal Constituency, Delta State. Ahead of the inauguration of the National Assembly on Tuesday, the Akatigbi-Ayeola of Warri Kingdom (a.k.a. Ojogbojo) and Chairman of Tomba Resources Limited, a key player in the downstream sector of the oil industry, speaks on his plans for his oil-rich Warri constituency.
How do you feel about your victory at the polls?
It is a call to serve my people and the huge votes I got in the election show that the people wanted me to represent them this time around. But I have a message for them. They should stand solidly behind me. That unity of purpose irrespective of our ethnic differences is what is going to transform Warri Federal Constituency. If we are not united, we will not move forward. On my part, I am going to relate with them and ensure that their inputs are taken into consideration in whatever we do at the House of Representatives.
You contested the election with other persons who lost. What is your message to them?
My message to them is that we should all work together as one. Take for example my predecessor, Hon. Daniel Reyenieju, I think he should share those experiences he has gathered over the years with me in order to move our constituency forward. There should not be a lacuna, government is a continuum. I am ready to continue from where he stopped. I am ready to work with and involve everyone, including Eyengho. We are all brothers. The project we have at hand today is no longer about a political party or me. After an election, partisan politics is over; what follows is politics of development. Let us all come together so that we can share ideas that can make Warri Federal Constituency great. Election is all about contest and, in every contest, a winner must emerge; and now that I have emerged, it behoves on others to join hands with me to move the constituency forward. I can’t do it alone.
Generally, when you look at the 2019 general elections which produced you, do you give INEC a pass mark?
Yes. INEC deserves a pass mark in the conduct of a credible election in my area. For instance, in my area, because I can only talk comfortably about my area where I was a key player, materials were delivered on time, elections took place peacefully and timely, collations were done timely and results were announced on time. So in terms of preparation and conduct of the elections in my area, INEC did its best because it has never been like that before. In the past, it was the day of election that you deploy materials from Ogbe-Ijoh to Escravos and other areas. But in 2019, materials left for Ogbe-Ijoh the day before election. This shows a high level of preparedness on the part of INEC and that helped in the delivery of credible election in my constituency. And because materials went early and elections were done early, we did not witness delay in the announcement of results.
What is going to be your focus in the National Assembly?
When I get to Abuja, the first thing I intend to do is to constructively engage our people because I am going there to truly represent them. I am going to take their needs and inputs to Abuja. We have a lot of abandoned projects in Warri Federal Constituency being executed by NDDC, DESOPADEC and the Federal Government. In my own little way, I will ensure that these projects are given proper attention. For example, the Koko/Ogheye road is a project that is very dear to the Itsekiri and the Ijaw. The Omadino/Escravos road is also important to our people. These are ongoing projects that are not adequately funded. So it’s necessary that these projects are adequately funded so that our areas can be opened. These are key projects that I will ensure are completed under my tenure. And I will also ensure that we have a standard Constituency Office in Warri, where our people can access me, because it is not everybody that can go to Abuja. Above all, we are going to have regular town hall meetings with all the ethnic nationalities in Warri Federal Constituency because we have the Itsekiri, the Ijaw, the Urhobos and other residents in this place and we need to get in touch with them regularly so that they too can participate in what we are doing in Abuja.
Using Warri Federal Constituency as a case study, are you satisfied with the living conditions of your people?
I am not satisfied, but that does not mean that a lot has not been done. In life, everybody wants to get the best but the best cannot come at one time. However, we will continue to improve on what we have on ground and strengthen government agencies around to ensure that the much needed development in the constituency is achieved. One of the major problems we have is the absence of multinational oil companies in Warri. They all left. And economic activities have slowed down because of internal crises that we had. These are key issues we need to address. One of the things we also want to do is to ensure that this environment is peaceful because it is only when the environment is peaceful that investors will come around and companies that left will return.
Are you going to interface with some of these companies that fled Warri to persuade them to come back?
These are some of the things we are talking about. We are going to interface with them. Take for example Chevron, they are not doing much here. Their major operations are done in Lagos and Escravos and it is not everybody that has the opportunity to go to Lagos or Escravos. Escravos is operating a close network and even Escravos residents cannot even access the facility. So to do business becomes very difficult and it is affecting Warri and so we need that engagement with Chevron. Shell still has small operations here and even NPDC doesn’t have investments here because they are operating in Benin. It does not make sense because the idea was for them to occupy all these places, but they are not doing that. So this is why we need to have an engagement with them to see how they can come back to Warri fully because if they operate here, the environment will be better for everybody.
You are a key player in the Niger Delta. Are you impressed with the performance of the NDDC so far?
No. In our area, NDDC has not done anything. Our people have not felt the impact of NDDC and this is part of the things we need to take up because the idea is that these agencies should develop oil producing communities. I will give you an example. There is this shore protection contract in Ugborodo that they have awarded several times. Today, the contractor has abandoned the project because he has not been paid. That is the only tangible project embarked upon by NDDC that the Ugborodo people can see, yet that it has been abandoned. And when you look at Delta State, the Itsekiri are the highest producers of oil and gas, followed by the Ijaw, the Urhobo and the rest. All these agitations you are seeing would not have been if NDDC was doing its work. Oil companies are being attacked because they are the only ones they are seeing. So NDDC has not done anything in our area and we are going to engage them to let know them know that they have work to do. This is one of the issues I am going to take up because the only way we are going to have peace in this area is for NDDC to do what they are supposed to do. The pressure should not go to the oil companies because the oil companies are contributing to the NDDC. The Federal Government through the supervisory ministry should be able to compel NDDC to do what they are supposed to do. They also have to look at what NDDC is doing with the funds they are releasing to them. They also need to ask the NDDC where they are doing these projects. These are the things we are supposed to do and, for us to do these, we need people who have the interest of the Niger Delta at heart to take charge of these intervention agencies. The problem we have here is lack of development. You cannot go to Abuja and come back here and be happy.
What is your advice to the youths spearheading the Niger Delta struggle?
My advice to our youths is that they need to be careful and find out other means of managing these problems so that there can be peace because if they continue to mount pressure on these companies and they leave, we are going to suffer the consequences. More of these agitations are supposed to go to the government because NDDC, for example, is an agency under government. DESOPADEC is an agency of the state government, so more of these agitations are supposed to go to government. The oil companies are doing their part, they are paying their tax, royalties and others, and they are also in partnership with the Federal Government on these projects, including the funding of NDDC and other interventionist agencies.
So you feel the oil companies on their own part are doing enough?
I think the major area the oil companies have failed our people is the area of employment. Our people need to be employed into these companies and I think they should look into this area. Apart from this, oil companies, for instance, Chevron is doing well in terms of corporate social responsibility because Chevron is funding the Global Memorandum of Understanding on yearly basis. Chevron has GMoU with about 23 communities and if you go to the communities, it is those projects initiated under the initiative that you see. I am glad to note that Shell is trying to borrow a leaf from that. But like an Oliver Twist, we are always asking for more.
Are you satisfied with the implementation of the local content law in the oil industry?
The only thing we can say about the local content law is that it has been able to discourage a lot of expatriates, who come to take our jobs. With the local content, no expatriate can come and take a contract that the local contractors can handle. But one thing it has not been able to solve is that a company in Kano and other states can come to Delta and take away contracts meant for local contractors. So in the real sense of it, the local content law has not been effective in implementation. But then a system is all about improvement and we need to improve on it. The first thing is that it has been able to keep some jobs for Nigerians to do. But deep down, we also have to ensure that it provides jobs for the locals too.