Things are getting worse in Niger Delta from the attitudes of oil companies – Otuaro

In this interview, Ibe-Uyadonwei of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Dennis Brutus Otuaro who is an activist, bared his mind on how he was orphaned at 8, fought to bag a degree in Political Science from the Delta State University, Master’s degrees in International Relations from the University of Benin, Public Administration from UNIBEN respectively, and a doctorate degree in view at UNIBEN.

Niger Delta and multinationals 

As stakeholders, over the years, we have keenly observed and have done our part bridging the gap between the communities and the government, bridging communication breakdown between the communities and the oil multinationals as well as the government. That was the role I played as Chief Protocol Officer; to let the youths to understand the project determination of the government had and the commitment towards development agenda of the government. But as of today, things are getting worse from the attitudes of oil companies, it’s even getting worse. There are many cases of oil pollution that are deliberately blamed on host communities by the oil multinationals may be in connivance with the government and security agencies such that when a spill occurs they will categorise it as sabotage. And in some of these investigations, the communities and the stakeholders are not even involved; only the oil companies and the security agents will go and do it on their own and categorise it with any name at the end it is the community and the environment that suffer. And you know in Nigeria, how it is with the culture of settlement.

If given the opportunity, what would you do differently?

I would engage stakeholders and make to work vital recommendations to address relevant issues facing the Niger Delta.  The people of the Niger Delta will be engaged meaningfully, because we already have basic documentation that are on the ground in the archives that we can dust come up with a good developmental blueprint to give the short term, midterm and long term solutions; and not to be engaging stakeholders in marathon workshops and conferences That are not productive. It is time to make the youths, the women and the men of the Niger Delta productive.

When you go to the Niger Delta states, apart from the civil service, there is nothing generating employment; even the oil companies are not in the Niger Delta. You only see them in Abuja and Lagos and when those from the Niger Delta go for employment, it is always a problem as indigenes of where the companies are located are given preferential treatment. They are even under pressure from indigenes of those areas not to appoint Niger Delta sons and daughters. There is no industry in the region. Any amount of money you give to the people, they can hardly invest it there; the money will go out. That is why we must light up the Niger Delta, now that we’re talking about electricity, connect the region to the electricity and good road networks. So when the investors are coming, they will already know there are roads and it will open up the markets and make any investment accessible. Thereon the security challenge can now be easier to deal with. It will then become easier for the government or security agents to mobilise when there are security challenges;

Militancy in the region and Amnesty Programme

What the past advisers of the amnesty program have succeeded in doing from the initial stage is disarmament de-mobilisation, and now training is going on in some aspects. But the amnesty package that was given as at 2009 is more than that. So anyone in charge of the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme should know that. How could these people have access to the resources in their region? It is one of the critical aspects of the amnesty programme that stakeholders and the governments still need to discuss. Under the programme, late President Yar’Adua, agreed on 10% equity stake for host communities in the petroleum sector as part of the amnesty deal. This 10% will be focused on long term development and investment for the region, so those are areas any special adviser in the amnesty and the minister for Niger Delta should be thinking when they convene for stakeholders meeting or advising the government to enable people to access their wealth. That is it and not just sending them to training and abandoning them without even determining the type of trade that is relevant in their respective localities. The NDDC has a serious role to play in even the amnesty programme because when we’re talking about opening up the communities by road, the lighting up of the Niger Delta, the Niger Delta ministry and the NDDC have a big role to play.

Amnesty programme and reintegration of the militants

For me, it is not effective but as for the training and other things they’re doing, they say they’re doing some things. Recently when they got some Boko Haram members reintegrated about a hundred plus of them, we already knew they’re integrating them into the Nigerian military service. If you say you’re reintegrating people, where are you reintegrating them into? You give them some starter pack for some trade that may not even be relevant to their locality.

You’re not telling us that you’re reintegrating them means that you are resettling them from their Local communities. At the end of giving someone starter pack, the way the program is being done now, you’re sending them to go and start a business in their communities. So when you are training them for projects, do you take cognizance of the viable trade in their domains? No. There are cases of misplaced priorities in the reintegration process. But those that went to school, I know for the students after graduation, maybe, 60% can survive on their own. As students, they can invest even if there are no jobs as is the Nigerian situation. Out of the ten university graduates, six can survive (on their own). For me, they should even focus more on the education aspect because level of illiteracy is very high in the Niger Delta, not only in the north as they’re saying.

We have a high level of illiteracy. So, the Programme should focus more on education; and with respect to that they can also focus on the polytechnic and technical education aspects and not just formal university students’ education. Some people will be ready to go to the polytechnic for two years and garner the capacity to understand any business they may want to do.

Balancing academics, work and family

Work, family and academics are tasking situations, only mitigated by the love and care of my wife, who is always playing the role of a mother. I will give the credit to her, after God, on how I cope with work, academics and the struggle.

Doctorate degree

I see the PhD as something for self- fulfillment. After going to school, you need a PhD so that you can break new grounds in learning. Right now, I am working on research on the Challenges of Researchers Objectivity on the Niger Delta Crisis.

From my research at the PhD level, I have realised that the people have so many challenges; some border on education while others centre on basic needs, even before oil was discovered at Oloibiri.

The Winnick Commission Report of 1957/1958 made it clear that this area needed special attention but sadly after the country’s independence, that report was abandoned and the government of the day recommended the Niger Delta Development Basin which was an agency that was deliberately made not to work. Before the military intervention in our politics, there was derivation formula enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. But immediately after the military left the stage, the allocation concept was inserted into the new constitution. The concept of revenue allocation is alien; it is a criminal concept in the operating constitution of Nigeria.

As a father, you cannot allocate what your son has. When your son is wealthy, it is his duty to maintain you, it is not you as a father taking everything that belongs to your son, then you now give him 1.5 per cent, 13 per cent or whatever percentage. It is only here in Nigeria that the constitution is taking something from the state and then allocating it. Revenue Allocation is alien to federalism. For now, 13 per cent is not even enough. The constitution says at least 13 per cent. But at the end of the day, we only need a policy of the government to make it a policy statement or declaration about reviewing the 13 percentage and increase in the percentage as the constitution does not stop any government from increasing the percentage from 13.

The only time we would need a constitutional amendment on the issue is if we want to remove the 13 per cent from the constitution. Another thing that would need to be done would be a meeting with the states to garner support for a medium of collaboration and cooperation so that when they are given the money, the states would not be left to manage it alone. They should go back to the Niger Delta Development master plan that was commissioned and review it so that the whole idea of development in the Niger Delta to be an issue of cooperation and collaboration between the state and the Federal Government; and not the situation where we are seeing duplication of roles, duplication of functions and abandonment of projects. It is an unfortunate thing over the years the implementation of the 13 percentage has done little or nothing.

Political ambition

I don’t have any political ambition for now but my mission is to serve my country anytime the opportunity comes. I always tell my friends that the greatest endeavour is service to your fatherland.

Wish for your country

At the moment, my only appeal is to the political class. The elections have come and gone, so it’s time for them to heal the wounds and move on, especially to our President, whom I would implore to look very deep, refocus on the security architecture of the Niger Delta and carry critical stakeholders along, especially High Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo). He should not rely on the political leaders alone; they cannot give all the needed solution.

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