Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Chief Chibunna Ubawuike is the Imo State chairman of the Oil Mineral Producing Area Landlords’ Association of Nigeria (OMPALAN). In this interview, he bares his mind on the problems of the oil-bearing communities in the state and the preparedness of the association to support Governor Hope Uzodinma in securing the future of restive youths through skills acquisition and job creation.
Do you think Imo is in safe hands with Governor Uzodinma?
I voted for Senator Hope Uzodinma, my organisation, OMPALAN, mobilised seriously for him because we believe in his ability, capability and qualities that he has; as an administrator, businessman, Imo is in safe hands with Governor Hope Uzodinma.
What are your expectations from the governor?
We expect good governance and he has assured us that he is going to do it; before we mobilised for him, we believed in his ability to give a good account of himself, his manifesto was anchored on a tripod: rehabilitation, reconstruction and recovery. He is going to pursue that manifesto and at the end of the day, the people would be better for it.
What areas would you want the governor to intervene in concerning the oil-bearing communities?
As the OMPALAN chairman in Imo State, over the years the oil-producing communities of Ohaji/Egbema, Oguta have been neglected. Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC) has not been working. You cannot cite any project that ISOPADEC sited in any of the oilproducing areas. If you get to the communities, they are in a shambles. ISOPADEC gets about N400 million naira every month, what are they doing with the money? The previous government did not do anything, nobody can see any tangible thing they did with the money. So, I want to appeal that any money, that comes to ISOPADEC should be judiciously used, primarily for the development of the oil-producing communities so that the degraded environment could be remedied, people could be empowered and infrastructure provided.
When you talk about neglect, what, specifically, is the level of neglect the areas have suffered?
There is no infrastructure in these areas; no good road, no electricity, no water, the educational facilities are zero, the school buildings are dilapidated, nobody is doing anything about it. The rural communities that are supposed to be empowered with micro-credit for petty trading and other empowerment programmes didn’t see any. So, nobody has done anything about it. These are the areas our governor should look into, cleaning up the oil degraded areas, motorable roads, give them good electricity supply even if it is not 24 hours. If there is electricity, small-scale enterprises will spring up and the economy of the area and that of Imo State will spring up.
The Emeka Ihedioha administration claimed it brought electricity to the oil-producing communities through ISOPADEC, but you are countering that claim; what exactly is the true position?
I am from an oil-producing area. We do not have electricity. For quite some years, and that is why we are crying, they squandered the monies meant for ISOPADEC, the money is supposed to be used to develop the area because they are the primary beneficiaries.
Name some of these communities deprived of electricity.
I may not be able to mention all of them but in my own community, Agwa, we do not have electricity, no good road, no potable water, same for others. You go to Ohaji/Egbema, you see the same thing. Even Oguta Ejemekwuru, Akabor, name them, same neglect.
There has been a prediction of flooding this year, and there was a terrible flood last year that devastated your people; what plans are there to avoid a recurrence this year?
We have put our people on notice, especially those living on the banks of the river, to relocate but it will not be easy because all their life they have farmed there. But it is better to be alive to do your business than to die. We have advised them on precautionary measures they need to take so that, when the flood comes, the devastation will not be much. We are calling on the state and federal governments, even the oil companies, to come to the aid of the victims, let them bring relief materials as they do in other states. I don’t know why our own case is different, no empowerment, no relief materials and no compensationto restart their lives. So, this is what we are calling on the state government, federal and even the local government, because they are given allocations. What do they do with the money?
The oil companies in your area, how have they been cooperating with your people?
The cooperation is partial, there is a case by one of the companies, Sterling Global, in Agwa. The level of degradation is much, they use trucks to carry crude oil, it’s against the Petroleum and Pipeline Act. It states that the oil should pass through the pipeline and not trucks, they ply roads they did not even build; we are appealing to them to do the right thing so that youth restiveness will stop.
Oftentimes we hear of youth restiveness in your area, and recently some youths were said to have vandalised oil pipelines at Etekuru; what was the cause of the unrest?
This has been a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s oil-producing areas, not only my area. It is condemnable, abominable. Every right-thinking person should not support it, no matter the level of excruciating pain you are going through. It should not warrant busting of a pipeline, you are endangering your life, that of other communities, the economy of the state and also the environment. So, we should discourage it. We are calling on government and the oil companies to give the security surveillance contract to indigenes of the area where they operate, because they know the terrain, they would be able to police the pipelines, the cases of pipeline vandalism will be over.
What can OMPALAN boast of doing to impact on the lives of people in the state?
First and foremost, OMPALAN has tried to broker peace in the host communities and between rural dwellers and the pastoral herders. When there was a crisis between the herders then, it was OMPALAN that settled it. So, first of all, we brought peace between the host communities and the oil companies.
Which other thing has it done?
OMPALAN is interested in empowering, engaging the youths in vocations, those that want to go to school will go to school. We assist them with synergy with the federal and state governments and those that could not go to school, we help them to learn trade, very soon we would be launching a programme, “OMPALAN for peace and security in Nigeria,” it would be launched here in Owerri, Imo State.