Underdevelopment of oil producing communities: Who is responsible?

By GbaramatuVoice Editorial Board

Very remarkably, the Niger Delta region, south-south geopolitical zone of Nigeria, has the highest volume of crude oil deposits in sub-Saharan Africa and doubles as the most neglected part of Nigeria in terms of infrastructural development, a scenario that has since set the stage for various forms of hostilities, youth restiveness, and proliferation of different groups in the region, all agitating for the emancipation of the region via the nation’s restructuring, democratized development or resource control.

While this is ongoing, critical minds have canvassed on many occasions and at different fora that the oil companies operating in the region should be held more liable than the federal government as they have roundly failed in their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSRs) and sustainable development agenda built on partnership as preached the world over.

In defense, the oil majors had on many occasions told whoever that cares to listen that they have been doing enough for the region and that whoever has any doubt should cross-check the facts from the various traditional/community leaders; a claim that community leaders on many occasions deny.

Having watched such a worrisome development, GbaramatuVoice as an organisation that operates in the region decided to unravel the reasons behind this missing link and who the real culprits are. Our findings formed part of this editorial.

Our protracted and painstaking investigation revealed that none of the oil majors; Shell, Mobil, Adax, Total, Agip, and Chevron have been a good corporate citizen in their relationship with their host communities and the Niger Delta in general.

Their stock in trade, the newspaper discovered, includes but not limited to, liaising with the Federal Government agencies and other interventionist groups to undermine the operating environment and the international best practice expected of them in their day to day operation in the region.

In the same manner, evidence abounds that these oil prospecting companies are not interested in performing their Corporate Social Responsibility to the communities that play hosts to them; a position that runs contrary to the tenets of modern business practice.

Again, for some communities and bodies that are united and resolute in holding these organisations accountable and ensuring justice, the oil companies have a criminal way of using monetary inducement to factionalise them, to set one against the other thereby rendering their fight for CSR implementation ineffective. In some communities, these companies operating within the locality has more often than not succeeded in using some of the youths in the region as a willing tool in fighting community leaders and traditional rulers.

The nefarious actions of these oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region are endless as they are on daily basis manipulating the weak regulatory instruments of the Federal Government while covering up their heinous acts using their financial muscle.

However, GbaramatuVoice has through its investigative ingenuity and resourcefulness establish that in some communities, there exist some cases where the youths, community leaders/rulers have soiled their hands (instant gratification) by diverting monies donated by some of these companies for the execution of projects in the community, scholarship schemes, rural electrification projects, pipe borne water projects, etc.

When such a situation arises, it leads to restiveness of very high magnitude resulting in the loss of lives and wanton destruction of properties.

While as a responsible corporate organisation, we blame the youths, community leaders and traditional rulers, as the case may be, for indulging in such acts that are inimical to the peaceful coexistence of the people in the Niger Delta, it is our view that the greater part of the blame should rest at the doorstep of the oil companies.

The reason for this opinion of ours is hinged on the oil companies penchant for shortcuts, shady and illegal transactions that usually set the table for such an development.

Conversely, expediting actions towards ensuring that this trend is corrected urgently will require a collective action on the part of the Federal Government, the State Government, the oil companies and the community leaders/traditional rulers.

First, the Federal/State Government should strengthen its regulatory and supervisory agencies to face the challenges of the day-to-day operations.

In the same vein, disciplinary actions should be taken against some erring oil companies operating in the region. Very good examples include but not limited to the Shell Ogoni spillage that is yet to be cleaned up, the Mobil versus Odimodi/Focados judgment among others.

To the oil companies, it is our opinion that they should make frantic effort at all time to live above board by being transparent and maintaining the international best practices as enshrined and preached the world over. Efforts should be made by oil companies to establish a good relationship with oil bearing communities by embarking on community development programs. Oil companies should also open up channels of communication between them and their host communities. As Grunig and Hunt (1994) said, communication is the biggest tool mankind has as a potential way of overcoming difficulties.

The community leaders/traditional rulers should bear in mind that whatever position they currently occupy was given to them by the people of the region on trust. Therefore, they should always act in the best interest of the people

Finally, the youths should resist being a willing instrument of destruction in the hands of these oil companies. They should remember that the present is pregnant in the future, and that whatever action taken today by them will affect them tomorrow, either negatively or positively. Community youths should exercise restraint in vandalizing oil installations and facilities as this will only lead to lower revenue for oil companies and the government.

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