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Living with oil and gas: A local perspective

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It might seem somewhat disingenuous to begin a review of a book by quarrelling with the appropriateness of its title but in this case the issue is at the heart of the impact and content of the work. While the above credited title sounds like that of a professional report the work is actually the dramatic recounting of a saga of neglect and disenchantment generated by the impact of hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation on a pristine traditional environment.

To this end a more graphically definitive title, such as Crisis Of Neglect: How Oil and Gas Exploitation Enriched Nigeria and Impoverished Bayelsa State, would have been more accurate, and would certainly attract more attention to the very vital issue of the developmental betrayal of the people of the host communities of Nigeria’s booming petroleum industry. In the Preface to the work written by the author and the Foreword written by Hon. Fred Agbedi, a politician from the area, it is made plain that the enlightenment of a broad cross section of the public about the plight of these communities is the major purpose for producing the work. It is therefore a work of militant advocacy and should be presented and appreciated as such.

There is no doubt that the author undertook the very painstaking task of researching into the technical and professional parameters of the oil and gas industry with particular emphasis on how it commenced in the pioneering territorial locations that are situated in Ogbia Local Government Area and then extended to the rest of Bayelsa State. This territory and its people have borne witness to the effects and consequences of oil and gas exploitation for more than six decades. The narration of their experience is related with profound, although at times repetitious, disenchantment and even anger by the author who is clearly not just an observer but definitely a member of the victimised communities.

From this perspective it is not surprising that the book might be regarded as a collation of subjective commentaries on the conditions that exist in host communities throughout the Niger Delta even while it focuses on the communities of Bayelsa State. Viewed from this angle the introduction of some sections that endeavour to give detailed technical explanations of the operations of the oil and gas industry appear to be almost unnecessary and redundant since the bulk of the work focuses on the social impact of the industry rather than on its technological profile.

The technological focus makes sense however when the author discusses the environmental impact and irregularities in the conduct of the multinationals and other companies that are engaged in the industry. With convincing evidence and careful marshalling of facts Stanley proves that the general trend of oil and gas exploitation in the Niger Delta as a whole, and in Bayelsa State in particular, has been inimical to the welfare and interests of the indigenous people. He builds a case in favour of the protests and advocacy of dissident sentiments that gave rise to the famous Kaiama Declaration and which have since fuelled sporadic insurgency throughout the region.

In building this case his exposition of, and dramatic reportage about, major oil spills and other environmental disasters provide convincing justification for the plethora of complaints that have gradually metamorphosed into an outright rebellion of the youth of the Niger Delta. This issue is expanded by the author to examine and question the Federal Government’s complicity in the misconduct that has become commonplace in the commercial exploitation of the industry. Out of discussions of this issue major considerations of the way forward for the development of the state and the region arise.

The most unique aspect of this work in the context of its format is the inclusion of informative political and historical data about the peculiar circumstances that have provoked crises between oil and gas exploiters and the host communities in the territory. The author also profiles some personalities who have played roles in advocating a transformative domestic agenda for relations between the oil and gas industry and the people of Bayelsa State.

These editorial interventions give the work a unique flavour of local concern that serves to make the relevance of antagonism against the oil companies and the Federal government among the people not only comprehensible but also excusable. This aspect of the work vindicates the message delivered by Ambassador Boladei Igali, a former Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government in launching it. Ambassador Igali asserted that deliberate and studied analysis of the conditions surrounding the exploitation of resources in the communities of the Niger Delta will provide solutions to the problems of the area, whereas violent confrontation generated either by the aggrieved people or by the exploiting authorities will only serve to aggravate those problems.

It is important for anyone reading this work to be warned that even though it is legibly printed and expertly designed it is definitely a product of local circumstance and a number of unfortunate editorial and production glitches will be encountered. Once the reader makes the effort to overcome these obstacles though this work provides a rewarding glimpse into what the ordinary people of Bayelsa State in particular, and by extension the Niger Delta as a whole, have suffered for being the historical inhabitants of the territory from which Nigeria’s vast hydrocarbon wealth has been extracted for decades.


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