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By Zik Gbemre

  • I am vindicated by the unbiased account expressed by a former Shell General Manager on why the oil major left Delta state.
  • Until we situate the blame in all honesty and amend our ways, we will remain stagnated as a state and in the south of the Niger Delta at large.

When stakeholders often rationalise where to situate the blame over the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) unforgettable divestment of its key assets in Delta state which drastically shattered the state’s economy, I tell people not to look too far to find the key actors who forced that situation.

People may blame Shell, but Shell wasn’t the problem. Even if Shell genuinely intended to leave Delta, it never meant to leave the way it did. The greedy, thieving PDP hegemony of government over the state gave much recognition to violent youths above the law-abiding from the greed of James Ibori to the insensitivity of his successor cousin forced the Shell exit.

Today, I felt vindicated that a key insider, Alhaji Abdullah Bukar, a former Shell General Manager, Surface Engineering, who was a Warri homeboy at heart, came out to tell the true story of Shell divestiture in Delta state. His untainted account validated all I have been saying.

Bukar narrated, “Way back 1999 during the communal in-fighting in Warri, many of our (Shell) oil industry service providers started to relocate to Port Harcourt. They also preached for us Shell to do the same. We refused. Every time Chief Andre van Strijp and the Area Managers and myself were asked, we firmly refused to accept that option.

“We even expanded Shell Ogunu Estate with new houses to show people our plan is to stay, not to pull out. The same arguments recurred in 2000 to 2003 when Chief Maarten Wink was our General Manager-West (GMW). We even started to give jobs only to service providers that are located in Warri or Ughelli deliberately.

“One of our biggest losses was when Onne Sea Port alone became the offshore activities service centre. We wanted this shared with Warri. Unfortunately, the Refusal of Ijaw groups to allow dredging of Warri and Escravos estuaries, and Chanomi Creek as well as not allowing resumption of operations at Warri Port dealt a death blow to all our arguments.

“We tried our best then to push for Sapele, but that also met the same blocks.

Some of us opposed divestment plans but Dr Egbogah, then Presidential Adviser on Petroleum made it his chief target to deliver.

“Unfortunately our efforts for NDDC to revive industries such as Aladja Steel Plant, Rubber tapping and processing, to create jobs run contrary to Obasanjo’s divestment plans and we were laughed out of court. I was born in Katsina State, but I am a Niger Deltan and spent the best parts of my career and life there. All my children also grew up there.”

On the looming crisis over how best to manage community funds as enshrined emergent PIA, the former Shell Manager advised, “Let us hold a seminar and appraise what we will do with the new Host Community Fund in the PIA, which is in addition to the NDDC levy.

“We should not let functionaries and politicians squander it like NDDC. We should use it for industrial and social services development, based on knowledge and direct labour and target many local development industries. Don’t let NGOs, Community Leaders/Executives and Advisers hijack it.”

The painful thing is that Ibori who was then Delta governor when the pressure on Shell divest started gathering momentum was more interested in frivolous arguments of resource control when he and other governors in the region were not accountable in their selfish distribution of their states’ resources.

Resource control is not our priority. What we need is for those elected to be accountable and call their violent youths to order. Between 1999 to present if the governors were accountable they would have turned the entire region to Kuwait and Dubai emirate of today.

They can’t be talking of resource control when NDDC, 13% Derivation and federal allocation funds are being looted unrestrained. Every time some activists in Niger Delta accuse the International oil companies (IOCs) of environmental degradation whereas their own people are responsible for the deliberate bursting of pipes that transport crude oil, escalating the environmental degradation.

The illegal bunkerers who spill crude oil in the lands and waterways are protected and commended by these so-called activists and community leaders/executives who are supposed to criticize them for causing environmental pollution. There are just a few cases of equipment failures. Most of the spills are caused by locals and oil thieves.

So at a glance, Niger Deltans are their own worst enemy. And until we tell ourselves the truth and stop promoting mediocrity in leadership, we are going to remain backward.

Zik Gbemre.

December 31, 2021

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