Ogoni: Resumption of Oil And Gas Operations In Ogoni is Very Sensitive, and Must Be Handled  With Care



Dr. Eddie Wikina

The issue of resumption of oil and gas operations in Ogoni is very sensitive and must be handled very carefully. A lot of lives have been lost because of this, and it touches the nerves of most Ogoni people. It is well over 30years since operations were stopped by Shell, the then operator of OML 11 which covers most of the oil fields in Ogoni. The level of damage and pollution of the environment arising from operations and sabotage of facilities is massive, and this is one reason a lot of Ogoni people, especially the activists, are opposed to any resumption of activities. But after 30years of any visible economic activity, people have also realized the negative impact of no operations, as this is one easy avenue that will boost job creation, wealth, and economic rejuvenation of Ogoni.

Having given this introduction, suffice it to say there are two fields of thought: those in favor of resumption of operations, and those who are strongly opposed to it. All previous attempts to bring up the matter have always resulted in failure, because most times, the processes were seen as secret and not open and transparent. There were the Belema and Robo Michael deals that failed because of this. So, when leaders of any description go to Abuja to meet with the President or engage with NNPC Ltd in any manner perceived as not open and transparent, one should expect objection and no support. This can lead to serious crisis and breakdown of peace and order within Ogoni. The environment is already tense with insecurity, and there is no point worsening the situation.

The group that met with the President this past week are all Ogonis, mostly recognized chiefs and they can visit government to discuss relevant issues that affect the Ogoni kingdom. Did they go with the mandate of the wider Ogoni nationality? This is doubtful as the group did not include some very well-known leaders of Ogoni that represent a cross section of the social structure: leaders from the five kingdoms, activists, academia, political class, civil service, professionals, youths, women, clergy, etc etc. However, when it comes to oil and gas, wide consultation and engagement is mandatory and non-negotiable. This is where I believe the group defaulted, though the mission was a good one.

More Ogoni people are now supportive of resumption of oil and gas activities, but demand that the right processes and procedures must be followed. It is wrong to impose any oil company on the Ogoni section of OML 11 without due consultations, discussions and drafting of a robust MOU that addresses all their concerns. And moreover, the law that now guides oil and gas operations, the PIA, does not allow for any secret award of licenses, or by Presidential fiat, without an open bidding process. This is where the Ogoni’s seemed to stand on the matter. Despite the few opposing voices, I believe most Ogoni people desire safe and mutually beneficial operations to restart, to end decades of economic deprivation. But the process must be right; open engagement of all stakeholders, transparent discussions and emergence of an MOU that will bind all parties, as also enshrined in the PIA. Past mistakes must be avoided but there also will be a clear definition of the rights and benefits that will accrue to the people, for example the Trust Fund to warehouse proceeds that are due to the host communities. They want a company that has both operational experience and the required financial capacity, and not any unknown entity that will use Ogoni as learning ground, and potentially cause accidents. This must be avoided.

Views expressed by Dr. Eddie Wikina

Writing from Atlanta USA on 19th May 2024


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