An interview was conducted with the President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof. Benjamin Okaba, where he spoke on the current state of the Niger Delta regarding oil spill, crude oil theft, alleged exploitation by oil companies, and oil discovery in the North. Okaba said that oil is a blessing but the mismanagement of its resources is a curse. He said that Nigeria has failed to utilize these resources in the right way. The country has sole dependence on oil, which now affects the people of Niger Delta negatively.
He said that the negative impact of this natural resource on the state began with the economy as domestic means of livelihood are not sustainable any more. Communities that used to be popular for exporting fishes and other aquatic resources now depend on foreign sources due to environmental pollution. He said that there is a psychology of slavery for indigenes of the state as they live in abject poverty, while their employers in the oil industry live in affluence. He added that over-reliance on oil has discouraged other sectors of the country.
Government has failed to ensure investment in education.
Engagement of the oil companies in corporate social responsibility has not yielded much impact in communities of the natural resource. He said majority of the companies are capitalist-oriented and majorly after maximization of profit. He said that there is no level of impact made by these companies towards the improvement of the communities. He asserted that they keep people poor to remain beggars at their mercy. He stated that the Nigerian state only has interest in the money that is made. As a result, whenever the state’s revenue is threatened, the state government is quick to militarize the area.
In his statement, he said that top management staff of the firms are not from the region. Okaba said that this is because the government has failed to ensure investment in education, training, and provision of scholarships for the people. He said that this act was done on purpose to keep people from intellectual development, thereby preventing them from questioning the operations and activities of the companies. Education is regarded as a social service, and the Nigerian constitution states that the government should be responsible for, at least, basic education.
Oil theft is capital intensive and capitalist-oriented.
According to the INC President, many parents in these areas are not financially capable to send their children to school. More so, the government and the oil firms are responsible for the destruction of the source of sustenance and livelihood of these poor families, therefore, they should take the responsibility of educating their children. There is a need for regeneration of the environment that also ensures that the people of the communities return to their positions, where they are able to earn a living and live a sustainable life at the same time.
Speaking on oil theft, he said that there are different categories to it. There is the daily bread category, which includes people who steal a jerry can of oil to fend for themselves. There is also the capital intensive, capitalist-oriented and mafia partnership-devised theft — between local, military, and international agencies — which is considered the real theft. It requires a massive capital of over 5 million naira, therefore is not a business for poor people. He added that there are heavily armed joint force units in the pipeline supervision area who watch over the theft.
Exclusive North Delta establishments are suffering from corruption.
Furthermore, Okaba said that it takes only a serious government that has interest in the development and welfare of the people to get the oil firms to be committed to their host communities. Although the federal government established the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs specially for the region, the issue of corruption has not permitted these exclusive establishments to solve the problems of the region. He further said that the NDDC is controlled by someone that is not from the state. Inappropriate management of funds has also led to the questioning of their accountability.