Osinbajo in Bayelsa, Proposes New Vision for Niger Delta

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  • llegal oil refiners to be incorporated in proposed modular refineries

By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa

For more than three hours
yesterday in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, engaged elders, leaders, non-governmental organisations as well as youth and women groups in the Niger Delta in continuation of the federal government’s search for peace in the troubled oil-rich region.
The acting president who made a passionate presentation at the Alamieyeseigha Memorial Banquet Hall, which was filled to capacity, urged the people of the Niger Delta to give the President Muhammadu Buhari administration a chance to make the difference in the lives of the people by giving peace a chance. Osinbajo who was accompa- nied by the Minister of State, Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, his counterpart in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Devel- opment, Heineken Lokpobiri, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Usani and other top government functionaries, told his audience that his tour of the region was due to the importance the current government attaches to the Niger Delta.

According to the Vice Presi- dent, many decisions taken in the past concerning the Niger Delta contradicted common sense, wondering why the region which is a natural location for certain industries, had been deprived of such privileges for a long time.

He said he and his entourage were in the state to get first- hand information as to the pains the people of the region have endured for a long time, promising that with the rate of progress made in talks with the leaders and youths of the area, it was only a matter of time before things would begin to take shape.
Delving into the history of oil exploration in Nigeria, Osinbajo recalled that it was in Bayelsa that the product was first found, but regretted that years after, there was not much to show for it.
He noted that the Buhari administration was bent on changing that narrative.
“The president decided that we must undertake this visit to engage the leadership of the Niger Delta oil producing com- munities to seek to understand their concerns first-hand and to offer these communities a new deal and a new pact.
“In Oloibiri where the history of oil exploration first began, this oil became the source of 70 per cent of our national revenue and 90 per cent of our export. Over 50 per cent of non-oil revenue is determined by oil revenue.
“To many communities, the discovery of oil has become a curse, or at best a burden. Fishing and farming have consistently been destroyed by pollution. Worse still, huge resources earned over the years have simply disappeared,” lamented Osinbajo.
The Vice President who drew intermittent applause from theteeming crowd, noted that homes and farmlands have been destroyed by the exploitation of oil, while social amenities are either non-existent or inadequate.
He added that despite the oil wealth of the Delta area, “the people have had very limited access to it.”
He continued: “And so, we have come today on behalf of the President, with heads of ministries and agencies to propose a new vision and to signpost a new era for the people of the oil-producing communities and Nigeria.
“ The federal government will begin a partnership with the oil producing states in collaboration with local government, private sector and civil society organisa- tions for the rapid development of these communities.
“We must intervene in the oil communities to map out what can be done in the short to medium term and we are focused on ensuring that the people benefit from the wealth of the land. This new vision will define the future of the region.”
However, he said oil explora- tion on its own cannot fix the problems of the communities.
While promising to alleviate the pains the people are currently going through, he stressed that the challenge was to make the region investment friendly.
“We must make the com- munities hubs of refining and related activities. The ministry of petroleum in collaboration with oil companies are working on a 40-point agenda and new initiatives for the Niger Delta”, he assured.
He added that the federal government would henceforth work closely with those into illegal oil bunkering business and incorporate them into the proposed modular refineries to be established.

“In particular, one of those initiatives is that those working in illegal refineries in oil-bearing communities will participate in modular refineries”.

While decrying some of the decisions taken in the past, the VP maintained: “There is no doubt that power stations should be stationed here (Bayelsa). It makes sense. Many times, the way we take decisions does not always show that we are applying all of the common sense that we have.”

He explained that societies are built on the resourcefulness, innovation and zeal of its people, giving India which has no oil but operates the largest refinery in the world as an example.

“I am prepared to work with you, but many investors are scared to put their money in a place that may not be stable. This is why communi- ties must refuse to participate in the destruction of pipelines and other oil facilities. It also pollutes the environment. It’s like cutting our nose to spite our faces”, Osinbajo stated.

He warned that any kobo made from oil now has to be put to the best use since the entire world had started moving to alternative sources of energy which might make the mineral resource lose value soon.

In his address, Governor Se- riake Dickson decried the neglect of the region and warned against politicisation of developmental and security issues.

He noted that he had always believed that such meetings, rather than the use of sheer force, was the solution to the Niger Delta problem.

“We have always believed that the solution is to build consensus and not through war or military deployment.”

He stressed that being the epicentre and the heart of the Niger Delta and of the Ijaw people, Bayelsa must be taken seriously by the federal government.

“All the issues, historical or contemporary, all the contradic- tions, you will see them in their naked form here in Bayelsa. In this state, we believe in collaboration, working actively with our security agencies and that is why we have this peace,” Dickson said.

Osinbajo had also earlier announced that he had been given a chieftaincy title during a meeting with traditional rulers in the state.

In his brief comments, Ka- chikwu urged the Niger Delta to look inwards and clean up its mess before complaining about marginalisation.

While reiterating the federal government’s commitment to the region, the petroleum minister said that the over $40 billion ploughed into the region in the last few years had been largely unaccounted for.

The Chairman of Host Oil and Gas Communities in Bayelsa, (HOSTCOM, Mr Bob Nabena, called for the establishment of a state oil intervention agency so that the affected communities can benefit from the oil wealth.

Others who made different presentations were: Mr Udengs Eradiri, President Ijaw Youth Council, IYC; the President, Ijaw National Congress, INC, Boma Boforibo; Morris Alagoa, Coordinator Environmental Rights Action, ERA, and leaders of women groups.

Also present at the occasion were Timi Alaibe, ex-Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Managing Director, for- mer governor of Bayelsa, Timipre Sylva, Brig. General Boroh, the Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty programme, among several others.