By Simeon Nwakaudu
For many decades, the struggle for resource control for the overall development of the Niger Delta has been a top priority. Leaders over the years adopted several methods to ensure that Niger Delta oil resources were deployed for the benefit of the people. These methods have had varying degrees of success.
Leaders after leaders have worked hard to ensure that communities get a fair share of their natural resources. Most of the time, these struggles end in disappointment. The oil bearing communities are left without benefits, while the international oil companies laugh to the bank.
The fight for Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11 situated in Ejama Ebubu community in Eleme Local Government Area and the adjoining Ogoni and other communities of Rivers State was tortuous. It lasted for about three decades. The people traversed different courts, before they won the matter. Many of those who started the matter have since departed the world.
MAJOR DEFINING DECISION
With the Judicial Victory for the EjamaEbubu Community, the stage was set for the defining moment for resource control in Nigeria. A new direction for the entire Niger Delta.
Basically, On the 11th of January 2019, Shell's appeal was dismissed at the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The judgments of the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were registered in the United Kingdom for enforcement over there against SPDC parent companies domiciled outside Nigeria's shores.
It is important to understand that Ejama Ebubu community commenced enforcement by domiciling the judgment in the State High Court and levying execution on SPDC moveable's in their Industrial Area in Port Harcourt;
(ii) Those chattels were attached on the ground but not removed;
(iii) SPDC invited the community and offered them N7 billion as against the judgment debt of N194 billion, which the community refused to accept;
(iv) The community approached the court for and order granting them leave to sell SPDC's immovable property comprised in OML 11 and their kidney Island support base in Port Harcourt.
The key aspect of the entire enforcement process was the auction of SPDC's stakes at OML 11.
Bearing in mind the importance of Rivers State and her people to become key players in the oil sector for the empowerment of the people, Governor Wike took the beneficial decision of acquiring the auctioned stakes of SPDC at OML 11.
In a state-wide broadcast on September 30, 2019, Governor Wike outlined several reasons that justified this acquisition. These reasons centred on the development of the oil bearing communities, their peace and the overall economic development of the country.
However, two key reasons focused on the deprived people.
He said: "That rather than standby and watch other persons or group purchaser SPDC 45% interest in that OML 11 and further exacerbate the poverty of the people of the State, a responsible and responsive State Government should weigh in and bid for the purchase of SPDC interest already set down for auction;
"That the present Government of Rivers State entrusted in my care through the Will of God and those of the peoples of the Rivers State have concluded that it will be in the overall interest of the State, the other Federating States and the Federal Government that we as a Government, should make a bidfor the purchase of the said interest of SPDC now placed on auction by extant Order of the Courts of Law."
SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY
This action was taken by the administration of Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike to safeguard the interest of Rivers communities. It was taken with every sense of responsibility. It sent a clear message to international oil companies that the Rivers State Government is always on the side of the people, ever ready to stand with them.
The action was necessary as it emphasized that Rivers people will always be the centerpiece of governmental engagements.
Governor Wike said during the State Broadcast on OML 11: "I have taken these steps with all sense of responsibility believing that addressing the pains and poverty of our peoples with the resultant security and welfare of its people is the main purpose of governance and nothing less.
"Without any doubt, this is a profound economic investment with profound and enduring positive implications on peace, security, development and prosperity for the oil-bearing communities of OML 11, the entire Rivers State and our country."
WORKING WITH THE STAKEHOLDER COMMUNITIES TO MAKE PROGRESS
The Resource Control struggle pertaining OML 11 is not unilateral. All the key stakeholder communities have been brought on board in Governor Wike's commitment to right the wrongs of the past.
Governor Wike assured the Ejamah Community and other host communities of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11 that the Rivers State Government will defend their right in any ensuing legal battle over the oil facility acquired by the Rivers State Government.
Speaking during an appreciation visit by the leaders of Ejamah Community of Eleme Local Government Area at the Government House Port Harcourt, Governor Wike commended the community for standing firm and fighting through established due process.
"While I remain Governor, one thing I will never do is sell the interest of our people. The property of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) were auctioned and the Rivers State Government bided and acquired them.
"There will be legal battles. The Rivers State Government will stand for Rivers people", he said.
He reiterated that with the acquisition of the 45 percent stakes of SPDC at OML 11, the Rivers State Government will extend some percentage to the host communities to give them a sense of belonging.
He praised Ejamah community for engaging in the legal battle for 29 years and refusing to be swayed by financial proposals by SPDC.
He said: "I am ready for the legal battle. The interest of Rivers State must be protected at all times. But for your fight, who will be talking of Rivers State Government acquiring OML 11. OML 11 is not only for Ogoni, it extends to Okrika, Andoni, Oyigbo and Ikwerre.
"Any community linked to OML 11 should be eternally grateful to you. I know some communities that only N300million will change them. You refusal to collect N7billion led to the auctioning of Shell Interest.
"If the Federal Government wants to talk, it is the Rivers State Government it should talk with, because we have acquired Shell's interest. I am with you. God knows I have no personal interest."
Interacting with the Etche Ethnic Nationality, part owners of OML 11, Governor Wike said the efforts of the Rivers State Government are geared towards ensuring that the communities get the best from the acquisition of OML 11.
He said: "What Rivers State Government wants is for the interest of our state to be protected. Whoever that is coming to take over will have the interest of the communities protected.
"When the communities are part owners of OML 11, there will be peace. But some people sit down and engage in unnecessary propaganda".
Governor Wike said that the acquisition of OML 11 is the height of resource control struggle.
Meeting with the leaders and people of Ogoni Ethnic Nationality at the Government House, Port Harcourt, Governor Wike assured them that the acquisition of OML 11 is for the overall interest of the Stakeholder Communities and the State.
GENERAL ACCEPTANCE OF THE ACQUISITION OF OML 11 BY STAKEHOLDER COMMUNITIES
Presenting the address of the people of Ogoni Ethnic Nationality during meeting at the Government House Port Harcourt, Senator Bennett Birabi lauded the governor for the acquisition of OML 11 for the benefit of the state and Ogoni people.
He also thanked Governor Wike for the numerous infrastructure put in place in Ogoni land. He also commended Governor Wike for the restoration of peace in the state and Ogoniland.
Leader of the Ejamah Community, Chief George Osaro said that the people of Ejamah community are happy with the governor's intervention in OML 11.
He said: "The people of Ejamah community do hereby express our profound gratitude to you for wading into the matter and ensuring that the Rivers State Government purchased the 45percent interest of SPDC in OML 11."
He said that the intervention of the governor should not be misconstrued, as it in the overall interest of the host communities. He said that the action has liberated the people.
Chief Osaro said that Ejamah Ebubu suffered one of the worst oil spill, which negatively affected their environment.
“We must understand that the Governor's Plan is to boost the state economy, create employment and alleviate the suffering of the people, the State and the Niger Delta entirely as well as the nation", he said.
He described Governor Wike as a pace setter, a visionary leader and emancipator of the people.
The Ejamah community conferred on Governor Wike a chieftaincy title: "Oneh Owese Oboru Ejamah."
At a Stakeholders Meeting at the Government House, Leader of Etche, who are part owners of OML 11, President-General of Ogbakor Etche, Sir Machy Nwodim commended the Rivers State Government for acquiring the oil facility. He said as part owners of OML 11, Etche Ethnic Nationality views the action as a welcome development.
He appealed to the Rivers State Governor to take a similar action on OML 17, where the bulk of Etche oil is found.
The Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers was not left out in the series of appreciation to the Governor for his resource control struggle. Their position was made known during their last quarterly meeting.
Chairman of the Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers and Amayanabo of Opobo, King Douglas Dandeson Jaja commended the Rivers State Government for the acquisition of 45 percent of the OML 11.
He also commended the Rivers State Government for winning the ownership of Soku Oil Wells through the Court. He said that the victory would lead to peace in the area.
CLANDESTINE NEGATIVE PROPAGANDA BY DISLODGED OPPRESSORS
Following the acquisition of OML 11, dislodged oppressors of the Stakeholder Communities hired propaganda mercenaries to heap insults on the Rivers State Governor. These elements move from Radio Station to newspapers trying to discredit the acquisition and also Campaign for interests outside Rivers State.
One Gani Togba, who fronted for an oil company during the settlement of the issues on the re-opening of OML 25 is the lead negative propaganda tool. Since he is not a leader of any of the Stakeholder Communities, he comes under a propaganda trading organisation, which is well financed by the dislodged interest groups.
But the way he failed during his retainership for OML 25, he has already failed in the OML 11 Acquisition. Leaders of the Stakeholder Communities have keyed into the acquisition programme and they are working with the Rivers State Governor to promote Rivers interests.
Several other hired clandestine propagandists are working daily through different platforms to promote anti-Rivers agenda regarding OML 11. But Rivers people are happy with the governor for promoting and defending the interest of the state.
NEW APPROACH, BETTER RESULTS
The new approach adopted by Governor Wike to promote and defend the interest of Rivers State, yields the best results. With the legal acquisition of the controlling stakes at OML 11, the development process can no longer be halted.
This new approach promotes social cohesion and security. It encourages communities to rely on the rule of law to achieve results, instead of embracing destructive arms struggle that decimates communities and relegates the development process.
This new approach further involves the community in the ownership structure of the oil facility. Being Joint Stakeholders, they are partakers in the process, hence they will better appreciate whatever challenges may arise.
Very importantly, the people will be directly empowered by the new ownership structure at OML 11. More Rivers people in the different communities that own this facility will get worthy benefits from their natural resources.
The Local Government Areas, Rivers State and Nigeria will also have varying degrees of economic benefits the acquisition of OML 11 and the attendant economic development.
This is the beginning of the enthronement of the rule of law over the illegality of violence. It is the right way to go and can never be hijacked by violent criminals masquerading as agitators or ex-agitators.
This approach led to the peaceful resolution of the OML 25 conflict to the benefit of the Stakeholder Communities. The reliance on due process and constructive engagement also led to the resolution of the conflict between Mgbuesilaru community and Shell Petroleum Development Company as mediated by Governor Wike. Several other communities have embraced the new approach of constructive engagement, rule of law and dialogue for the resolution of conflicts.
Going forward, the respect for the rule of law, constructive engagement and dialogue will displace recourse to violence in the resolution of conflicts relating to oilfields and other related matters. This is an outstanding legacy that Governor Wike is cultivating in the NIGER DELTA.