IOCs Relocation Order and Okowa’s Politics of Development

2023: Okowa free to choose successor - Ijaw leader

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

“What’s crucial about a vision is not its originality but how well it serves the interests of important constituencies-and how easily it can be translated into a realistic competitive strategy” -John P kotter, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School.

By contrast, if a visit is presently made to the coastal areas of Delta state, and analysis/report of such visit placed side by side with documented accounts of deprivation, degradation and abandonment that formerly characterized the region, it will, however, reveal something fundamentally new and different about the crisis in the region; justifies the belief that creative concepts of leaders can bring both disruptive and constructive aspect; and authenticates the conviction that leader’s action and inaction laced with capacity to shatter set patterns of thinking, threaten the status quo, or at the very least stir up people’s anxieties.

Indeed, the ongoing development of the region cannot in anyways be attributed to guesswork but a decision process built on right judgement and supported by rational inferences basically different from mathematical probability process. Even more, from the strategic implication of developing the coastal areas of the state, it is evident that establishing policies, strategies, or authority are not the major challenges confronting a leader but how to nurture and sustain them.

As a background, separate from the communal rights to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies being violated, and oil industry abandonment of thousands of polluted sites in the region which need to be identified and studied in details and affected communities adequately compensated for their losses, it is no longer news that Niger Delta as a region increasingly faces socioeconomic difficulties with no good means of survival.

Also, since oil was discovered in commercial quantity in Nigeria, the region have encountered a fierce war that raged between ethnic and social forces-and as a direct consequence, a long dark shadow has been cast on the efforts to improve the well-being and economic development of the region’s individual, peoples and community.

This challenge was further fed by a double fold factor; the concentration of solution resulting from exploration and production activities in a mono source and the Federal Government timidity to hold the International Oil Companies (IOCs) accountable for their misdeeds. This is made a horrifying development in parts because they were so contrary to what the people of the region expected.

Certainly, if one had visited the Coastal areas of Delta state before the 29th of May 2015 date, he/she may have concluded that the area was a location that has apparently never heard of civilization. But under Governor Okowa’s administration, the people are coming to understand that education and infrastructural development of an area are best tools for shaping the future of the people, and not devices for an exclusive priviledged few. 

For one thing, Okowa has shown that strategic success cannot be reduced to a formula, nor can one become a strategic thinker by reading a book, but, through constant demonstration of competence, connection and character.

As an illustration, Mulade Sheriff, a coastal dweller and National Cordinator, the Center for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ), during an interview with the Ika Weekly Newspaper, a weekly tabloid based in Delta state; stated that the age-long excuse by previous administration that the coastal region cannot be developed because the terrain is marshy-a feature that renders construction difficult if not impossible, can no longer be sustained. Adding that the Governor being a God sent, used his politics of development to send such excuse to the dustbin of history. The region, he added is now blessed with appreciable level of good/internal road networks and other infrastructural development- a feat that qualifies the Governor as the first to give a sense of belonging to the people of the region.

With this development, the people of the region seem certain to make an increasing contribution to development of the state as a handful of them can now afford the luxury of education and access to good amenities. It is clear in hindsight that the Governor’s effort will not only give the people sense to feel that they have a governor that cares but act as a technique to support the people understand the Governor’s vision.

On the other hands, like every new invention which comes with opportunities and challenges, the Senate’s recent order on February 18 that the International Oil Companies (IOCs) should relocate their headquarters from Abuja and Lagos to their former base in the Niger Delta region, is another helping hand that if implemented, will expiate FG’s sins of  neglect of the region,  threaten the status quo, and stir up anxiety among the International Oil Companies operating in the region who sees call for participation in Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) in their host communities as a dangerous fiction designed to rip the operators off.

To explain, it was in the news that  Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Priviledges and Public Petition, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, at a public hearing with the Peace Development, Security and Humanitarian Rights Association of Niger Delta, which had petitioned the upper chamber of the National Assembly to seek amends on the matter, directed the IOCs to relocate their corporate headquarters to the Niger Delta region without further delay-noting that relocating their headquarters to the oil producing areas would boost the internally generated revenues of the host states through taxation.

Arguably a well considered decision. Particularly as Nigerians with critical interest have in different times and places argued that the Headquarters of International Oil Companies (IOCs) and government agency such as the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its subsidiaries have no business being in Abuja or Lagos since the chunk of its responsibility is in the Niger Delta region.

By this decision, the senate leadership has in my views, established the passion for their purpose, led with their hearts as well as their head; they have re-engineered a long term, meaningful relationships between the operators and the people of the region. From this effort, it will not be out of place to classify them to a group Bill George, Peter Sims and Andrew N. Mclean, in their academic research addressed as authentic leaders.

The reasons are compelling; separate from empowering more people in the  host communities with thousands of business opportunity around the move if executed, there are historical examples with vivid images to support the fact that their relocation will not only open up the region but bring about massive infrastructural deployment in the area.

Consider the striking quality in intensity, dept of commitment and sincerity in activities of the Egbema/Gbaramatu Communities Development Foundation, a Chevron Nigeria Limited Regional Host Communities Development initiative, with a template that deals directly with the host community; and has within the period of it’s existence brought consciousness of leadership, dedication and a sense of destiny to the people of the region.

From the above experience, the question may be asked; if Chevron could demonstrate such form of good neighborliness when its corporate headquarters is located in faraway Lagos, what will the experience look like if sited in Warri West Local Government Area of Delta state-an area that functions as its largest operational base?

While the people of the Niger Delta awaits the implementation of this directive by the senate committee, it is important to remind Governor Okowa and of course the IOCs that more more work needs to be done and more reforms to be made especially in the area of employment generation.

Jerome-Mario Utomi (jeromeutomi@yahoo.com), is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant.

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