Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The story of Revd. Fr. Kevin O’ Hara in Bayelsa State, to give help to the 12 communities of the Gbarain/ Ekpetiama Cluster to extract maximum benefits from the Gbarain/Ubie oil and gas project reads like a line from the Bible.
Fr O’Hara, a missionary attaché to the Irish Embassy in Nigeria had stayed in Agudama community before he went back to Ireland and was appointed as an attaché of the embassy. His activities in the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Accountability (ECCA) in Ireland and Stakeholders Alliance for Corporate Accountability (SACA) based in Yenagoa has involved him seeking improved better lives for the people of oil communities.
Just like the people of oil communities who are baffled over their continued poverty in the midst of billions of dollars worth of oil and gas being extracted from the bowels of their land, Fr O’Hara is not satisfied with the wide gap in the operation of oil companies, especially Shell in United Kingdom and their operations in Nigeria.
“In United Kingdom, the oil companies observe global practises; you don’t have to worry about community problem. You put in money and reap dividends, whereas in Nigeria, in Niger Delta, in Agudama, Gbarain, Azuzuama, you have a major problem. Number one you don’t receive any investment; you are not allowed to put money into Shell, Agip, Mobil, and government does that on behalf of the people, I don’t know why. People in the UK are investing and are enjoying the oil companies in your country. They are enjoying it and there is no problem.”
Masking his frustrations, he lamented that since 1996, efforts by the council to get the SPDC Board of Directors to adopt the same international standards in Nigeria as in the United Kingdom have proved abortive.
Fr O’Hara explained that ECCA was formed by churches who are concerned about the continued deteriorating conditions of living in oil rich areas as against the boom enjoyed by investors.
“The churches in the UK came together and formed a coalition called the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Accountability (ECCA). They are worried that people in the UK are enjoying the dividends from oil companies in Nigeria and not bothered about what is happening on ground in Nigeria. They asked whether people in oil communities are also enjoying what they are enjoying. They are concerned about what is really happening. For many years, this ECCA have been engaging with oil companies, especially Shell in the UK and I joined them and heard what they say. For that reason, I was mandated to come and see what is on ground. To know how the people are really getting on. So for some years I have been writing to Shell telling them this is what is going on and they are not happy with what they heard. In the 1996, there was a resolution brought to the Board of Shell which proposed to have the same standards in Nigeria as they have in the UK. However that resolution was defeated. In other words Shell UK said it cannot have the same standards it has in UK in Nigeria. This is double standards. 10 years later we brought another resolution to the Shell Board, which seek
improvement in their standards; again the resolution was rejected on the grounds that the company was already operating in line with International standards best Practises. The Directors insisted that they operate within International Standards.”
O’Hara who believes things can get better said the organisation he works with in Bayelsa, SACA has continued to point out areas the Oil companies are doing well and the areas they need improvement.
“Since 2006, I have been working with SACA based in Yenagoa monitoring the GMOU to see whether or not we have International Standards. In 2015, we did a report that pointed out the areas the Oil companies are doing very well and areas where they are not doing well and which needs improvement. That was in 2015 and in this year, which is 2018, we are still saying that their areas that needs improvement, particularly the Environment. We are concerned about the environment as it has to do with Oil Spill and payment of compensation. We are also worried about community relations especially treating the people of oil communities with the greatest respect. The Oil companies must listen to them and respect them.”
King Bubaraye Dakolo Agada IV, the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom has amplified Fr O’ Hara’s concerns insisting that it was blood money those enjoying the oil wealth from the Niger Delta were enjoying. According to him, the wealth is got from the destruction of farmlands through the environment and the health hazards unleashed on the people in the bid to make oil flow.
O’Hara maintained that his organisation is less bothered about the names calling and would not relent on its mission to provide succour for oil communities.
“Soon SPDC would sign a GMOU with Gbarain/ Ekpetiama Cluster. This is the biggest multibillion dollars project in Africa. This is in backyard of Bayelsa. Therefore, Bayelsans should benefit from this project very well. The question is that are the people of the 12 communities that make up the cluster happy. We want to hear from them. Are they satisfied with the standards; is it really International standards; do they really believe they are benefitting from one of the richest projects in Africa. We are not here to cause trouble or division. We are known
to promote right relationships; best practises; respect for people and respect for the environment. That is who we are. People can call us and label us anything but that is who we are.”
Deputy Governor John Gboribiogha Jonah lamented the antics of oil companies especially Shell in suppressing genuine concerns of the people which in turn has continued to fuel agitations in the Niger Delta region.
“I was in Ekeremor to see the site of some oil spills. Two weeks after the Spill, you could still see the oil coming out of the ground. These pipes apparently have been buried for a very long time. And surprisingly for a pipe that is buried two metres deep, Shell without investigation is claiming sabotage. Sabotage is what they were looking for in a pipe that was not exposed. This is the way we feel that we are not carried along and if there are contrary observations made by the communities, they blow it out of proportion to say they are not secure. We know that it is the interest of some areas that such messages are carried out to de-market the state so that these particular companies move. Yes they are operating, yes we are getting something. Are we getting enough, the answer is no. I am very happy with how far you have gone. In Alaska, everybody benefits from the dividends of the Oil. Anytime a Niger Delta man talks about restructuring, people shout that it is a ploy to take the Oil. Yes we want to participate. There is no Niger Delta man that i know that is having Oil block. Niger Delta man participation in the Oil Industry is almost zero. These are causes of agitation in these areas which diplomats like you can tell the world.”