Oil production will change dynamics of Ogoni economy
The paramount ruler of Kpite Gbenemene Tua Tua Tai, HRH Samuel Nnee, is the spokesperson of the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers. He tells KELVIN EBIRI that after over two decades of agitation against the activities of oil multinationals, it is time to chart a new direction based on current realities. According to him, the resumption of oil production is the only way to ensure an Ogoni devoid of criminality and poverty.
What informed the support of the Ogoni chiefs’ council for the resumption of oil exploitation in the area?
From the standpoint of the Supreme Council, we believe that as fathers, our main objective or purpose is to ensure peace for our people and that our people live well in an environment devoid of criminality. Also, that our younger ones, especially, are not abused and manipulated by the political and business class, because that is what has been going on in Ogoni all these years.
We feel the time has come for a new direction. We have laid our position bare to the entire world. And as a result, oil operation was halted. For 28 years, we have contributed nothing to the economy of this country. There is no activity in the land. Ogoni people pride themselves as having the best of the best in Rivers State. Our people are educated. It is on record that the most educated tribe in Rivers State are the Ogoni, yet you don’t find us anywhere, because there is no activity in the area. Our leaders’ preoccupation is milking the system, and they will not want oil to be exploited because they use it as economic tool.
We sat down and looked at the whole thing. We know that these people will keep playing games with us. The business people want this thing to remain, so that explorers and prospecting companies will keep coming, so that they will benefit from it. You must have heard that these classes of people I am talking about are in Warsaw, Uruguay, Paraguay and the United Nations. They stay in the best hotels in the world, yet the people are dying at home. No business. For them, oil must remain in the ground because as long as it remains there, it is a good deal.
You have heard of our brothers who make noise from America, Canada and all over the world. They are living in good houses and their children are attending good schools and they are sleeping with their two eyes closed. They have no project in Ogoni, yet crime is ravaging the communities. Kidnapping, armed robbery and cultism are rife. They use the oil as a tool for their economic emancipation. The politicians want the oil to remain, so that they will use it as a bargaining tool, thereby manipulating the system.
But good leaders should not manipulate; good leaders should motivate. We felt that 28 years is time enough for us to make amends and get activities back to the land, get our youngsters engaged, so that they will become productive again, so that peace can return to the land. If you go to Ogoni, it is a dead place. You see young men wasting away. These are the things that informed our decision.
Oil is beneath our ground. And we, the royal fathers, hold the land in trust for the government. We feel we have to take a decision. And above all, the Ogoni people don’t have mining right. The right to mine, allocate blocs or field, is vested in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If we had the right, we would have been exploring our oil. If government gives the field to any local or multinational company, it is our business to interface with that organisation, reach an understanding on the way forward, and then move on. That is our position.
The Supreme Council is not interested in any company. The government, however, has expressed interest to give approval. We will agree with the Federal Government and begin to talk. Now, all the people that are making a noise, like Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, are not in any strata of the Ogoni leadership.
What is the level of deprivation in Ogoni?
Unimaginable! At the lowest ebb! Poverty can be felt and perceived in Ogoni. There is no economic activity in Ogoni. The local activity in Ogoni is local government. How many people will the four local governments employ and pay N25,000 per month. Ogoniland is poverty-stricken.
Won’t the resumption of oil production further worsen the already devastated Ogoni environment, bearing in mind that the UNEP report is yet to be implemented?
The UNEP report talked about clean up; it did not talk about compensation. The environment is supposed to be cleaned for the survival of the people, and that project is for 30 years. So, will you have to wait 30 years before you begin to think of economic activity in the area? No! That is why we are saying that they have to go side by side. We, the royal fathers, are of the opinion that the clean up and exploration should go hand in hand.
Don’t you think a reason for this slow pace of the clean up might be because we are not contributing to the economy? Could it not inform government’s non-proactivity? I am not saying they are not working. The Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) is working. The report gives the stages of work to be done, and those structures have been put in place and are being followed up. People are expecting to see the physical clean up, but I can tell you that HYPREP has started working, based on the recommendations of the report. But we think that if we are exploring and contributing to the national coffer, the speed will increase. Government needs money to do this. So, we should contribute. The idea of finishing the clean up before you start producing oil is not tenable.
Are you aware that Shell has applied for a renewal of its license for OML 11?
Of course. It is not only Ogoni fields that are in OML 11. OML 11 spans Owaza, Imo River to Etche, Omuma, Oyigbo and the Ogoni local government areas. Shell is operating in these places. What we are talking about is the Ogoni fields in OML 11. We are not talking about the fields in Oyigbo or Etche oil or Owaza oil in Abia State. Shell has a right to apply. Those are their fields. What we are talking about is the Ogoni fields, which, of course, Shell cannot operate. The Ogoni people have said no to Shell. Shell is aware of that. Our relationship broke down so many years ago and it is intractable. Shell knows that what we are talking about are the Ogoni fields. Government will renew OML 11 for them, but they will not operate Ogoni fields.
Why did the Council endorse Robomichael?
We do not have right to approve a bloc or give somebody mining right or operatorship license. Nobody should deceive you. The letter from the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) said preliminary approval has been given to Robomichael, which simply means that this people have passed the first stage of approval. And what was the condition? The condition was that there has to be a concurrence from Shell. What you saw was a letter from the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) to Shell, to tell them we have an engagement with Robomichael and we are ready to give them the Ogoni oilfield. We want you to tell us if you are comfortable with them operating those oil fields. You must do that because Shell still holds the bloc. There is difference between bloc and field. Inside the bloc, there are fields, which could be thousands. And inside that bloc, Shell has been unable to operate in over 200 fields for 28 years. It did not stop Shell from operating in other fields in the bloc.
Why is there a perception in Ogoni that Robomichael is a front for Shell?
We read and we understood that they are not a front from Shell, even when we know that the bloc still belongs to Shell. Don’t forget that government holds 55 per cent of that bloc and Shell and the joint venture partners own 45 per cent. So, we are not talking about the 55 per cent of government, which can take the bloc from you. The 45 per cent is the operating equity. Government, as the majority owner of that bloc, is saying since you cannot operate this well, may be of no fault of yours, we are ready to give it to this person who can. What is your opinion? Are you aware that Shell has concurred? If you are aware that Shell has concurred and government has indicated that level of commitment, what is the basis of the Ogoni people fighting after 28 years? We were shouting, ‘survival!’ We never survived. Now, we should develop. When you say, ‘Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People’, we have passed that stage of survival. We should be thinking of how to develop. Survival is no longer the slogan. The slogan is development.
The last time we fought with government, we lost all our first 11. So many things happened; dirty memories we don’t want to think about. Do we want to stage another war with government? The answer is no. And that is where the royal fathers come in. We must do anything that will remove crisis. People should ask: what are we going to benefit from that process? What is going to be our stake in that process? That is what people should be thinking about. Because even if we decide it is you we want, all we can do is recommendation. And anybody who recommends has no approval right. If we have approval right, we can’t recommend. You always recommend to somebody who reserves that last right to say, ‘yes, your recommendation is good or not. I cannot take that person. I will take this’.
Have you investigated the pedigree of Robomichael?
We believe that every one of these companies, even Shell, get qualified technical partners to do their work. It is our belief that whoever gave that preliminary approval to Robomichael must first have studied them and known the people that make up their consortium. For goodness sake, we are talking about local companies. So, why are we not interested in local companies? Why are we not interested in developing local entrepreneurs, developing local concern to solve our local problem? So, the chiefs are in support of the Federal Government, because we know that Robomichael must have presented its profile, which includes qualified technical partners.
What stakes will Ogoni demand?
We have a template. We have asked for quite a number of things. Ogoni people have a template of what our demands are, and we will place them before any company that comes, for instance, Robomichael. The template is for the development of the Ogoni people. Most importantly, there must be an Ogoni vehicle to hold shares in that company. There must be a special purpose vehicle that must be part of Ogoni shares in the company, and the benefits from that will be put into a development company to develop Ogoni.
If oil production resumes without the clean up of Ogoni, won’t it be said that the Ogoni who perished in the course of the struggle died in vain?
The UNEP report which is adjudged to fair, best and nobody has argued against it did not provide for any human empowerment and we feel that clean up and exploration can go together. In the oil market internationally you know that energy is being diversified. You also know that there is solar and diverse means of energy meaning that in few years to come, our oil will be nothing. So we should leave it beneath our soil and cannot exploit it when it still being sold at $60 or $50. We will have to wait until it cost $20 or $15 because a time will come when dependence on oil will no longer be necessary.
So we feel that the time is now to explore it and change the economic dynamic of our people because there is poverty in the land. I was once kidnapped by Ogoni boys being their king and taken away for 18 days. The boys who took me were all graduates and I had the opportunity of interacting with them. Imagine somebody has a distinction, second class upper division and has no work to do. we have decided to take the bull by the horn because we are feeling the pain. We are looking at children that poor mothers send to school turning into armed robbers. There are deliberate situation that require deliberate action and that is what we are doing.
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