By Joseph Udofia
I was in Port Harcourt over the week for the Book Festival. I had heard so many beautiful tales about the city and its environs. Tales of her beauty, tales of oil money being thrown around, among others abound. I decided to tour the city so as to get a confirm these. My findings were shocking.
First, I saw a construction signpost with “Total E&P Nigeria Ltd” boldly inscribed on it. Eager to see the Multi-million naira project, usually associated with a multi-national like Total, I took a step closer to read the writings in smaller letter. I could not believe my eyes. “Construction of three Lock up stores for Rumukaraka Community”. When did Total descend so low to making petty community development projects?
The Obio/Akpor LGA, which houses the Rumukaraka community in Rivers State, is an oil producing region. One of the streets in the community houses a Shell Facility, with the “Right of Way” clearly written on the gate, and barring non-authorised personnel from trespassing. However, the road in this oil-rich community is an eye sore. Muddy, undulating and smelly are three words that attempt to capture the state of this road. With my knowledge of the contributions of oil companies in other communities, I decided to engage a few members of the community. I started with my host. In his remarks, two points stood out.
- The oil companies have settled the ‘elders’
- “Amaechi is busy attacking Jonathan and flying his private jet up and down”. In other words, the Governor leaves state matters to attend to other matters outside the state
While there were no proofs for his assertions, a few other incidences I experienced, lent credence to these facts. I listened to a radio program on Nigeria Info in Port Harcourt, hosted by Koffi, with the Commissioner of Information, Ibim Seminitari, as guest. Nine out of ten callers, called in to complain about the terrible state of roads in their community. In her defence, the Commissioner listed a couple of roads currently under construction, and proceeded to attribute the problem to the face-off between the Federal Government and the Rivers State Government, which she claims has led to about 50% reduction in the Government Allocation.
During my tour, I discovered that a Mono-Rail, estimated to be worth about N150bn is currently under construction. The big question is: Why spend millions of Naira on Mono-Rail, in an area with good roads, while several communities have muddy roads? If the State Government has abandoned road construction, what exactly are the Oil Companies doing, to calm the nerves of their irked communities?
On the fifth day of my stay, my host and I caught up with a man working as a Seismologist. While his orange overall carried the name of another company, he said he is working for Shell. He further said that he and his colleagues are conducting a seismic survey of the area, as part of oil prospecting. Jokingly, my host asked “What will happen if you find oil”. “Una don turn millionaire . Even though it may take years before Shell finishes d paper work, but una don get money be tha” He replied in pidgin English. My host replied “Iffa hear. Na one person go collect all the choppings. They would just settle the elders. If you protest, they’d calm you down or just lock you up”. The seismologist laughed and responded “You sef sabi as e dey go”. I could barely believe my ears.
Barely a few minutes’ drive from there, the story was the same and corroborated by one who lived on a few streets away, albeit in the community. The tricycle driver asked one of his passengers who seemed to be a close friend, going by the intimacy of their discussion. “How them sure say they no go steal all these wire wey dey for ground?” The passenger replied “They don give them 1m make them share”
The anger brewing in the minds of many inhabitants of these communities is visible to a blind man. Indeed, the onus lies on the government to provide good roads in the state. However, the oil companies, in their corporate social responsibility, owe the oil producing communities something more than “three lock up stores”.
Rather than hire Armored Personnel Carrier to shoot trespassers at sight, they can contribute meaningfully to the community. Instead of tarring just the vicinity of their facility, they can proceed to tar the whole street. Rather than bribe the elders of the community, they can contribute meaningfully and touch the lives of the members of the community in a grand style.
When you look at the deplorable standard of living in this oil producing community, you’d agree that the militant have a good premise for their actions. How do you don’t make millions from them and give so little back? Not every community may be as united as the Ogoni People who resisted Shell. Not every community may have a Ken Saro Wiwa, ready to lay down his life for the community. But, slowly and surely, these elders will pass away. Members of the community will get more enlightened and will demand more than just good roads.
Oil Producing Companies would need to step up their game, because slowly and surely, the inhabitants would demand for more. More than just good roads!