By Lukman Olabiyi Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed October 16, to rule on whether or not to discharge a former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA ), Patrick Akpobolokemi, who was charged with N2.6bn fraud. The court fixed the date Friday after hearing…
This is a very important issue but before I go into the details, let me first commend the President, General Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, for the able and creative manner the administration is handling the Niger-Delta challenge. The shuttle diplomacy embarked upon to the region by Osinbajo obviously at the instance of Buhari is the best option and as we can see, it is beginning to produce some positive results. If no other thing, the frequency of oil pipeline and flow station vandalism has gone down substantially. The military option would never have achieved this much very soon. I am impressed with the methodology of this constructive engagement. Except for Abia, in all the states visited so far by the Vice President he found time to go beyond the state capitals to visit some oil communities, to see the state of devastation first hand. This approach is unique and very welcoming; it afforded the federal government opportunity to identify the real stakeholders and to share and interface. If Abia example is anything to go by, then one can say there was no way the government would have gotten the kind of information it now has, if they did not adopt the approach stated above.
The Abia summit is what is of interest to me today and the reasons are obvious. At some point it was as if Abia State was not in the plan, the Vice President had gone to other states, some of them adjacent to Abia state, and suddenly there was a lull, as would be expected that raised apprehension among the oil producing communities in the state. The anger was gathering momentum and that prompted a focus on the issue on this page three weeks ago. Two days after the Office of the Vice President issued a statement in that regard and four days after Osinbajo was in Abia live! The development is a score for concern and responsiveness, and if you ask me, I would reveal that the attitude has won the federal government plenty of new friends and supporters in the state. The other point would be that oil politics in Abia has a ring of peculiarity to it. This uniqueness has been masked by those who had made it a business to deny the oil producing communities rights accruing to them and to appropriate same to themselves, even the state government is not excluded from the maltreatment of the oil producing communities. The government keeps all receipts from the derivation fund. To hoodwink the people, it established Abia State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission with a law which defines oil producing area as one where oil pipelines passes through; if this is not cheating and absurdity of the highest order, I wonder what else is. Only one local government, Ukwa-west produces the oil for which the state is known as an oil producing area, the enclave is known as Asa land and it is the contention of the people that if as low as 10 million naira was deployed to the area every month from over 800 million naira received as derivation fund and the intervention agencies played minimal role, the area would have witnessed a development akin to Abuja by now.
It was therefore the expectation of the people that the Vice President should see the level of underdevelopment ravaging the area and hear some of these things, but the Vice President could not go to Asa land and that was because the forces that planned the itinerary were offshoots of those who underdeveloped the oil producing communities and prevented federal intervention agencies from delivering to the people. They knew what the Vice President would see, would be an embarrassment of the highest level. I considered this aspect as one of the missing links in the Vice President’s tours especially when the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) controls the state involved. The other would be the inability of visiting federal officials to inform the party in the state and to mobilize them. No matter, such a visit is good and there are benefits. In the case of Abia the federal government now understands very clearly that when you talk of oil and its benefits, it is about Asa people and Asa land, the oil producing communities were happy to see the Vice President repeat that emphasis again and again. Some of the contractors who collected money and abandoned work have returned to site and are working as if their lives depend on the outcome of what they are doing; I guess it is the fear of EFCC that is responsible. The Vice President promised to name a representative for Abia on the board of NDDC, that has been done without delay; the nominee is an indigene of Asa land. With that the issue of interlopers trying to muddle the waters is rested on the side of justice. The nominee is a grass-root person, he knows the problems of the people, more than these is the fact that he does not belong to the discredited past and this I think stands him in a better position to work and deliver for the people.
The Office of the Vice President or the President should not be misled, the whole of Asa land is within the oil producing belt, and under the PDP federal government, the position has always been rotated among the three zones that make up Asa land, the last representative came from Owaza, which is in Ipu zone; so if the President had been a little painstaking perhaps it would have discovered that this time should have been the turn of Ozar people, but as it is the choice is good. What remains are the promises of getting the contractors to return to site in full, modular refineries, inclusion in amnesty programme and establishment of a higher institution in the oil producing area. I want to repeat that President Buhari and Professor Osinbajo, his deputy have done the oil producing communities of Abia a great good which they will never forget. To the President and his deputy, I raise my hands in salute.