Several oil producing states of the federation have set up local producing committees that ensure that the lives of the oil bearing communities are positively affected by proceeds from the product. But that has not happened in Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. It is now a thing of serious concerns to the people of Bayelsa, one of the largest oil producing states of the country. PAULINE ONYIBE reports from Yenagoa
It is one thing that has held Nigeria together no matter the political or religious differences. That is the black gold or the crude oil found in the Niger Delta region of the country.
It was first found in commercial quantity at Oloibiri, a sleepy community in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State far back in 1956.
Since then till now, the country has been bound together because of this commodity that has made Nigeria to be reckoned among the economically viable countries in the world.
But it appears to the gain of the whole country and a loss to the host communities where this black gold is extracted from.
Of course, from Oloibiri community, more oil wells were discovered in other places in Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers and in fact, in all the nine Niger Delta states.
Many believe that it has been joy and enjoyment all the way for the Nigerian government since the discovery but to the pains of the host communities.
It was a well-known fact that the agitation for the development of the region where this crude is being exploited from, led to the restiveness of the youth of the area, resulting to militancy.
Although it has been put to rest through the granting of amnesty to the youth then but it did not solve the problem of the hosts communities.
The oil bearing communities are still in their deplorable state with most of them still drinking from where they defecate. The locals live their lives at the creeks with all manner of sicknesses, environmental pollution, among other challenges facing them.
That, however, has led to their own agitation which gave rise to a body known as Host Communities of Nigeria producing oil and gas (HOSTCOM).
The body has been in the forefront of the agitation for a better living condition for the host communities where this crude is extracted from on a daily basis.
It was pushed by the then initiators till to the present leadership under Dr Style Benjamin, the National chairman of HOSTCOM, who has been at the forefront of pushing to make sure that the pains of these communities are ameliorated if not completely eradicated.
As a result, states like Delta, Edo, Imo among others, have established commissions where these host communities use a s a link between themselves, the state government and the oil companies but some states are yet to establish such commission.
States such as Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, after so many years, are yet to establish such a commission.
In Bayelsa State, the National chairman of HOSTCOM, who is a native has been on the forefront to making sure that the commission is established.
The push saw people like Dr Bob Nabena, one time state chairman of HOSTCOM pushing until he became tired without the commission seeing the light of the day.
Twenty three years after the creation of the state, one of the highest oil producing states is yet to establish Bayelsa State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (BASOPADEC).
That is why the current national chairman of HOSTCOM was recently hunoured by a body, Independent Magazine Publishers Association of Nigeria, all the way from Abuja.
The National award of change and good governance, according to the group led by Prince Jude Ubaka was because of his contributions in bringing change to the Niger Delta, especially the oil and gas producing communities, supporting effective administration and ensuring compliance with environmental legislation in Nigeria petroleum sector.
The group said: “As the national chairman of HOSTCOM, you have actually proved your worth and competence as a leader in sensitizing the indigenes of the oil and gas communities to maintain peace and unity, getting them to live up to expectation in other responsibilities. You were part of the people that championed the course of the Federal Government to pay the 13 per cent derivation fund directly to the communities. You have also been calling for the establishment of BASOPADEC.”
Style has been calling for host communities to be directly involved in the management of their resources to give them a sense of belonging.
That was why the HOSTCOM national chairman once again urged the new administration of Governor Douye Diri to establish the Bayelsa State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, so that the state will be reckoned among the states that has recognition for the oil producing communities.
He said it is only when there is BASOPADEC that oil companies will deal directly with their communities and impact meaningfully on their lives.
The HOSTCOM national chairman maintained that the bill for the establishment of BASOPADEC having been at the verge of passage, should get the attention of the new governor on seat so that the host communities will heave a sigh of relief.
Urging the Bayelsa State House of Assembly members, most of whom, he said are from the oil producing communities to hasten the passage of the bill, Style said he knows very well that they will take it as a matter of urgency to ensure that this bill is passed.
Maintaining that the oil companies have not been fair to their host communities because they deal directly with the state government instead of the oil producing communities, Dr. Style said: “I want to be frank. Oil companies have never in anyway impacted meaningfully on their host communities.
“I tell you from the nine states that produce oil and gas, no community will come out fully to tell you that yes, the oil companies are carrying them along; rather it is the state government.
“If they didn’t anchor on the state, they will say the Federal Government. What I saw in this COVID 19 stuff, instead of carrying these foodstuffs to the communities where they are operating, they donated the food and funds to the state government and the state government used the funds basically for their political highlights.
“The state government has not empowered the host communities. 13% derivation, they have held to ransom! The only institution the communities producing oil and gas know is HOSTCOM and that is what we are expecting them to do but they refused to acknowledge it and that is our pain.
“Bayelsa state, Rivers and Akwa Ibom blatantly refused to establish the commission. The commission is where they would have been reaching out to the host communities like this COVID 19 funds and foodstuffs.
“Please, let the miracle governor sign the bill for the establishment of BASOPADEC into law so that Bayelsa State will be reckoned among the key oil producing states that have recognition for host communities.”
Going beyond his immediate environment as the national chairman of HOSTCOM, he said: “We are pressurizing the Federal Government, the Ministry of Environment to clean up the oil spills at Ogoni land.
“Some amount of money have already been paid to contractors but we have not seen a tangible thing being done in Ogoni land. We are urging the Federal Government to put up more machineries to ensure that the money that they have already dished out should be reasonably used so that the communities that are producing oil and gas, Ogoni land should be adequately be part and parcel of it.
“The petroleum industry bill is still there. Nothing has been done. The N98 billion gas flare penalty is also in the pipeline.
“The Federal Government has approved it, waiting for release.
“I believe that now that the lockdown has been eased, they will be in the top gear to ensure that these funds will be released to the Niger Delta region.”
In his contribution, Surveyor Furebi Akene, the founder of Centre for Environmental Preservation Development (CEPAD) and former commissioner for environment in the state, said: “BASOPADEC is a very good instrument for the development of oil communities in each of the oil producing states but unfortunately, in Bayelsa State greediness of the leadership and interference of the governors that have ruled this state with no exception has stalled this.
“They are not ready for the development of the state. Anything that will be done to develop the state, they are not part of it.
“As good as BASOPADEC is good to develop the state, they will bring their cronies who don’t know the meaning of development to come and man the place. While I support the establishment of BASOPADEC, I’m also weary of it. Who are the people that will run that BASOPADEC?
“If they are ready for the development of state, let them look for credible people that will carry the development of the oil communities at heart. Then, BASOPADEC will function. Otherwise the simple story will repeat itself.
“The oil bearing communities have some credible people that can run this place but will they allow the credible people to come close. We must look for people with conscience not people who want to be sycophants to get favour.”
Also calling for the establishment of BASOPADEC, Morris Alagoa, an environmental rights activist and a field officer of Environmental Rights Action(ERA) said: “The establishment of this important Commission to take care of part of the 13 per cent derivation accruing to the state is predicated on the need for justice.
“If the 13 per cent derivation from the Federation Account is meant to address the developmental challenges of communities in oil bearing states, it is only proper that the funds trickle down to the communities. Those who bear the negative consequences of oil exploitation.
“The establishment of BASOPADEC would assist in bridging the developmental lacuna.
“In my candid view, the establishment of BASOPADEC will assist our communities to get some basic amenities and address some of their social needs like scholarship to deserving students, support agriculture, fishing/farming, local crafts, intra and inter community link roads, contracts to local contractors and boosting local economy.
“This is not Resource Control we should be asking from the Federal Government. It is something within the purview of state governments to grant via legislation.”