By Anthony Obi
Bishop Udo Azogu is chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT), Oil and Solid Minerals Producing Areas Landlords’ Association (OMPALAN). He spoke in Oguta, Imo State, alleging that the Federal government is embarking on another wild goose chase in the oil producing regions areas of South-East, South-South and South West. Excerpts:
The Federal Government over the years embarked on various palliatives to cushion the effects of environmental challenges in the oil producing regions. Have these made appreciable impacts?
The main cause of insecurity in oil producing areas is the hunger and penury ravaging oil-rich but, vulnerable and impoverished local communities. Palliative programs like NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, 13% Oil Derivation Fund Commission, Ecological Fund, Amnesty packages, etc worth trillions of naira to cushion the effects of environmental challenges in host communities have been hijacked by the tiny but, influential political class in the oil-rich regions to the extent that survival in these communities has become a measure of success.
The regions’ elected representatives have betrayed the trust of the very people they represent by persistently shortchanging them with impunity. Since the Olusegun Obasanjo regime, successive governments have rolled out different programs to address restiveness in oil producing regions but, to no avail because these programs did not target affected local communities. The only thing that can guarantee peace and order in oil producing areas is to overhaul and strengthen the delivery mechanisms of existing palliative programs to ensure that they impact the host communities.
Respite can only come to oil producing areas when the Federal Government musters enough courage to stop the growing recklessness and lawlessness of oil producing state governors who mismanage oil-related palliative programs. These governors constitute a great threat to both security and democracy as they sack elected local government administrations and take over the running of their funds, divert 13% oil derivation fund at the detriment of impacted communities, use ecological fund at their whims and caprices while the rubber-stamp state parliaments watch with consuming admiration.
But some indigenes of these areas have been allocated oil blocks…
The truth of the matter is that even when Government allocates oil blocks to some indigenes of the regions or concedes to resource control they will end up in the hands of the insatiable political class that has perennially benefited from the lingering crisis in the region. OMPALAN believes that it is justifiable and proper that oil blocks be allocated to the regions that produce oil but, it must be properly considered so that the ordinary man will also benefit. My association, OMPALAN, has developed a blue print that focuses on bottom-up approach in addressing the lingering insecurity in oil producing areas in a holistic and definitive manner.
Our proposal called Mining Security and Monitoring Agency of Nigeria (MISMAN), seeks to integrate national security agencies with the host communities in the monitoring of development projects, security of mining installations and service delivery chains of the Federal Government mitigation programs for enhanced engagement of impacted communities through efficient management.
MISMAN blends with another proposal at the grassroots level called Community Administration Council (CAC). This brings all the entrenched community institutions such as council of chiefs, town unions, women/youth organizations and the community vigilante under one functional umbrella for the attainment of set goals underpinning peace, security, stability and sustainable development of host communities.
President Muhammadu Buhari must tell oil producing state governors to stop tampering or meddling with 13% Oil Derivation Fund that accrue to their states. The governors must give the NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs the free hand to deliver. Open diversion of huge mitigation funds hiding under the masquerade of immunity must stop. The consequences are dire. Vulnerable host communities that bear the brunt continue to grope in abject penury as their agricultural lands and water resources are despoiled by nefarious oil exploration and exploitation activities.
What are the ways out of this mess?
The Federal Government has two options left: Strengthen vulnerablea host communities through appropriate legislation by stopping unmitigated diversion of palliative programs by the political class; or continue to engage the country in a wild goose chase pretending to address restiveness by pursuing the flawed policy of engaging and placating dominant youth groups at a time.
It is one form of youth or militant organization carrying guns and baring their fangs today and another lawless form metamorphosing tomorrow in an endless show of force. The casualties continue to grow. Host communities continue to convulse under excruciating environmental conditions while a few privileged and spineless politicians who continually stoke tension in the regions unchallenged continue to grow richer and more powerful.
Again, if the Federal Government is sincere it should come up with a legislation to channel all schemes directly to affected communities without the overbearing manipulations of oil producing governors. The fact remains that host communities are the only ones that have exclusive capacity to collaborate with security agencies in enthroning the rule of law in oil producing regions in a definitive manner.
How would bombings of oil installations in the oil-producing regions affect the host communities?
Bombing of oil facilities and killing of security personnel is tantamount to self destruction and will make the worst for host communities. When we destroy oil facilities the environment that sustains us is impacted negatively. We must find a more effective and lawful way to press for justice in oil producing regions.
It is to be appreciated that we cannot resolve the Niger Delta crisis through military intervention but, no responsible government will fold its arms and watch the systematic destruction of the nation’s economic nerve. The youths must sheath the sword and opt for a more effective and lawful means to seek redress.
The Federal Government must bring on board all the oil producing states including states that have recently discovered and are drilling oil within their shores such as Anambra, Kogi and Lagos in the interest of justice and to seal off every hiding place for anti-democratic forces.