Feb 05, 2008

Ogoni: Changing Attitude of Oil Companies

Oil companies in the impoverished Niger Delta should engage in a more sustainable form of development that would improve the livelihood of the Ogoni people.

Oil companies should engage in a more sustainable form of development that would moreover improve the livelihood of the Ogoni people in the impoverished Niger Delta.

Below is an article written by Ejiofor Alike published by Business Day:

It has been acknowledged nationally and globally that the Niger Delta region is the most economically and environmentally impoverished region despite billions of barrels of crude oil-equivalent found in their backyards.

The campaign by globally acclaimed organisations and environmental pressure groups such as the Friends of the Earth, which has been sustained over the years, led international credence to the claims of economic depravation and environmental degradation of the oil-rich region by international oil companies (IOCs) and their national collaborators.

The clamour for international recognition of the pitiable condition of the people of the region and their natural habitat was brought to the international domain through the activities of late Ken Saro-wiwa, authour and environmentalist, whose Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) waged a relentless war against oil companies in the region.

Nigerians from other parts of the country, who could not believe Saro-Wiwa and other apostles of economic emancipation of the Niger Delta were quickly converted after a recent visit by the members of the Senate to the oil-rich but largely impoverished region.

Before this visit, which took members of the upper chamber of the National Assembly to the creeks, leaders of the area had been booed and cajoled at the various constituational conferences for demanding a better deal for a region that lays the golden egg.

In one of such conferences a northern delegate was said to have told the representatives of the Niger Delta that the country should not be held responsible for the deplorable condition of the people of the area, but God who created them and kept them in such difficult terrain.
He was said to have fur[t]her told the delegates to demand for a relocation of the people of the Niger Delta to environmentally safer areas, rather than demanding for a greater share of oil revenue.

However, with a recent visit to the area by members of the upper legislative chamber, leaders from other regions have come to appreciate the sufferings of the [Ogoni] people of the region.

Many of the senators from other parts of the country have vowed to spearhead the cause of the region in future constitutional ammendments.

Ken Saro-Wiwa-led agitation began in 1993 with peaceful Ogoni rallies, which spread to the entire region, making the then late Sani Abacha-led military junta uncomfortable.


Many international oil companies were also fingered to have taken part in sponsoring the mayhem to cause disaffection among the Ogonis.


Consequently, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leading lights of the Ogoni Kingdom were arrested, tried and sentenced to death by hanging in what was percieved in the national and international circles as a kangaroo trial facilitated by Justice Ibrahim Auta-led tribunal.
The trail and conviction coincided with a Commonwealth of Nations’ meeting holding at that period.

As soon as the tribunal delivered its controversial judgment, MOSOP sent a high-powered delegation to the meeting to seek international reprieve for the convicted men.
Many had expected the Ogoni issue to top the agenda of the meeting, in view of the high tension enveloping the country and the uncertainty over the safety and whereabouts of the Ogoni Nine.

However, the Commonwealth meeting had other issues top on its agenda, thereby relegating the Ogoni crisis to the bottom.

Expectedly, before the Ogoni issue could come up for discussion, the military junta hurriedly enforced the tribunal’s decision by hanging the convicted men, and this drew international uproar, with accusations and counter-accusations.

Many Nigerians alleged international conspiracy by accusing the Commonwealth of complicity, apparently for failing to act quickly by passing a resolution condemning the trial and calling on the Federal Military Government to spare the lives of the nine men.

Deprived of the opportunity to use an international platform to secure the release of their kinsmen, and denied of their rights to justice and fair hearing with the context of the Nigerian Federation, the Ogonis responded by sacking Shell, the major oil producer in the area.

“The Ogonis succeeded in grounding Shell activity for close to 15 years.


“People have always agitated for fairness”, said Chris Alagoa, Coordinator of the Niger Delta Peace and Security Secretariat, a coalition of civil society groups and government initiative.

Many questions are agitating the minds of observers. If man and oil can co-exist in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea for more than 40 years, why is the Niger Delta an exception?
What has the oil companies done in the past that alienated them from the people of the Niger Delta? What were they doing before that they are no longer doing in the area?

The people of the Niger Delta welcomed the oil companies with unprecedented enthusiasm in the 1950s. They conducted the expatriate oil workers and their local counterparts round the area in search of oil.

At what point in the history of oil exploration and production in the Niger Delta did the people lost confidence in the oil companies?

By and large, oil companies did not do much in the 1960s in the area of sustainable community development, apart from supporting coronations and masquerades.

Obviously, these companies did not see the need to take the lead; after all, they are not parallel governments.

Analysts believe that these companies failed to provide adequate answers to certain pertinent questions, and this landed them to where they are today.

If oil companies do not take the lead in providing social infrastructure for the people, who then are the ones investing in the communities? Who do the people always see in their communities?

The answers to these questions are not far fetched. It is the oil companies that invest in the area, not the government. It is the oil companies that are always seen by the people, not the government.

There is no doubt that it is the responsibility of the government to provide the social needs of the people, but the inhabitants of the oil-rich region are denied basic education to understand that it is not the responsibility of the oil companies to cater for their welfare needs; oil companies pay taxes to the government.

There should be a re-orientation of the oil companies to ensure that they change their attitude and relate effectively with the people. The oil companies should be encouraged by the people to implement policies and programmes that will impact on the people.

The people can do this by organising themselves in an orderly manner to enhance their bargaining power.

The government also has a role to play. It is shameful that recently, funds due to the Niger Delta were said to have expired. This type of thing cannot happen in other parts of the world. The government should release all monies due to the Niger Delta promptly.

This will engender peace and stability as well as create conducive environment for oil and gas operators in the Niger Delta region.