AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT BUHARI

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President Muhammadu Buhari

Michael Owhoko canvasses the relocation of the operational headquarters of oil companies to the Niger Delta

I congratulate you on your re-election at the recent concluded presidential polls. This has thrown up another opportunity for you to serve Nigerians for another four years. Since this will be the last lap of your administration, it is therefore imperative to remind you of the need to pay attention to the pains of those from whose territories revenue for oiling the nation is derived.

I am writing this open letter to you as a citizen of Nigerian who is concerned about the current plight of the Niger Delta people. As a citizen who is from the area, I am particularly moved by the current frustration of the people whose troubles have been made worse by the termination of their natural means of livelihood. The people of the area are predominantly fishermen and farmers, and today, the rivers and land are toxic due to activities of oil exploration. Unfortunately, what should have accrued to the people have been severed by the laws of the land.

As a way out of these plights, I am recapping a solution which had earlier been suggested. I believe it has the capacity to improve the livelihood and, alleviate the suffering of the people of the Niger Delta.

Let the international oil companies (IOCs) and the indigenous oil and gas companies relocate their headquarters to their operational bases.

Though this has been canvassed by several prominent persons from the Niger Delta, and prominently endorsed by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who had said he was not averse to the relocation of the head offices of the oil and gas companies to their operational areas, my focus here is the attendant numerous benefits and value additions that have not been fully accentuated.

If Mr. President is generous enough to give approval to this suggestion, he would have sealed a date with history by putting his name on the sand of times, as the first Nigerian President to take a singular measure that evidently translates to improved living conditions of the Niger Delta people.

Your Excellency, I believe the presence of the oil companies will trigger unprecedented economic boom that will ultimately transform the region. Since this has not been fully addressed in previous postulations, I have opted to highlight some of the benefits that will accrue from the relocation of these oil companies to the Niger Delta, for your consideration.

In doing this, reference is deliberately played down on the contributions of the oil companies to the Nigerian economy through foreign exchange earnings and gross domestic product (GDP). Instead, emphasis is on the extent to which the presence of the oil companies will impact the economies of their host communities.

Mr. President, just consider the following benefits that will accrue to the people of the Niger Delta if the oil and gas companies are directed to move their headquarters in Nigeria to their operational areas:

One, revenue of host state governments will be boosted through taxation. Workers in the employ of these companies will remit their taxes (PAYE) to their host state governments, and this will enable them meet their financial obligations. Infrastructural gaps, including health care and educational facilities, salaries and other obligations will be addressed as appropriate.

Two, youths will be productively engaged. Unemployment will be reduced as jobs will be available to keep the youths away from the streets. In other words, direct and indirect jobs as well as contracts will be created for indigenes with enhanced purchasing power. Even where most of those jobs are lowly and unskilled like cleaning, gardening, and so on, at least, money earned will rob off on the relatives and dependants of these employees.

Three, multiplier effect cannot be quantified as this will generate fresh demands for goods and services, leading to various chain reactions on the local economic front. For example, employees of the oil companies will rent accommodation, patronize the local market for foodstuffs and confectionaries, and as a result, the landlord and market woman are empowered, translating further into reinvestment in the local economy.

Four, besides, some of the employees of these oil companies may buy land from the host communities or locals to build their houses. In the process, the locals are empowered, the town or village or city is developed and, adjourning communities will open up. These little towns can transform into mega and metropolitan cities with concomitant business opportunities.

Five, inter- marriages and attendant social relations are also added values that will occur in the area which may further promote the desired unity in the country.

Mr. President, this is the fastest ways and means to develop the Niger Delta. Imagine when Abuja was identified as the new capital territory, and the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government were not directed to relocate from Lagos to Abuja, there was no way Abuja would have transformed to the level of development it has attained today.

Abuja is the youngest city in Nigeria, yet, it is only second to Lagos in terms of development. This has been made possible because of the presence of the MDAs. Thus, Mr. President, the people of the Niger Delta will appreciate it if you can direct the IOCs and the indigenous oil companies to relocate to their areas of operations.

Your Excellency, recall that the Niger Delta is an area that had hitherto enjoyed control of the oil resources up to 50 per cent based on derivation principle under the 1963 Constitution. Unfortunately for the region, this was abrogated to enable the federal government have absolute control of the entire natural resources and revenue, so it could prosecute the civil war. The war ended in 1970, yet government refused to revert to status quo, opting instead to expropriate all petroleum resources to itself through the Petroleum Act of 1969.

The 13 per cent derivation of oil proceeds being enjoyed today is a product of struggle. The Niger Delta people struggled to achieve the initial 1.5 per cent, 3 per cent and the current 13 per cent derivation. Why should the people of the Niger Delta be subjected to a life of struggle? They struggle for everything, perhaps, because of their weak numerical strength. So, who will come to their aid? This is an opportunity, Mr. President for you to identify with the Niger Delta people to end their struggle.

It is also of interest to remind Mr. President that the people of Borno and Yobe States which have suffered devastation from the impact of Boko Haram insurrection, did not put up struggle for their territories to be rehabilitated. It is only important for the destroyed territories to be restored so that life can return back to normal. After all, most of the people are victims and innocently found themselves in that predicament.

Thus, when the federal government through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its subsidiary, the National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS) directed the oil companies to make budgetary provisions for the rehabilitation of destroyed territories in Borno and Yobe States, there were no objections. The NNPC and the oil companies are today funding the construction of houses, schools, hospitals, roads, and so, in the war-torn areas. These rehabilitation and reconstruction ideas are commendable, but imagine if these were also replicated in the Niger Delta where the resources of the nation are generated, how populist this would have been.

Mr. President, it will not be out of place, therefore, if new initiatives can be launched to develop the Niger Delta which has suffered different forms of hardship, diseases and environmental degradation as a result of the activities of the oil companies. Making these companies to relocate to their operational areas is one major step that can transform the Niger Delta and accelerate the development of the region.

Mr. President, this is not a constitutional issue like restructuring, so, it is within your purview to effect. It requires a presidential directive or at least a memo from the Minister of State for Petroleum to the Federal Executive Council for approval.

Sir, it should be noted that this letter is not a demand for restructuring of the country, which fundamentally, aims at enthroning justice and equity through fiscal federalism, but a presidential directive compelling the oil and gas companies to relocate their headquarters to their operational bases.

When compared to what obtains in foreign countries, the practice in Nigeria is an aberration. For example in America and Canada, all of the oil and gas companies have both their headquarters and operational bases in Texas, USA and Alberta and Quebec, Canada. No oil companies have offices in Washington and Ottawa, capitals of the USA and Canada respectively.

This is also applicable to the oil and gas companies operating in the United Kingdom where the headquarters and operational bases of the companies are based mostly in Aberdeen, Scotland, and not London. This is the pattern all over the world. So, why is Nigeria different?

Mr. President, I acknowledge the various intervention efforts of government. Specifically, I appreciate the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Amnesty Programme, construction of the East-West Road, establishment of the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, the Nigerian Maritime University and the introduction of the 13 per cent derivation. These are all geared towards the development of the region, but not much impact has been made.

Mr. President, you will agree with me that equity requires that where resources are produced, part of such resources should be ploughed back into that area for the development of such area. Too little is set aside for this purpose in the Niger Delta region today.

Mr. President, there may be those who may not be disposed to my proposal. They may try to rationalize why oil companies should not relocate to the Niger Delta. Such persons are quick to cite insecurity as reasons.

Mr. President, though insecurity is a symptom of hunger and frustration, those who maintain this line of thought do so out of ignorance or clandestine motive. For example, since the relocation of Nigeria LNG Limited headquarters from Lagos to Bonny, Rivers State where its operational base is, none of its employees have been kidnapped.

Employees of NLNG in Bonny enjoy peace and security in the area. Their presence alone in Bonny has opened up and raised the level of business and commercial activities of the town and its environs. The host communities are happy because of their living conditions which have experienced a leap, arising from patronage of employees of NLNG in their local trade and commercial activities.

Another example is the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB) with its headquarters located in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital. Since its establishment by the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) Act which came into effect on April 22, 2010, they have conducted their businesses and operations under an atmosphere of peace. There has not been any case of threat to the lives of the employees by way of kidnapping, robbery and other forms of criminal activities.

Today, it is on record that the NCDMB has contributed in no small measure in facilitating the development of Yenagoa, particularly through corporate (NCDMB) and individual (employees) patronage and support of institutions and businesses.

Mr. President, it is my view therefore that the presence of oil companies in the Niger Delta will inspire hope, restore dignity and reassure the people of the numerous opportunities and potential commercial activities in the region.

Your Excellency, it is my plea therefore for you to direct the oil and gas companies to relocate their administrative and operational headquarters to the Niger Delta region.

Owhoko is a journalist, author and public relations practitioner