Stakeholders, communities decry poor benefits for oil-rich region
Although the Niger Delta plays host to billions of dollars in oil, gas and mining investments, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and some communities in the region have decried the poor living condition, especially the limited benefits despite yearly allocations by the government.
The stakeholders, who gathered at a Town Hall Meeting organised by Policy Alert, as part of its #WetinWeGain campaign, in a communiqué said the prevailing situation is unacceptable.
The organisation’s Programme Lead, Extractives and Open Data, Iniobong Usen, blamed the development on the secrecy surrounding decades of transactions between oil companies and the Nigerian state.
According to him, the development has led to massive corruption and loss of revenues that should otherwise have gone into improving the lives of Nigerians and the host communities in particular.
“The Niger Delta on which the Nigerian economy largely depends, yet the region continues to lag behind the national average on several development indicators,” Usen said.
He said reforms in the sector over the years, particularly the annual publication of oil, gas and mining audit reports, as well as payments to government reports by companies mandated by some of their home countries have increasingly shone the light on some of the anomalies in the sector.
“The next step is for citizens to take such data and use it to extract accountability from government and companies. We have come to your community today to put that data in your hands so that you can use it to get more benefits to your community.”
Also speaking, Executive Director, We The People, Ken Henshaw, urged participants to be interested in who does what in their community, since they are the ones suffering the adverse effect of oil pollution in the area.
He advised the communities to invoke laws enacted to protect their rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, noting that improper consultation with the community by oil and gas companies amounts to theft of community property.
Some Niger Delta indigenes at the event decried that their living conditions do not reflect the enormous resources being extracted from the area by oil and gas companies, and the huge revenues the companies pay annually to government.
Clan Head of Uquo, Obong Ete Udo Ikot, noted that the region is greatly marginalised, adding that Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) reached on community development and clean-up of oil spills areas are never honoured by the companies.
“That is why we need trust and cooperation between all the affected communities. I am happy that this information has been brought to us here today. We cannot remain silent because silence will weaken the community interest,” he said.
President of Afigh Iwaad Eket, Godwin Francis, insisted that the communities cannot deal with the challenges all on their own, and needed the support of strong civil society groups.