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Towards Boosting Local Content In Oil Industry

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If there is anything that has accentuated the policy directives and objective principles of the Nigerian Content Law 2010, driven by   Yenagoa-based Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB), it is perhaps, the introduction of the Niger Delta Overseas Scholarship Schemes by some major players aimed at building capacity and developing local manpower to fill existing vacancies and subsequently take over leadership roles in the oil and gas industry.

One of such players is Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC). Another player that has made a significant mark in the industry is the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), a government agency set up to drive the application of modern technology and innovative thinking in transforming the potentials in the oil and gas industry. There are also quite a number of others striving to make a difference in the industry through in-country capacity development initiatives, including the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), another government agency created to drive the sustainable development agenda of the region, TOTAL Upstream Nigeria Limited (TUPNL), Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), ExxonMobil Nigeria Limited (EMNL), and Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL), with specific local scholarship programmes targeted at prospective candidates from host communities.

One thing is common among these schemes: there are aimed at building the capacity of the local youth and preparing them to take over available leadership opportunities in the oil and gas companies operating in the Niger Delta. From the post-primary to the university schemes, the policy objective is the same.

For all these, Executive Secretary, NCDMB, Ernest Nwapa, must be a happy man. Why? The whole idea is premised on developing local capacity and capability that would swiftly integrate the natural owners of the resources with the industry in such a way that they gradually become major controllers of the wealth in their land. This obviously meets NCDMB’s mandate to systematically enhance the ability of indigenous folks to participate more actively in exploring and maximising the benefits of the oil and gas resources from the region.

But that is not just why Nwapa must be a happy man. He is a happy man because the wider picture is becoming increasingly clearer, with graduates of the novel post-graduate schemes returning, and gainfully taking over leadership opportunities in the oil and gas companies. This is the reason why he is a happy man! And perhaps, Nwapa is not alone. He is joined by a legion of locals from the region who are gladdened by the development, even though, belatedly. But whether belated or timely and apt, the fact remains that the Niger Delta is beginning to get it right.

Since the first geological and geophysical surveys were conducted across selected areas in the region in 1937, and first exploration well in 1951 at Iho, Imo State, with first successful production well in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in 1956, the people have been crying blue murder, especially in the areas of employment and contract opportunities in the industry. In fact, from the 1930s to late 1990s, employment of people from the region was difficult for a number of reasons: the major oil and gas companies had their headquarters outside the region, particularly in Lagos. The companies also advertised for new job opportunities in newspapers based in Lagos. And to worsen issues, they further conducted their recruitment exercises in Lagos, with people from other regions managing the process, in most cases.

This scenario left suitably qualified applicants from the region at disadvantaged position. Firstly, those in charge of the recruitment processes were not from the Niger Delta, and therefore, were not in any way obligated to grant applicants from the region any special considerations. Secondly, only very few Niger Delta indigenes living in the region saw such publications. Thirdly, most of those who managed to apply and were invited for interviews in Lagos could not afford to attend, meet the interview sessions due mainly to the distance or even compete favuorably. Fourthly, political influence played a significant role in alienating Niger Deltans from the oil and gas industry, as those wielding power at the centre dictated the employment criteria and recruitment results in the critical industry. These and many others were the factors that conspired to exclude competent Niger Deltans from participating in the industry.

But with sustained agitation of the region, either peacefully or violently, a paradigm shift began to emerge with the directive that all oil and gas companies with operations in the Niger Delta must relocate their headquarters to the region. And to give vent to this policy, the Nigerian, albeit, local content policy was introduced to compel the companies to give priority to local manpower in both employment and contracts.

With the companies’ head offices relocated, their recruitment centres have been brought closer to the deprived but qualified candidates from the region. Besides, the newspapers from the region are also being used as channels for advertising job vacancies in the industry. Again, the Nigerian Content Law has further created window for preferences to job applicants and contract seekers from the region. In addition, special programmes aimed at attracting more indigenous manpower into the industry, such as scholarships, skills acquisition, and capacity and capability enhancement schemes, among others, are being holistically implemented.

Indeed, more important here is the variety of scholarships specifically designed for students from hitherto neglected communities in the region. But of major significance in this quest is the policy to train another cadre of graduates in the oil and gas-related engineering fields at Master’s level in overseas universities to fast-track the inclusion of local folks in top management leadership positions in the industry.

One of the schemes is the SPDC Niger Delta Post-Graduate Overseas Scholarship Scheme introduced in 2010 to sponsor 10 graduate students from the region to three top-level universities in the United Kingdom. This scheme has now started yielding positive dividends with the first batch of 10 students returning to Nigeria with breathe-taking grades. Today, they have been gainfully employed into leadership positions in Shell and some other major oil and gas companies in the region. In fact, four of them are now Shell staff while the remaining six have been engaged by other major and servicing companies. This is one of the aims of the various scholarship schemes by governments, corporate bodies and even well-meaning individuals in the Niger Delta!

Hitherto, the oil and gas companies had complained, correctly or spuriously, that most applicants from the region for job placements do not possess the technical competences and requisite qualifications to fill such vacancies. They argued, shamelessly too, that graduates from the region lack academic knowledge of the core sciences, especially oil and gas-related engineering fields and were inexperienced to undertake demanding jobs in the industry. For this reason, they had continued to annoyingly saturate the industry with graduates from other regions at the detriment of young graduates from the Niger Delta.

But with religious implementation of the Nigerian Content Law, the companies, particularly Shell, are beginning to look inward and train young graduates from host communities to acquire the level of competences required in the industry.  And the SPDC Managing Director, Mutiu Sunmonu said this much when he treated the pioneer post-graduate scholars to a dinner in Port Harcourt.

According to him: “two years ago, I challenged the Community Content Team, to consider a scholarship scheme in core petroleum engineering disciplines. They did just that, and … the result of that challenge” has manifested today.  “I am sure that armed with degrees from these institutions, you are now ready to contribute to the development of your country,” he emphasised.

But four critical issues beg for explanation: First is the limited number of scholars allowed into the scheme. Second is the awareness of this scheme by engineering-related graduates from the three catchment states of Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers. Third is the level-playing selection criteria and transparency of the process. Four is the equal opportunity, access to resources and wide ranging challenging environment provided scholars to enhance their performance and success rate. Of the 10 pioneer scholars, eight are from Delta, one each from Bayelsa and Rivers. However, out of the 10 in the second batch, six are from Delta, three from Rivers and one from Bayelsa.

A worrisome question that keeps resonating is: why do they have more beneficiaries from Delta instead of Rivers, where SPDC has its headquarters and recruitment centre or Bayelsa where NCDMB has its head office?  Is it a matter of more awareness of the scholarship opportunity in Delta than in Rivers and Bayelsa? Or is it that the company and its Community Content Team favour applicants from Delta? No!

They are more Rivers and Bayelsa indigenes than Deltans in the Community Content Team of Shell. The former general manager of Nigerian Content Development, Simbi Wabote, is from Bayelsa while the present General Manager, Igo Weli, is from Rivers. Even the Manager, Community Content, Amah Ikuru, is from Rivers. So, the issue of favouritism is out of the question. It is just that more Deltans apply for the scheme. Then the issue of number of scholars: although a pilot scheme, there is room for increase in the number of scholars accepted to accommodate other qualified candidates because Shell has the resources to pay their bills.

General Manager, NCD, Igo Weli, addressed some of these issues during an interface with the media, and added that Shell‘s  emphasis on engineering-related courses was to scale up opportunities for young Niger Deltans to populate leadership positions in the industry.

Even the scholars attest to the level of transparency and openness in the selection process. They also praised the challenging environment and the fact that lecturers in the UK universities give every student equal opportunity and treatment, and are ready even at odd hours to assist any student having difficulty with assigned course work. The abundance of resources is another factor which enhanced the performance of the scholars, and positioned them amongst the best.

Edafe Perekowei Edivri is one of the scholars, who was elected the first-ever black member of the Imperial College Student Council after he had been appointed the post-graduate coordinator, Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG). A bachelor of science (second class upper) degree holder in applied geophysics from Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Edafe, said, his “experience at Imperial College was challenging, yet inspiring and very rewarding.”

“I am from a very humble background, raised by a single parent… I consider myself most privileged to have benefited from the SPDC Niger Delta Post-Graduate Overseas Scholarship Scheme. At the time, I did dream of furthering my education but funds to actualize the dream were out of reach… However, SPDC helped in realizing my dream to a dimension much wider than I dreamt of by funding my study to Imperial College, London. This means that there is hope for eggheads, and as long as Shell continues to operate, and make profit in Nigeria, the future is bright,” the Isoko-born Edafe added.

Nani Oseoghene Aghogho, who had his first degree in civil engineering at the University of Benin, confessed that the academic environment in the University College, London,  was far better than what obtains in Nigeria, adding that the UK universities were centuries ahead in human and material resources, including ability to relate with students without any strings attached.

The stories of Edafe and Nani are the stories of the other eight scholars. Now they have joined leadership opportunities in the industry. But that is not all: they are helping to achieve the core objectives of the Nigerian Content Law 2010, while toning down the level of agitation of young graduates for opportunities in the industry that has reshaped not just the environment and ecosystems but also the socio-cultural lives of the communities.

 

Nelson Chukwudi

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Should Daughters Inherit Father’s Property?

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Recently, a court in one of the southern states nullified the practice of denying female children the right to inherit their father’s property. The ruling confirms that the female child can inherit her father’s property. It is good but how the message is going to be sent to the villages at the grassroots calls for concern.
This issue of women inheriting directly from their lineage is supposed to be translated to the rural areas. This will give them a sense of belonging.
One thing is for the government or a competent court to make and interpret such law, another is for kinsmen to obey and allow the female children inherit their father’s wealth.
There are those who hold tightly to the cultural practice that females should not inherit their father’s property because, according to them, women get married out. Some people have vowed not to, feeling that if a daughter partakes in the share of her father’s property, she will take the proceeds to her husband’s house. Even as educated as some persons are, and having attained certain levels in the society, they still hold to the opinion.They claim that it is African culture. In some rural areas they don’t bother whether such laws are in existence and view it as imported.
Another group say there is nothing wrong in that since the woman came from such lineage. For them, such idea is primitive and archaic in this 21st century.
A legal practitioner, Chidi Enyie explained that every female child has a right of inheritance.
Citing Section 42 Sub 1&2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, he said that every person has a right to freedom from discrimination.
He said that was invoked in Ukoje Vs Ukoje (2020) where the Supreme Court came to a judgement that no person by reason of sex shall be discriminated against by reason of sex from inheriting the property of the parents.  The same way the males are entitled to inheritance, that’s the same females are entitled.
According to Barr. Enyie, the issue of sharing inheritance comes into play when a deceased parent dies intestate, that is dying without a Will, but if it is when there is a Will, it means the deceased person has done the sharing of the property in the Will.
“In most cases, it happens when there is a Will.  In our custom in Nigeria, they tend to favour the male child, but the Supreme Court judgement remains the name unless it is reversed in later decisions”, he said.
His words: “As it is, the barrier of discrimination has been nullified. Both male and female can inherit.  Even if she dies, her children are supposed to continue the ownership of the property, they are supposed to inherit their mum.  It can continue to run from generation to generation in that lineage”.
He pointed out that it depends largely on the type of marriage as sometimes in a customary marriage, the custom of the people will apply so long as the custom is not repugnant to national justice, equity and God conscience, then the custom will apply.
But in a Statutory marriage, Esien vs Esien (1934), he said that the Supreme Court came out with a decision that if it is the biological father of the child and not the customary father of the child.
“But ignorance on the part of the society tries to hamper the execution of the judgement of the Supreme Court”, he insisted.
He maintained that the judgement of Ukeje vs Ukeje is being criticised by the Ibo tribe that it wants to nullify their customs stressing that it should not prescribe what their custom should be.
He advocated that women should remain vibrant and contend for their right until awareness is created about the equality of both sex.
A pharmacist, Mr. Edet Okong, said such issue is prevalent in Nigeria because of poverty and illiteracy while it is not practised in other countries.
He noted that women have a share in his family whenever they are sharing things.  
He asked: “Is it not somebody from that family that gave birth to the woman?”
A legal practitioner, Mr. Ejike Uboh, noted that the issue of inheritance has to be handled by the court.
He said that NGOs need to carry out a lot of campaigns to the rural areas to be able to change the mindset of people who still hold into such cultural practice.
Uboh said that females inheriting their father’s property is good and traceable to the Holy scripture and called on FIDA and traditional rulers who are the embodiment of customs to sensitise people, giving reasons why such practice should stop.
A mechanic, Nude Ikegwuru, insisted that it is impossible for a daughter to inherit her father’s property and argued that women are exempted from paying levies in some communities and so should not.  
He made reference to the Aba women riot of 1929 which prevents women from paying tax in Nigeria.
A businessman, Gold Ibokwe, said that such laws and decision by the government should be taken seriously as time goes on.
According to a medical laboratory scientist, Ebere Nduidi, “when a woman is not married, she should have right to any property in her father’s home but when she gets married, I don’t think that is necessary.”
He emphasised that when a woman gets married, she changes her name and start answering her husband’s name, becomes somebody’s wife and so should not as she has been legally married.
Although he argued that the daughter can if it is her biological father’s property and not a general family case and insisted that if she gets the property before the death of the father, she should not return it.
“Fathers have the right to Will properties to their daughters if they want. They have equal opportunity as the male children”, he opined.
An entrepreneur, Davies Peter, said a woman can inherit her father’s property while she is alive and after her lifetime, the property should be released to the family.
According to him, since she bears the name of another family, the children shouldn’t continue the inheritance.
He advised that natural justice has to take its course instead of imported law while the laws be properly looked into and maintained that there should be some exception to the interpretation of some of the law as regards Nigeria and Africa generally.
He said although some of the laws are treated based on the fact that women are referred to as the weaker sex and they try to wave certain things.
He cautioned that people should not bring what is impracticable into existence and argued that male and female are not equal.
Mr. Kayode Ojo, an Architect asked: “Don’t you think that when you give a woman land in her father’s house, another one in her husband’s house, it will be too much? 
“ A man and a woman is a family, the husband and the children, so she should inherit in her husband’s house”, he noted.
Although the law supersedes tradition, he said, but that is if he wants to give the land to his daughter, at the end of the day, it is her own and insisted that tradition cannot prove the law wrong.
A pharmacist, Mary Udoh, said that fathers should be sensitised about writing Wills before death, so that if a property is bequeathed to whether a female or male, nobody under the law can take it away from such child.
An engineer, Emeka Obi, said what one may call cultural barriers and taboos is a common problem in Nigeria.
As he puts it: “People’s customs and traditions are peculiar to those who practice them. If according to the way of life of a given people, their daughters don’t have a place in the family inheritance, so be it, but if out of love or goodluck, a father Wills a property to any of his daughters, I have no problem with that”.
A nurse, Mary Uche, in her own view said: “ This is a welcome development. We are more of girls in my house than boys. “Could you believe that we lost our Dad, we the girls buried him but the boys took all the properties. And even if a woman dies, all her properties will be given to the sons’ wives. The only things given to the girls are clothes, if you demand more, they will tell you to go and inherit your husband’s house. If you are single, they will tell you to go and marry”.
The consequence of denying the female child the right of inheritance of father’s property is that if it comes to a situation where she is expected to contribute to family pressures, definitely she will withdraw. 
I’m not sure that any property can be too much to be owned by a woman.  If she has properties both in her father’s house and husband’s home, better for the children; after all, they were not stolen but inherited from grandparents. 
Religious leaders should preach more to the populace on improving the lives of people in the society.
Traditional rulers, NGOs should continually have dialogue and pass the messages down to the grassroots and perhaps to those in the urban centers no matter how learned and their level of exposure.

By: Eunice Choko-Kayode

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Features

Should Daughters Inherit Father’s Property?

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on

Recently a court in one of the southern states nullified the practice of denying female children the right to inherit their father’s property. The ruling confirms that the female child can inherit her father’s property. It is good but how the message is going to be sent to the villages at the grassroots calls for concern.
This issue of women inheriting directly from their lineage is supposed to be translated to the rural areas. This will give them a sense of belonging.
One thing is for the government or a competent court to make and interpret such law, another is for kinsmen to obey and allow the female children inherit their father’s wealth.
There are those who hold tightly to the cultural practice that females should not inherit their father’s property because, according to them, women get married out. Some people have vowed not to, feeling that if a daughter partakes in the share of her father’s property, she will take the proceeds to her husband’s house. Even as educated as some persons are, and having attained certain levels in the society, they still hold to the opinion.They claim that it is African culture. In some rural areas they don’t bother whether such laws are in existence and view it as imported.
Another group say there is nothing wrong in that since the woman came from such lineage. For them, such idea is primitive and archaic in this 21st century.
A legal practitioner, Chidi Enyie explained that every female child has a right of inheritance.
Citing Section 42 Sub 1&2 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, he said that every person has a right to freedom from discrimination.
He said that was invoked in Ukoje Vs Ukoje (2020) where the Supreme Court came to a judgement that no person by reason of sex shall be discriminated against by reason of sex from inheriting the property of the parents.  The same way the males are entitled to inheritance, that’s the same females are entitled.
According to Barr. Enyie, the issue of sharing inheritance comes into play when a deceased parent dies intestate, that is dying without a Will, but if it is when there is a Will, it means the deceased person has done the sharing of the property in the Will.
“In most cases, it happens when there is a Will.  In our custom in Nigeria, they tend to favour the male child, but the Supreme Court judgement remains the name unless it is reversed in later decisions”, he said.
His words: “As it is, the barrier of discrimination has been nullified. Both male and female can inherit.  Even if she dies, her children are supposed to continue the ownership of the property, they are supposed to inherit their mum.  It can continue to run from generation to generation in that lineage”.
He pointed out that it depends largely on the type of marriage as sometimes in a customary marriage, the custom of the people will apply so long as the custom is not repugnant to national justice, equity and God conscience, then the custom will apply.
But in a Statutory marriage, Esien vs Esien (1934), he said that the Supreme Court came out with a decision that if it is the biological father of the child and not the customary father of the child.
“But ignorance on the part of the society tries to hamper the execution of the judgement of the Supreme Court”, he insisted.
He maintained that the judgement of Ukeje vs Ukeje is being criticised by the Ibo tribe that it wants to nullify their customs stressing that it should not prescribe what their custom should be.
He advocated that women should remain vibrant and contend for their right until awareness is created about the equality of both sex.
A pharmacist, Mr. Edet Okong, said such issue is prevalent in Nigeria because of poverty and illiteracy while it is not practised in other countries.
He noted that women have a share in his family whenever they are sharing things.  
He asked: “Is it not somebody from that family that gave birth to the woman?”
A legal practitioner, Mr. Ejike Uboh, noted that the issue of inheritance has to be handled by the court.
He said that NGOs need to carry out a lot of campaigns to the rural areas to be able to change the mindset of people who still hold into such cultural practice.
Uboh said that females inheriting their father’s property is good and traceable to the Holy scripture and called on FIDA and traditional rulers who are the embodiment of customs to sensitise people, giving reasons why such practice should stop.
A mechanic, Nude Ikegwuru, insisted that it is impossible for a daughter to inherit her father’s property and argued that women are exempted from paying levies in some communities and so should not.  
He made reference to the Aba women riot of 1929 which prevents women from paying tax in Nigeria.
A businessman, Gold Ibokwe, said that such laws and decision by the government should be taken seriously as time goes on.
According to a medical laboratory scientist, Ebere Nduidi, “when a woman is not married, she should have right to any property in her father’s home but when she gets married, I don’t think that is necessary.”
He emphasised that when a woman gets married, she changes her name and start answering her husband’s name, becomes somebody’s wife and so should not as she has been legally married.
Although he argued that the daughter can if it is her biological father’s property and not a general family case and insisted that if she gets the property before the death of the father, she should not return it.
“Fathers have the right to Will properties to their daughters if they want. They have equal opportunity as the male children”, he opined.
An entrepreneur, Davies Peter, said a woman can inherit her father’s property while she is alive and after her lifetime, the property should be released to the family.
According to him, since she bears the name of another family, the children shouldn’t continue the inheritance.
He advised that natural justice has to take its course instead of imported law while the laws be properly looked into and maintained that there should be some exception to the interpretation of some of the law as regards Nigeria and Africa generally.
He said although some of the laws are treated based on the fact that women are referred to as the weaker sex and they try to wave certain things.
He cautioned that people should not bring what is impracticable into existence and argued that male and female are not equal.
Mr. Kayode Ojo, an Architect asked: “Don’t you think that when you give a woman land in her father’s house, another one in her husband’s house, it will be too much? 
“ A man and a woman is a family, the husband and the children, so she should inherit in her husband’s house”, he noted.
Although the law supersedes tradition, he said, but that is if he wants to give the land to his daughter, at the end of the day, it is her own and insisted that tradition cannot prove the law wrong.
A pharmacist, Mary Udoh, said that fathers should be sensitised about writing Wills before death, so that if a property is bequeathed to whether a female or male, nobody under the law can take it away from such child.
An engineer, Emeka Obi, said what one may call cultural barriers and taboos is a common problem in Nigeria.
As he puts it: “People’s customs and traditions are peculiar to those who practice them. If according to the way of life of a given people, their daughters don’t have a place in the family inheritance, so be it, but if out of love or goodluck, a father Wills a property to any of his daughters, I have no problem with that”.
A nurse, Mary Uche, in her own view said: “ This is a welcome development. We are more of girls in my house than boys. “Could you believe that we lost our Dad, we the girls buried him but the boys took all the properties. And even if a woman dies, all her properties will be given to the sons’ wives. The only things given to the girls are clothes, if you demand more, they will tell you to go and inherit your husband’s house. If you are single, they will tell you to go and marry”.
The consequence of denying the female child the right of inheritance of father’s property is that if it comes to a situation where she is expected to contribute to family pressures, definitely she will withdraw. 
I’m not sure that any property can be too much to be owned by a woman.  If she has properties both in her father’s house and husband’s home, better for the children; after all, they were not stolen but inherited from grandparents. 
Religious leaders should preach more to the populace on improving the lives of people in the society.
Traditional rulers, NGOs should continually have dialogue and pass the messages down to the grassroots and perhaps to those in the urban centers no matter how learned and their level of exposure.

By: Eunice Choko-Kayode

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Business

Rivers: The Wheel Propelling Nigerian Economy

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The economic importance of Rivers State to national development has never been in contention. It is easy to discern, even by the blind. It was not by happenstance that the state was christened the ‘Treasure Base of the Nation’. The state earns the sobriquet on account of its contributions to national development. What is rather in contest is the benefit accrued to the people of the state from the huge natural deposits the state is endowed with.
Generally known as the hub of oil and gas industry in the country, Rivers State accounts for 40 per cent of Nigeria’s crude oil production. It is also the largest economy in Nigeria after Lagos. It has vast crude oil reserves among other natural resources, and remains a leading supplier of the nation’s wealth with associated export revenue.
Apart from Lagos, Rivers State contributes the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the nation’s economy. It accounts for about 65 per cent of government revenue and 88 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings. As at 2010, Rivers State was contributing US$21,073 next only to Lagos with US$33,679 as GDP.
Despite its relatively low industrial base, the State has two of the nation’s four petroleum refineries at Eleme, two major seaports in Port Harcourt and Onne, an international airport at Omagwa, an oil and gas free zone, and a petrochemical and fertilizer plant in Onne, an industrial estate at Trans-Amadi, a gigantic liquefied natural gas plant in Bonny and tens of petrochemical related companies.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the aggregate growth of the Nigerian economy weighs heavily on the natural resources of Rivers State. For over five decades, the oil and gas sector has remained the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy till date. Little wonder that happenings in the oil and gas industry tend to have serious impact on the other sectors of the nation’s economy.
In the area of oil and gas which creates the wealth that sustains the nation, Rivers State ranks the highest contributor. Apart from playing host to two of the nation’s four petroleum refineries, the state also hosts major oil companies such as The Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), Total Exploration & Production Nigeria Limited (TEPNL), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and tens of petrochemical related companies. Added to these is the existence of a multi-billion naira Liquefied Natural Gas plant in Bonny which produces a million tones of gas per year.
It is, however, regrettable that in spite of Rivers State’s status as the hub of oil and gas in the country, these multinationals are reluctant to move their headquarters to the state citing insecurity and restiveness as excuses. It was even recently that NLNG relocated its head office to Port Harcourt.
Meanwhile, the new spate of development from marginal oil fields by the multinational oil giants has also created a vent for the participation of indigenous firms in the nation’s oil and gas sector. These firms include Minipulo, Nestoil, Belema Oil and Sahara Energy, among other upstream operators.
The import of this is that in spite of marginal neglect of the state by the Federal Government in terms of infrastructure and human development, Rivers remains the epicentre of Nigeria’s oil and gas activities, contributing a significant percentage of government’s revenue. That Nigeria was able to prosecute the three-year civil war successfully without borrowing a kobo was courtesy of the oil wealth. The oil boom of the 1970s also led to the mass importation of foreign manufactures, salary reviews and arrears payment, oversea scholarship and training of workers, among others.
Also given its position as a natural seaport and railway terminus, Rivers State has long established itself as an investor’s haven, with the bulk of its tenants in Trans-Amadi Industrial area of Port Harcourt.
Before now, there were several companies scattering around the state, such as Michellin, Pabod Breweries, Port Harcourt Flour Mills, Nigeria Engineering Works (NEW), West African Glass Industry (WAGI), Slumberger, Halliburton, Metalloplastica, Rivers Vegetable Oil Company (RIVOC), Riversbiscuit, Flag Aluminium, Indorama  Eleme Fertiliser &Chemicals Limited, NAFCON, now Notore, among others.
Although a good number of these companies which once contributed to the economic growth of the state and Nigeria at large had since closed shop or relocated outside the country due to a number of factors ranging from poor electricity supply, general infrastructural decay resulting in high operational cost, multiple taxation and insecurity; a handful of them that are still in existence in the state make significant contributions to the nation’s economy in terms of employment generation and wealth creation.
Not too long ago, Pabod Breweries which was once moribund was revived by South Africa’s SAB Miller through a partnership that appears to be yielding good dividends to both the state and national economy, alongside Indorama Group.
Meanwhile, Rivers State also plays host to the second busiest seaport after Lagos. It hosts two of the nation’s seaports – Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), Rivers Complex and Onne Port. This suggests that the state constitutes a major commercial centre in the country. The state’s proximity to Aba in Abia State and Onitsha in Anambra State – two notable destinations for containerised imports, adds impetus to the commercial status of Rivers State, and also contributes in no small measure to the economy of the country.
Rivers State is not lagging behind either in the area of hospitality industry. Apart from the popular Hotel Presidential located along Aba-Port Harcourt Road, which has been in existence since the days of the Eastern Nigeria, there are several other hotels scattering around Port Harcourt and its environs. Prominent among them are Meridian Hotel at Old GRA, Port Harcourt; Landmark Hotel at Waterline area of Port Harcourt, Sasun Hotel at Trans-Amadi, and a host of others. The avalanche of these hospitality industries in the state does not only boost the economic base of the state, it also attracts and facilitates investment in the country.
Added to this impetus is the NEW vision of the present administration in the state led by Governor Nyesom Wike, which has led to a deluge of social infrastructures, thus attracting investments to both the state and the country at large.
It is, however, a painful irony that despite the avalanche of wealth tapped from crude oil sale and other economic opportunities in the state over the years, there has been a complete neglect of the state by the Federal Government in the area of basic infrastructure. For instance, the two major roads that link Rivers State with other parts of the country, namely, the Eleme section of the East West Road that leads to Onne industrial hub, and the Oyigbo section of the Port Harcourt-Aba Road have been in a state of disrepair for years without attention from the Federal Government.
Worst still, the multinationals that operate in the state and Niger Delta as a whole, and who ordinarily should be a propeller of development have only succeeded in adding to the sufferings of the people. They do not only devastate the environment with their oil activities and leave their host communities with destroyed farmlands, polluted air and deteriorating marine life, they also subject the indigenes to a second class citizens in terms of employment.
One of the most disturbing paradox is that crude oil for export is transported to Bonny and Forcados through a network of pipeline stretching across 6,000km over communities and living quarters approximately the distance between Cape Town in South Africa and Cairo in Egypt. Yet, little or no measure is taken to ensure the maintenance of the pipes which often corrode and burst, leading to oil spill, killing people and devastating environment, water and farmlands. Worst, the Federal Government that is supposed to be a regulator appears helpless and complacent as it lacks the political will to rein in on these oil conglomerates to stop the criminal environmental pollution in the state. This obviously accounts for occasional pockets of unrest and restiveness in Rivers and other Niger Delta states.
Many analysts and keen observers have decried the criminal neglect of Rivers State by the Federal Government. Piqued by the aberrant, incongruous structure of the Nigerian federation, especially the iniquitous disposition of the Federal Government in robbing Peter to pay Paul, a professor of Economics, Willie Okowa, had in a seminar presentation on Rivers State since 1967 said, “The use of oil resources derived largely from Rivers State in the creation of the infrastructure basis for development in other parts of the country while denying the same treatment for the territory in which oil is found speaks of a callousness that is numbing to the mind and an outrageousness that is a challenge to the ethics of civilised behaviour”.
The Rivers State governor, Chief Nyesom Wike himself has, at several fora, complained about the inequities and apparent lack of visible federal presence in the state despite the state’s contributions to the nation’s economy. He believes the state deserves a special status and consideration from the Federal Government given its contributions to national growth.
Presenting a paper on ‘Institutional Weakness and Challenges of Development in Rivers State in Abuja in 2016, Wike observed that, “the state has suffered sustained neglect, marginalisation and injustice from successive federal governments and its agencies”.
The governor continued: “Even as no new development project has been initiated in the state for decades, what is most distressing is the failure of the Federal Government to adequately maintain some of the critical federal infrastructure in the state.
“I am referring to the Port Harcourt Terminal building, the Port Harcourt seaport, as well as the East West Road, particularly the section that leads from Eleme junction to the Onne industrial hub that has remained broken for years without attention from the Federal Government.”
Five years after Governor Wike made this cursory observation, has anything changed? Perhaps not. Apart from the Port Harcourt International Airport Terminal building which was constructed recently, all other critical federal infrastructure listed by the governor for attention in 2016 have remained unattended to by the Federal Government. It took the intervention of the state government under Wike to fix two of the federal roads in the state: the Industry Road that leads to the NPA, Port Harcourt seaport and the Igwuruta-Chokocho Road.
Indeed, this disturbing irony of an oil state wallowing in poverty and squalor speaks of an utter insensitivity and indifference that is not only numbing to mind, but also strange to all ethical conducts.
But how long will this criminal neglect and deliberate marginalisation continue? When will the Rivers people get a fair share of the national cake? When will the Federal Government realise that Rivers State is the the wheel that propels the nation’s economy and should be accorded honour and respect? Who will rescue the Treasure Base of the Nation from the oppressive claws of national inequities?  Questions. Endless questions.

 

By: Boye Salau

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