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A presidential apology

Published by The Nation on Mon, 14 Oct 2019

By Femi MacaulayIT took the power of a protest, involving women and children, to make capologise to the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta for the Federal Governments age-long neglect of the region. Buhari, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, apologised for the bad governance responsible for the regions underdevelopment during the reopening of Oil Mining Lease (OML)-25 facility in coastal Belema in Kula Kingdom, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, on October 10, more than two years after a shocking protest had stopped activities at the site.Buhari said: We are coming here at a very good time. Just two days ago, the draft 2020 budget was presented to the National Assembly. Now that I have seen what you are going through, we are going to take this message to the members of the National Assembly, to redirect the budget to know what they are providing for you.We have been to the communities (in Kula Kingdom). I felt touched that the people were asking for schools, hospitals and potable water in 2019, after 40 years of oil and gas being taken from their soils. I scooped water from the pond that the people drink. It was smeared with crude oil.On behalf of the nation, I apologise to you. We will change for the better. We will not only build schools, hospitals and provide potable water for you; we will provide complete communities for you. We will work with the Rivers State government, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), amnesty office and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.A report said: There was also the groundbreaking of 1.5 million-litre potable water and 12-kilometre treated water reticulation project for Oko-Ama and Belema by the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari.Buharis picture captures the paradox of painful plenitude in the oil-producing region. It is inexcusable that the oil-rich area reflects not only a lack of prosperity, but also perplexing poverty. Sadly, the picture is true of not only the communities in Kula Kingdom, but also most of the communities in the region that produces the countrys oil wealth. Buharis apology and promise will be meaningful when they translate into action.The Belema flow station had been occupied by residents of the Belema and Offoin-Ama communities since August 11, 2017. At the time, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), in a statement, said it had carried out an emergency shutdown of production ahead of the illegal occupation but has been unable to access the facilities since then to ensure a safe shutdown over a prolonged period. The continued illegal occupation for several days exposes people at the plant to higher safety risks, as anything could trigger a spill or fire with potentially serious consequences.SDPC added that it remained committed to the development of the Niger Delta, especially host communities including Belema and Kula. The SPDC JV partners have contributed $29b to the economic growth of Nigeria between 2012 and 2016. Before the disruption, the Belema flow station produced about 35 barrels of crude oil per day.The protesters, who occupied the facility for more than two years, had suffered neglect for too long to be bothered about the safety issues raised by SDPC. Their decision to occupy the facility and disrupt normal activities there showed that they were desperate to get the attention of the authorities. In a move to resolve the problem, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, had visited the facility last month. A report said he pleaded with the women to return to their various homes with an assurance that their requests would be addressed.The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) Chairman, Chief Edwin Clark, who was represented by his deputy, Dr. Godknows Igali, said during the reopening of the facility:When the Group Managing Director of NNPC came here on September 28, he promised to grant all your requests, with steps now being taken to fulfill the promises. We are all winners. We have, by this struggle of the past two years, redefined the struggle for resource control.The first commercial oil discovery in the country happened in Oloibiri in present-day Bayelsa State, in 1956; and the first oil field began production in 1958. More than six decades later, the story of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta has not changed, and will not change unless there is a change in the thinking of the political players who can cause changes to happen.Nigeria is said to produce about 2.5 million barrels of crude oil daily. The country is the largest producer of oil in Africa and sixth largest in the world. The countrys oil-producing states are: Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ondo, Edo, Imo and Abia. The first four states account for 80% of the crude oil produced. This explains why members of the underdeveloped host communities at the centre of the occupation of the oil facility in Rivers State feel shortchanged.Ironically, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) may well be among those responsible for the regions underdevelopment. The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, was quoted as saying: Let us be clear on this, it will not be business as usual; it will be business unusual as the present leadership would not tolerate persistent underdevelopment of the region. We have become a laughing stock as people now say we (Niger Deltans) are the ones responsible for the underdevelopment of the region. The NDDC is seen as a conduit for empowering the pockets of politicians and hangers-on. We will not do things the way we used to do it. The minister will exercise the powers of the President, not just to supervise the NDDC, but to control its affairs.Akpabio lamented that for over 20 years, NDDC could not complete its headquarters. It is disheartening NDDC has been paying over N200 million every year as rentIt is shameful that in the nine states of the Niger Delta, NDDC failed to have one legacy project, such as a specialist hospital.It remains to be seen whether President Buharis apologetic intervention will change the Niger Deltas underdevelopment.
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