The Niger Delta communities have over the years agitated for integrated strategy to secure the sustainable development of the region. From the colonial era to date, indicators of agitation for concerted and inclusive development have always coalesced and converged in ways that sometimes, paint the colour of non-violence and occasionally, violent militancy.
The most potent testimonies of the non-violent approach are the various pre-independence minority conferences, culminating in the Henry Willinks Commission Report of 1958, and the Ken Saro-Wiwa-led Ogoni agitation for environmental rights as well as the advocacy for community rights to ownership and control of resources therefrom, which reawakened, in the 1980s and 1990s, the consciousness to the crude rape of natural resources of the region by the Federal Government.
On the violent flank are the various vestiges of mutiny, militancy, and sometimes, crass acts of economic sabotage characteristic of Major Isaac Adaka Boro, the Egbesu conundrum and the Kaiama Declaration nurtured by the Ijaw Youth Council, and the birth of splinter militant groups across communities, ethnic groups and states in the region, resulting in the 2009 Presidential Amnesty Programme, the Brig-Gen Alex Ogomudia Report, the Ledum Mitee Technical Report, and the renewed effort to renegotiate a workable development agenda for the region under President Muhammadu Buhari. However, in response to the various forms of agitation, successive governments have configured development programmes and institutions to actualise the aspirations of the people.
Take a holistic look at the original concepts and mandates of the Niger Delta River Basin Development Authority (NDRBDA), and Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), which later transformed to Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), as well as Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in the last four decades or so, and what you see is a desire, at least, on paper, to satisfy the expectations of the people of the region.
In addition, the many major oil and gas companies in the region have wittingly or unwittingly shown commitment to the implementation of people-focused development programmes driven by time-tested Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies. And oftentimes, the state governments and host communities, particularly in Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Akwa Ibom, have partnered with the companies to deliver desired development projects and programmes to the people. Some of these have even become Gold Standards for most international players in the oil and gas industry.
Just x-ray the CSR footprints of Shell Companies in Nigeria (SCiN), including Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo), Shell Nigeria Gas (SNG) and Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited. Fuse their impacts with those of Total Exploration and Production Company Nigeria Limited; Chevron Nigeria Limited; Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC); Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited; Adax Petroleum Development Company (APDC), and other international oil companies (IOCs) as well as the avalanche of indigenous oil/gas producing and servicing companies, and what you get is a huge bridge not only in the infrastructure deficit but also the manpower gap in the region.
Take SPDC for example. With the largest and widest operational impact, the company has a litany of human capacity development programmes, designed in partnership with key stakeholders; especially host communities and state governments geared towards bridging the huge manpower gap in the region. For over half a century, SPDC has been funding various education scholarship schemes. These include the secondary schools, Cradle-to-Career (C2C), the university undergraduate and overseas postgraduate schemes and just added the e-Library Projects in three states to mark Nigeria’s Centenary Anniversary.
Virtually all have deep state government and host community roles in bringing about their realisation. These proactive initiatives have, and continue to impact positively on the lives of many in these communities, particularly those host communities that bear the brunt of decades of oil and gas exploration and exploitation in the region.
For instance, the fully-funded Cradle-To-Career Scholarship Programme, designed to identify brilliant, but indigent pupils in public primary schools in hard-to-reach communities in Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers states, in synergy with each state’s Ministry of Education, and bring them to some of the best Ivy League secondary schools in Nigeria, has transparently scooped education-savvy pupils to four schools in Rivers State. Since its inception in 2010, Jephthah Comprehensive College, Brookstone Secondary School, Bloombreed High School, and Archdeacon Brown Education Centre, all in Port Harcourt, have played host to 470 amazing students, with most in the first batch breaking records in some of the external examinations, including SSCE, London GCE and UTME. Testimonials of the students, their parents and host school authorities, respective pilot state ministries of education, mentoring non-governmental organisations and SPDC staff and management paint a clear picture of enthusiasm, hope and success.
As a stand-alone, the secondary school scholarship scheme has provided annual financial support to over 1,000 students in SPDC operational areas in the Niger Delta since 1953. In 2015 alone, $10.1million was expended on scholarships. Over the last six years, 10,401 secondary school and 4,709 university students were given grants in Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Abia and Imo states to support their educational careers. With initial $.7m annual funding budget since 2010, 70 Niger Deltans who have great flairs in engineering and geosciences from Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta states have benefited from SPDC Post-Graduate Overseas Scholarship Scheme at top United Kingdom universities.
If you add the impact of the Shell Discovery Channel Global Education Programme and other ICT infrastructure development initiatives, the Summer School, Sabbatical Attachments for University Lecturers, Research Internship for Postgraduate Students, Centres of Excellence for Training and Research, Research and Development (R&D) Study Projects, Shell Eco-Marathon, research Data Support, and annual National Science Fair and Quiz Competition for secondary schools, among others, to those of the various scholarship schemes, the manpower gap there have and continue to bridge in the region is better imagined. These initiatives have, no doubt, positively impacted millions of lives in the region directly or indirectly, creating of renowned professors, PhDs, masters and first degree holders; team leaders, managing directors and managers in the oil and gas industry, as well as hundreds of thousands in other sectors, critical to boosting the economy.
Shell General Manager, External Relations, Igo Weli captured the mood at a recent C2C award event in Port Harcourt when he said; “The C2C approach marks a significant improvement in our portfolio of scholarship schemes. It is designed to bridge educational gaps resulting from geographic and socio-economic differences as well as help enhance high quality literacy levels in the Niger Delta and Nigeria, while meeting UNESCO ‘Education for All’ goal… In spite of the low oil price in the global market and the economic challenges in the country, we have kept faith with our commitment to support Nigerian youths, especially the less-privileged, by offering them scholarship, not just to be educated, but also to attend some of the best schools in Nigeria.”
Advising the students to be good ambassadors of their communities and states, Weli said, “You must shun vices in all its forms and embrace hard work, honesty, integrity and respect for people, which are core values that we hold so dearly in Shell. You must seek to make yourselves and society proud and better. You must pursue excellence in your studies.”
These scholarship schemes have often received commendations from government officials in the catchment states, especially that of Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers. For example, as commissioner for education in Rivers State, Prof Kaniye Ebeku, repeatedly commended SPDC for keying into one of the visions of Governor Nyesom Wike’s administration to revive and inspire excellence in education.
The same sentiment is also shared by officials of the Bayelsa State Ministry of Education, who year-in year-out have had reasons to express the government’s appreciation to SPDC for always stepping in to support the state’s education programmes. In fact, at most of such occasions, they had challenged the beneficiary scholars to work hard by utilising every available resources to turn around their lives, so they could well contribute to the development of their communities, states and the nation in general.
Indeed, Delta State Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Chiedu Ebie, has never restrained himself from lauding SPDC for sharing the burden of educating thousands of youth of the region, even as he has solicited for greater intervention by corporate bodies in critical sectors to assist the government fast-track the development process, especially at this austere period of economic crisis.
The British Council is not left out. Chinedum Adeboye is one of the key officials in Port Harcourt. At a recent scholarship award event, Adeboye praised SPDC’s choice of four solid schools for implementation of the C2C scholarship programme in view of their affiliation with some of the best educational institutions abroad, and challenged beneficiaries to use the opportunity to reshape and make their future brighter, while cascading their rise to stardom.
Even the proprietors of the schools are impressed with the policy directive and objective principle of the SPDC education initiatives. Proprietor, Archdeacon Brown Education Centre, Dr Christie Toby; Administrator, Jephthah Comprehensive Secondary School, Pastor Ifeoma Edith Chukwuogo; Registrar, Brookstone Secondary School, Mrs Bie Oputu; and Principal, Bloombreed High School, Mrs Bola Fajemisin, are among the many that have expressed excitement at the concept and record-breaking performances of scholars in the schools. Because of their conviction, they have pledged their determination to give all-round quality education to SPDC scholars, irrespective of their backgrounds as part of efforts to sustain the achievements of the scheme.
The 2010 beneficiaries of C2C scheme, Isaiah Inaibo and Agunwa Glory Oluomachi; university undergraduate scholarship scheme, Ala Atedoghu, and post-graduate overseas scholarship scheme, Edafe Perekowei Edivri, have at different moments, paid glowing tributes to the respective SPDC scholarship schemes. Hundreds of thousands of others have also praised the various interventions having transformed the lives of millions of Niger Delta students and families, who today are contributing significantly to the development of their communities, states and the country.
These successes are what seemingly spurred SPDC to look into another direction in efforts to improve the knowledge base. In 2016, it embarked on e-library project in three states to support good reading culture and encourage knowledge development in the region. One of the e-libraries is already up and running in Port Harcourt. The Book Centre comprises of four structures: an e-Library completed by SPDC, a writers’ hostel, an event centre/exhibition hall, and a theatre, donated by the Rivers State Government. With an investment of $5million to complement the Port Harcourt Library Society’s $1.5million counterpart funding, and another spend by the Rivers State Government, SPDC has again, shown that it has good intentions and could partner others for the betterment of Nigeria and Nigerians, especially those in the Niger Delta region.
It is this excitement that inspired the Managing Director of SPDC and Country Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria (SCiN), Osagie Okunbor, to justify the investment in the e-library project. Okunbor said, “This project is one of our boldest social investments, and one of the three N2billion each projects we are sponsoring to mark Nigeria’s centenary anniversary in the Niger Delta region… Our choice of these centenary projects, and this one in particular, is a demonstration of our continued belief in the future of this country, and our commitment to its socio-economic development, especially in the Niger Delta region.”
Chairman, Board of Trustees, Port Harcourt Literary Society, Dr Chidi Amuta, also eulogised the library initiative as a recognition of Port Harcourt as UNESCO 2014 World Book Capital, and explained: “We live in uncertain times, and as such, the attention of youth is torn violently between the forces of new information, new modes of violence and the pull of new money. We believe that exposure to noble ideas through the medium of books and the printed word can point our youth in a different direction, away from ignorance and bestiality they see around them. In addition, it will also provide visiting writers from around the world conducive environment to promote creative writing and cultural research to aid sustainable development.”
Rivers State Deputy Governor, Dr Ipalibo Banigo, said the Shell e-library project was in line with the state government’s avowed committed to build new quality schools, upgrade and build new libraries and other facilities at secondary schools in the state, and urged students and researchers to take full advantage of the opportunity offered by the library to improve their knowledge and researches.
Even the National Librarian, Prof Lenrie Olatokunbo Aina, recommended the initiative to other corporate bodies to take a cue from, and promised that the National Library of Nigeria would give maximum support to the facility.
Just like a tip of the iceberg, the impact of Shell’s human capacity development initiatives in the Niger Delta region has never been taken for granted by those who have been touched. Indeed, Shell and some other international oil companies, have walked the talk to close the knowledge gap by implementing educational policies that would benefit the youth of its host communities, states in the Niger Delta region and the nation at large. This is why it would be fair to conclude that Shell has been guided by the import of Alan Moore’s famous saying: “Knowledge, like air, is vital to life. Like air, no one should be denied it.”