Although the federal government recently directed the oil majors in Nigeriato relocate their centre of operations to the Niger Delta, theorder is yet to be obeyed as most of the companies still have their headquarters in Abuja and Lagos.
YemiOsinbajo who acted as the President when Muhammed Buhari travelled to London on medicalvacation had directed the International Oil Companies (IOC’s) operating in the Niger-Delta region to relocate their headquarters to States of operation to mitigate tension in host communities.
Osinbajo, gave the directive at a Town Hall meeting in Uyo, AkwaIbom State capital during continuation of his visit to the region to dialogue with stakeholders. He urged the Minister of State, Petroleum,IbeKachikwu to begin the process of engaging the IOC’s on the way forward to actualize the directive.
But aside Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited (SPDC)that relocated its headquarters to the Niger Delta, even before the federal government’s instruction, other oil majors like Exxon Mobil and Chevron are yet to do so, fueling concerns that they may never heed the directive.
Before militant agitations took feverish dimension, all the oil majors had full administrative presence in the Niger Delta. The indigenes however have felt cheated and marginalized in spite of how rich they were in oil, Nigeria’s economic mainstay. This provoked occasional tension in the region until it went full blasts. From AdakaBoro to Ken Saro-Wiwa, to the activism of the Fourth Republic resource control governors, the Niger Delta activists had made the atmosphere tensed and had always put the oil companies on edge before they finally exited.
When the Muhammed Buhari government came into office, it saw the militants that have grown in leaps and bounds as nuisance.
Rather than appease the malcontent that were blowing oil wells and pipelines that led the economy slide, the government became stand offish, creating a deep gully which saw the economy bleed profusely.
The more the government threatened to decimate them, the more dangerous they became and even dared the military. The militants believed that the administration has failed to keep up with the agreements reached with previous government as it concerned the region.
They accused the government of discontinuing the amnesty programme, which the government later denied. The government was also accused of harassing communities and indigenes of the Niger Delta as well as shutting out the region from the decision making process.
In order to get the federal government to do their bidding, several Niger Delta militant groups re-grouped and launched numerous attacks on oil installations in the region, sabotaging exploration activities as well as supply of crude and gas. The crisis coupled with the sharp drop of the price of oil in the global market, largely contributed to the Nigerian economy entering its worst period in history.
Although the government initially resorted to using the military to stop the crisis, it has since embraced the use of dialogue and has engaged stakeholders from the region in several high level meetings and discussions in order to find a peaceful solution. This has led to a ceasefire agreement on all sides.
In pursuance of the peace process, one of the demands the Niger Delta stakeholders made to the federal government was that it should ask all oil companies to relocate their headquarters to the Niger Delta region.
The question now is, will the oil majors act on the government directive?Efforts to get these oil majors to set a time line to their relocation has proved abortive as they have remained evasive.
Recently the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) asked the Presidency to enforce the relocation order on the multinationals.
President of MOSOP, LegborsiPyagbara, said that the presidential directive was one of the key demands of the people of the Niger Delta as espoused by the Pan-Niger Delta Forum leaders when they met with President Muhammadu Buhari last November.
Pyagbara stressed that government needs to ensure full compliance to this directive within a given time-frame. He also advocated that opportunities should be given to qualified persons with requisite skills from the Niger Delta to head some of these companies.
Also the Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC)tasked the government to take definite steps to get the oil majors to relocate their headquarters to the region.
The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said the directive should translate into a policy direction with a definite timeline of implementation.
They urged the government to go beyond mere statement to get the oil majors to comply.
Generally, there is groundswell of support for the relocation order in the region. The Ijaw Professionals Association (IPA) said it would ensure a lasting peace in the region.
Chairman of its Board of Trustees (BOT), Maj.-Gen. Paul Alaowei-Toun; President of Homeland Chapter (Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States), Iniruo Wills; and President of Lagos Chapter, ElayeOtrofanowei; described the directive as the strongest signal in many years that the Federal Government had sincerely begun to address the age-old challenges of the Niger Delta region from the roots, rather than the usual cosmetic approach of trying to dust off the symptoms on the surface.
It said: “The presidential directive answers one of the cardinal demands of petroleum host communities over the last half-century. For the oil producing and heavily oil-polluted communities and states in the Niger Delta, this might be the most authentic evidence of the Nigerian local content policy that was recently enacted into law but is yet to be of much practical value to our people’s lives and local economies in the region.
“Hopefully, the directive will also mark a departure from the mutually counter-productive tactics of seeking to suppress agitation and its regrettable ramifications by military might.
“Although the Federal Government’s directive, even upon complete implementation, will not be the final solution to the Niger Delta question, it will be of tremendous benefit to Nigeria and to the Niger Delta, due to the significant impact it will have on the region in terms of social and economic empowerment, restoration of the crucial peaceful atmosphere for smooth oil and gas operations and the consequent sustainability of the substantial national revenues flowing from the region and its coastal treasures,” it declared.
Among those that welcomed the directive is a Niger Delta activist, Temi Harriman. “I feel vindicated that the government has finally listened to this wise and sensible proposal that has long been coming,” she said.
While commending the administration for the initiative, she said, “When the government takes a good initiative it should be well commended, though this has long been overdue, but it is the right thing to do.”
A Niger Delta ex-militant and chairman of the Phase II Amnesty Programme beneficiaries, Salvation Ibena Rufus, said that if implemented, the directive would fast track development of the region.
Hecommended Kachikwu and Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Brig.- Gen. Paul Boroh (rtd) for their relentless efforts in ensuring the success of the new partnership between host communities, the federal government and multinational oil companies.
While it is expected that all Niger Deltans want the relocation to take place, analysts, said it may come with a cost.Some have argued that it may lead to inflation and high cost of goods and services in the region, with negative consequences for the poor and low income earners.
Also the higher level of inequality between those in the oil industry and those outside is also likely to lead to more violent crimes like kidnapping. This means that residents in those areas and the relevant governments must brace up to that possible reality and start planning how best to manage that situation, before it ensues.
Some have posited that there is need to work on the typical entitlement mentality of many people, especially the youths and ‘community leaders’ in the Niger Delta areas who would often look to the oil companies as under a duty to meet all their needs, regular and irrational, rather than look to their governments for service delivery and infrastructure provisions.
It becomes necessary that companies be made to pay all appropriate taxes due to the relevant governments and when that happens, they be freed from further unnecessary responsibilities and demands. The oil companies must also understand the role of Corporate Social Responsibility CSR) and not pretend it does not exist while handing out wishy washy aidsto the communities.
Some stakeholders believe that the directive is not automatic and that oil companies have the right to accept or reject it.
According to John Barber, a Niger Deltan based in Lagos, the government does not have any right to force the oil majors to relocate since it has to do with business decisions.
“One thing to consider in location choice of companies is funding; oil companies would like to have their head office where they could easily contact Banks for funding projects. Security situation in Niger-delta region is too volatile and no reasonable investor would site its head office in such region.
“Security situation would make them to maintain a skeletal office inthe Niger Delta and government has no right to tell them where to site their offices as private investors,” he argued.
He pointed out that while the oil companies have a right to decide where to site their headquarters, they have a compelling duty to take care of communities in their area of operation.
However, NiranOjelabi who has worked with the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) said the so called militants are restive because the companies and even the government refused to dialogue with them but preferred breaching of agreements.
“The Niger Deltans are very simple and hardworking people. Fighting for their due right is what earned them the “militant” title. With the various headquarters of the oil companies relocated back to Niger Delta, it will make it a lot easier for the companies and communities to dialogue and relate better,” he said.
He also noted that the companies should stay in the region and feel the effect of the pollution they have created over the years to enable them understand the plight of the people.