Uche Usim, Abuja
As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources and lawmaker representing Southern Ijaw Federal Constituency Bayelsa State, Mr Preye Goodluck Oseke has rallied support for host communities of oil companies and petroleum infrastructure.
In a letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and heads of various international oil firms, Oseke emphasized that the COVID-19 disease has taken its toll on the socio-economic well-being of the oil communities, especially as most small and medium scale businesses are on the throes of death.
He urged the various oil firms operating in the South-South region to immediately provide relief materials, including food and drugs to their host communities to ameliorate their suffering.
He said: “the economic wellbeing of the people have further dwindled thus leaving a distortion in the fabric of these communities. Of particular concern is the restriction of travels which has resultantly increased the cost of haulage of food items in the predominantly riverine region, thereby leading to further rise in the prices of goods and services.
“It is worth highlighting that the challenges and dangers host communities are exposed to, presently and in the future, cannot be exhaustively catalogued. This is the rationale behind the creation of the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission and its counterpart of the Imo State Oil Producing Areas Commission in Delta and Imo States respectively. “What mitigating steps the said commissions have recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic is subject to debate. Worse still, majority of states are yet to replicate an agency that looks into the multifaceted challenges of host communities, thereby leaving host communities to grapple with their issues even as they remain the geese that lay the golden eggs”.
He noted that various initiatives and palliatives rolled by the government or the private sector have not reached the host communities of the oil sector.
The lawmaker pointed out that Bayelsa State recently witnessed the foundation-stone laying ceremony of a 200-bed hospital as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an initiative of the federal government, the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) and its joint venture partners through the consolidation and improvement of medical facilities in the region, this being the federal government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s industry-wide collaborative and prevention initiative to combat the pandemic under the leadership of the NNPC.
“On their part, state governments have taken proactive steps in strengthening surveillance at their boundaries with neighbouring states to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Not left out in these interventions are regional authorities such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which, in addition to the distribution of medical supplies, have complementarily added the purchase and distribution of food items intended to bring succour to the people of the area. Abreast with the huge challenges confronting the people, congressmen of the region have, in addition to donating their two months salaries and allowances, bought food palliatives for distribution to their respective constituents. Clearly, all these efforts are grossly inadequate considering the enormity of the food crisis the protracted lockdown has caused.
“But none of the foregoing efforts was directed specifically at host communities of oil and gas facilities” he said.
Oseke lamented that various oil companies making a fortune from Nigeria have not shown sufficient support to their host communities in Nigeria but in their home countries.
He said ENI Group supported the frontline people managing the COVID-19 public health emergency in Italy, while Exxonmobil has provided fuel, hand sanitizers to support COVID-19 relief efforts in its home Texas, United States.
“Other multinationals have followed the same trend, sadly, without commensurate efforts, or anything close to it, in their areas of operation, despite the fact that what is required in the host communities will be nothing compared to what has been done in their home states. Isn’t what is good for the goose not also good for the gander”, the lawmaker queried.