Chief Thomas Ereyitomi, a traditional tittle holder in Warri Kingdom, Delta State, is the House of Representatives member-elect, for Warri Federal Constituency. Few days to the inauguration of the National Assembly, the Akatigbi-Ayeola of Warri Kingdom (a.k.a. Ojogbojo), and Chairman, Tomba Resources Limited, a key player in the downstream sector of the oil industry, granted an interview to select journalists, including Olaoluwakitan Babatunde, and spoke extensively on his election and plans for his constituency, a major economic hub
How do you feel about your victory at the polls?
I received my election with joy and excitement because it is a call to serve my people and the overwhelming majority of votes that I got in the election are a clear indication that the people wanted me to represent them this time around. But I have a message for them. They should all come together and stand solidly behind me so that whatever happens in Abuja, I will be relating with them regularly. That unity of purpose is what is going to transform Warri Federal Constituency. If we are not united, we will not move forward. So we should all come together as one Warri Federal Constituency irrespective of our ethnic differences and work for the development of our area. On my part, I am going to relate with them and ensure that their inputs are taken into consideration in whatever we do at the Federal House of Representatives.
You contested the election with other persons, who lost to you. What is your message to them?
My message to them is that we should all work together as one.
The project we have at hand today is no longer about a political party or me. After an election, partisan politics is over, what follows is politics of development. We should all come together for the good and development of this constituency. Let us all come together so that we can share ideas and make Warri Federal Constituency great. I am extending a hand of fellowship to them because we are all brothers. Election is all about contest and in all contest, a winner must emerge, and now that I have emerged, it behoves on others to join hands with me to move the constituency forward. I can’t do alone. I need the backing, support and encouragement of my constituents.
What is going to be your focus in the National Assembly?
When I get to Abuja, the first action plan I have is to ensure that we have constructive engagement with our people because I am going there to truly represent them. So, when I engage with them, I am going to take their needs and inputs to Abuja. We have a lot of abandoned projects in the Warri Federal Constituency either from NDDC, DESOPADEC or the Federal Government. In my own little way, I will ensure that these projects are given the needed attention. For example, the Koko/Ogheye road is a project that is very key to the Itsekiris and the Ijaws. The Omadino/Escravos road is also key to our people. These are ongoing projects that are not adequately funded. So it’s crucial that these projects are adequately funded so that our areas can be opened. When these two roads are completed, our areas will be opened up. These are key projects that I will ensure are completed under my tenure. And I will also ensure that we have a standard Constituency office here in Warri, where our people can access me, because it is not everybody that can go to Abuja.
Using Warri Federal Constituency as a case study, are you satisfied with the living conditions of your people?
I am not satisfied, but that does not mean that a lot has not been done. In life, everybody wants to get the best but the best cannot come all the time. However, we will continue to improve on what we have on ground to strengthen various government agencies that we have around and ensure that the much needed development in this area is achieved. If you look at it properly, one of the major problems is the absence of multinational oil companies in Warri. They all left this place. Economic activities here have slowed down drastically because of these internal crises that we have amongst ourselves. These are key issues we need to address. One of the things we also want to do is to ensure that this environment is peaceful because it is only when the environment is peaceful that investors will come around and these companies will return to this area. But if investors do not come here to invest, then we will continue to stay like this. We need to create a peaceful environment in this area.
You are a key player in the Niger Delta region, you have been part of it, are you impressed with the performance of the NDDC so far?
No. In our area, NDDC has not done anything. Our people have not felt the impact of NDDC and these are the things we need to take up because the idea was that these agencies are to develop the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta region. I will give you an example. There is this shore protection contract in Ugborodo long ago that they have been awarded several times. Today, the contractor has abandoned the project because he has not been paid. That is the only tangible project embarked upon by NDDC, that the Ugborodo people can see, yet that it has been abandoned.
Apart from this project, if you go round our areas, you will not see any other NDDC project here. And when you look at Delta State, the Itsekiris are the highest producers of oil and gas, followed by the Ijaws, the Urhobos and the rest. All these agitations you are seeing all over the place would not have been if NDDC was doing its work. Oil companies are being attacked because they are the only ones they are seeing. So NDDC has not done anything in our area and we are going to engage them to let know them know that they must be responsible to their duties. This is one of the issues I am going to take up because the only way we are going to have peace in this area is for NDDC to do what they are supposed to do. The pressure should not go to the oil companies because the oil companies are contributing to the NDDC. If there is too much pressure on the oil companies, they will have no choice but to relocate to a more peaceful area where they can work effectively. And you know the outcome when these oil companies go? There will be extreme poverty in the area.
The federal government through the supervisory ministry should be able to compel NDDC to do what they are supposed to do. They also have to look at what NDDC is doing with the funds they are releasing to them. They also need to ask the NDDC where they are doing these projects. Has NDDC supervisors ever gone round these communities to find out if the projects are actually being executed? These are the things we are supposed to do and for us to do these, we need people who have the interest of the Niger Delta at heart to take charge of these intervention agencies. The problem we have here is lack of development. You cannot go to Abuja and come back here and be happy.
With all these agitations here and there, what is your advice to these youths spearheading the Niger Delta struggle?
My advice to our youths is that they need to be careful and find out other means of managing these problems so that there can be peace because if they continue to mount pressure on these companies and they leave, we are going to suffer the consequences. More of these agitations are supposed to go to the government because NDDC for example, is an agency under the government. DESOPADEC is an agency of the state government, so more of these agitations are supposed to go to the government. The oil companies are doing their part, they are paying their tax, royalties and others, and they are also in partnership with the federal government on these projects, including funding of NDDC and other interventionist agencies. So it is the government that will develop the regions and not the oil companies. We can continue to agitate, but the focus of our agitation should be directed to government and not the oil companies.
So you feel the oil companies on their own part are doing enough?
I think the major area the oil companies have failed our people is the area of employment. Our people need to be employed into these companies and I think they should look into this area. Apart from this, oil companies, for instance, Chevron is trying in terms of corporate social responsibilities because Chevron is funding the Global Memorandum of Understanding on yearly basis. The projects on ground in the various communities are basically what Chevron has done under the GMoU. Let me give you an example, the GMoU that Chevron has with about 23 communities, if you go to the communities; it is those projects under the initiative that are seen in the communities. I am glad to note that Shell is trying to borrow a leaf from that. But like an Oliver Twist, we are always asking for more.
As a representative of your people, are you likely to intervene on behalf of your people on this unemployment issue?
Yes, this is part of the things I am going to do when I get to Abuja. My own approach is that we should have a win – win situation. We should approach the issues in such a way that the communities can benefit and the oil companies can also relax and do their job. We should not be aggressive because it will not help us. The aggressive approach was the one we used that made Shell to relocate from our areas. So my approach is engagement in a round table so that everybody will be happy because it is only when the company is working that we can talk about employment. Shell is working well in Port Harcourt and the people there are benefiting even though Shell is still taking our oil from here.
Are you satisfied with the implementation of the local content law in the oil industry?
The only thing we can say about the local content law is that it has been able to discourage a lot of expatriates, who come to take our jobs. With the local content, no expatriate can come and take a contract that the local contractors can handle. But one thing it has not been able to solve is that a company in Kano and other states can come to Delta and take the contracts meant for the local contractors away. So in the real sense, the local content law has not been effective in implementation. But then a system is all about improvement and we need to improve on it. The first thing is that it has been able to keep some jobs for Nigerians to do. But deep down, we also have to ensure that it provides jobs for the locals too.