By Daniel Alabrah
Reading one Mallam Kabiru Yusuf’s diatribe against the Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, on the current spillage in Nembe community (also in Bayelsa State) leaves you with a feeling of shock, nausea, and outright revulsion. Since November 5, 2021 when it was first reported, hydrocarbon resources of gas and crude oil have been spewing unabated into the Santa Barbara River from the damaged Aiteo Exploration and Production Company Limited’s OML 29 Wellhead 1 platform in Nembe.
Mallam Yusuf, who claims to be President, Arewa Consultative Youth Movement and Convener, Association of Northern Youth Groups, might not have visited the spill site to see the wastage, the pollution and environmental disaster at first hand. He might also not have been to the oil-producing Niger Delta region to be able to understand the plight of the people that produce the wealth of Nigeria. It is always convenient to assume your father’s farmland is the largest when you have not seen your friend’s dad’s farmland.
From the piece, Yusuf easily gave himself away as a meddlesome interloper, who was dancing to a beat wrongly played for him by his paymasters. His criticism of the Bayelsa Governor for calling a spade what it is after visiting the spill site falls flat on its face on several fronts. And terribly so.It is equally easily discernible that Yusuf acted on his own and his pocket. Patriotic Arewa youths would not allow themselves to be used for such a vile hatchet job that their purported leader dragged them into.
For accusing Governor Diri of politicising and over-reacting to a disaster that occurred in his own state, Yusuf unwittingly became a victim of his own accusation. Of course, prodded by his paymasters; the pipers dictating the tune for a servile lackey like him. Yusuf, perhaps, expected platitudes from the governor after seeing such magnitude of spillage and the damage it had caused to the rivers, rivulets, waterways, mangroves as well as the flora and fauna of the area. Let me remind Yusuf that this occurred in Bayelsa and not somewhere else. In clearer relief, the Nembe oil spill is just a tip of the iceberg of the environmental terrorism that has been the lot of the Niger Delta people for over 60 years of oil exploration in the region. If Yusuf and his ilk are not comfortable (just as every other Nigerian) with the banditry, insurgency and terrorism ravaging the northern states, I guess he and his pipers expect Governor Diri to celebrate the environmental terrorism and degradation in the Niger Delta that the Nembe spill exemplifies.
One is tempted to ask: what is Yusuf’s grouse? In his ignorance, he queried why it took the governor about a month to visit the site. Blinded by the haste to take potshots at the state’s helmsman, Yusuf forgot that the major owners of the platform – the federal government – did not go there until three weeks after the disaster occurred. The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, who is a Nembe indigene, did not visit the spill site till November 25. That was after a directive from President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Minister of Petroleum Resources.
Yusuf might also not be aware that while expecting the Federal Government and Aiteo to quickly act, Governor Diri had earlier issued statements twice calling on them to stop the spill in order to ameliorate the suffering of people of the area. In one of such statements, he called for protection of the region’s fishing routes to safeguard the livelihood of the people.
Within the period, Governor Diri had to attend the United Nation Climate Change (COP26) event in Glasgow, Scotland, where he spoke on the sidelines about environmental pollution and degradation in the Niger Delta as well as the challenges confronting states in the oil region. He thereafter commenced his annual leave but had to cut it short to return to Nigeria when he kept getting the feedback that the spillage was still raging. However, one would expect that the critic would focus on the negligence of the oil firm as well as the inefficiency and poor response by the supervisory agency, Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), toward stopping the environmental carnage in Nembe. Unfortunately, he preferred to focus on the wrong target for obvious reasons.
Yusuf equally faulted Governor Diri for describing the Nembe disaster as the worst he had seen in his lifetime and as being worse than the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spillage. I urge Yusuf to also visit the site if his impression would be different afterwards. It is easy to make light of a disaster when you are afar.
The most laughable of his tirade is that Governor Diri is not an engineer and so cannot determine the extent of the damage and the quantity of crude spilled into the river and the environment. What crass ignorance! The impudence is even more annoying. Do we need to remind Yusuf the Critic that those superintending over our country’s petroleum resources today are not engineers as well. Rather, they are politicians that have engaged technocrats and policy makers.
What is important to Governor Diri is to look after the wellbeing of his people and to speak when it is appropriate to do so. He does not play politics with the development of his state or with whatever concerns the wellbeing of his people. If a governor does not speak out when this magnitude of disaster occurs in his state, who else will? Yusuf’s jaundiced prognosis can be equated to whipping a child and warning him not to cry out!
So far, Senator Diri has proved that his heart is with his people not only on this Nembe spill but also on the numerous projects his government has undertaken since he assumed office less than two years now. As the pioneer National Organising Secretary of his ethnic group’s foremost socio-cultural organisation, the Ijaw National Congress (INC), the governor has been consistent in making his voice resonate against oppressive policies in our country’s oil sector. The Yusufs and their paymasters would have to contend with that.
Alabrah is Chief Press Secretary to the Bayelsa State Governor