Something Instructive Happening in Eleme

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The federal government decision to cede 7.5 per cent of the equity share of the Eleme Petrochemicals Company Limited to host communities during the privatisation exercise by former President Goodluck Jonathan can serve as another way to addressing the unending agitation for resource control in the Niger Delta region, Shola Oyeyipo writes

Until recently, Nigeria was Africa’s leading oil producing country, with the production capacity of 2.2 million barrel (350,000m3) per day and an oil reserves estimated to be as much as 35.3 billion barrels (5.61x 109 m3), which is largely concentrated within the Niger Delta region of the country and it accounts for almost 95 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, about 65 per cent of the budgetary revenues, 83 per cent of her national wealth and 80 per cent of the country’s GDP.

But instead of blessing, the product has plunged the country into socio-political logjam as a result of oil politics, due to the questions of who owns or should own the product, how surface access to production sites should be facilitated, in terms of ownership of land resources; and the effect which production and exploitation of the product has had on the lives of the people living in the region and the environment.

For people in the host communities of the petrochemical industries, the widespread perception has been that the communities that lay golden and silver eggs for the country are living in criminal neglect while just a few people live large on the income from those resources. Hence, the monumental backwardness, poverty, and especially government policies and attitude towards the region has been the factor behind agitations for economic autonomy, which sometimes lead to sporadic armed conflicts and other forms of violence, thereby creating instability in the Niger Delta region.

But in what seems as capable of solving the problem of agitation in the region, an initiative of the federal government during the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan is working wonders in quelling the agitations known with host communities.

During the privatisation of Eleme Petrochemicals Company Limited by the federal government, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the federal government and Indorama, created room for the host communities to own 7.5 per cent equity shares of the company (Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited), which can only be accessible by the communities’ representative through a Special Purpose Vehicle; Elano Investments Limited, where Chief Gomba Okanje is the chairman of the board.

During a brief encounter with journalists at the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos when an award of Outstanding African Entrepreneur Man of the Year 2016 by Pan-African International Magazine, Okanje noted that the decision to cede the 7.5 per cent to the host community is a wise decision because it has created a sense of ownership of the company among the people who are now ready to protect it as theirs.

Speaking about how his organisation, Elano Investments, has managed the 2.925 billion worth equity, which was bought with the support of Stanbic Bank, in trust for the people and how the proceeds have been used for improving the host communities, Okanje said it is an initiative that would contribute significantly to bringing peace to the Eleme area and that if extended to other areas where there are oil reserves, it would achieve same result.

“I think federal government in its wisdom decided to assuage the 7.5 per cent equity share of Elema Petro-Chemical Ltd to the host community. So to assuage the agitation within the Niger Delta region, we are all aware of what is happening all over. What we have done is to show the people that in the midst of all these confusions, agitation and whatever, there are still some capable hands that if given the opportunity in so many areas, they can make the difference.

“It is a wonderful programme. If federal government in its wisdom can give the communities whatever is on their land, it will go a long way to assuage those agitations, because when you know that this business is yours, you will protect it.

“For instance, when the militants struck at Eleme Petrochemical Company, they actually kidnapped many of their directors. It was the community; because of the interest that we have as stakeholders, that came out to give the state government a matching order that they must make sure they bring these people back, and we are on our road for three days. And because of that alone, peoples’ confidence was reinvigorated. I can remember the managing director of Eleme Petrochemical Company telling us that the only reason why they are still in the region is because of the support they have from the community. That is the best way to assuage the agitation in the Niger Delta; giving them part ownership of what they took from their land,” he stated.

But really, it is not just that Elano is operating the shares and running it for itself alone, the MoU signed during the acquisition of the shares had already spelt out how the people in the communities will benefit from the investment and within a short period of time, the company has made some considerable impacts.

After paying off the loan obtained from the bank to buy the equity shares in just one year, instead of the agreed five years with the creditor, Elano Investments Limited has executed several developmental projects to the benefit of the host communities which include: nine quality road constructions with drains covering six kilometres across the seven host communities.

It has awarded scholarship to 12 scholars to study Master’s degrees in Information Technology, Management Sciences and Human Resources at UK, provided free-quality healthcare insurance scheme with over 900 families currently benefiting from it and in the area of skills acquisition programme, 12 women from across the host communities are being trained in catering and hospitality management at the University of Port Harcourt Centre for Entrepreneurial Education while 52 youths have been enrolled into Maritime Academy of Nigeria, Oron, Akwa Ibom State to study Computer Appreciation, Petroleum and Diesel Engineering Maintenance, and Electrical Works.

The company has also embarked on the construction of a police station and barracks, provision of security vans and donation of support funds to virtually all security agencies as well as Eleme Youth Council, to boost the security system in the area. These are among many more achievements of Okanje as Board Chairman of Elano Investments Limited.

“If you go to our community you can see network of road, not just a road, durable road. Roads that have all the features; you will see a standard drainage and a standard culvert where necessary. These are things that speak for themselves; it is not something you can just brag about. They are things that we have done that attracted people from far and near to recognise our hard work, diligence and how we are able to carry on.

“It is an ongoing thing that we are still very much on. As we know that the economy has affected all the sectors, but we are making use of whatever we are getting from the investment to ensure that we spread development to our people. And you know that governments have failed us but with this corporate social responsibility coming from within, it is something that we need to encourage so that we can replicate it wherever you have companies or investments like this.

“We need to encourage the government to keep giving back to the community through mediums like this and we are hoping and believing that we have capable people too that can ensure that whatever the dividends are they don’t forget the downtrodden”, he added.