By Ifeanyi Izeze
At the face value, the announcement by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, that the state government has fully acquired Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria’s 45 percent interest in Oil Mining Lease (OML) 11 situated in Ejama Ebubu and the adjoining Ogoni and other communities in Rivers state, would have elicited commendations and wild jubilations but for the glaring lots of no- nos in the purported takeover as announced.
As the governor said in his live broadcast, the acquisition followed a High Court order, declaring the state as the purchaser of “the right, title and interest” of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Land/Immovable Property in the acreage.
“This Order was subsequent upon a suit filed by one Mr. Agbara Isaac Osaro and five others against SPDC, Shell International Petroleum Company Limited Shell International Exploration and Production BV and Government of Rivers State.”
It is curious that the Rivers State Government could tow this option as the best available to resolve the issues around Shell’s devastation of Ejama Ebubu and other areas in Ogoni. If Wike was expecting commendations from Ogoni people, he must have been disappointed as all he has thus far gotten from them have been the opposite.
Of curious interest also is the fact that critical federal government institutions in charge of the oil industry such as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), NAPIMS and even Shell, seem not to be aware of this purported acquisition by court ruling. Since when did the courts start awarding oil blocs or divested interests from such?
By the way, where did the Rivers State Government get the 45 percent stake it said it’s taking over from Shell in the NNPC/Shell/Agip/Total joint venture?
There is no such thing as Shell’s 45 percent interest in OML 11. The acreage OML 11 was a joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) with 55 percent stake, SPDC with 30 percent stake, Total with 10 percent stake and Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) with 5 percent stake. Therefore, it is unbelievable and impracticable that the Rivers State Government will purport to have acquired 45 percent of interest when all that Shell had before the Ogoni crisis was 30 percent.
This acreage was awarded and even operated for over three decades before the recent NNPC downsizing of its stakes in some of the joint ventures to 40 percent. So the new order cannot apply to the venture staking particularly in the controversial Ogoni oilfields and the entire OML 11.
Recall that the problem of the OML 11 started when a major oil spill from Shell’s Trans Niger High Pressure Crude oil Pipeline occurred at Ejama and Ebubu communities, which devastated approximately 255 hectares of arable agricultural land, fishing swamps and rivers in the area.
Though Shell admitted the spill was from its pipeline, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant up till today has failed to de-pollute and remediate the area, despite several lawsuits and court rulings in favour of the people of the area.
Without supporting the threats from different Ogoni groups on the matter, no doubt, there are so many gray areas or rather hidden issues in the entire asset divestment and acquisition as announced by the governor which if not properly addressed, would introduce serious complications in the UNEP- mediated peace process and the proposed clean -up and remediation programme in OML 11 areas and the entire Ogoniland.
First, is the Rivers state government going to inherit only the assets of Shell in OML 11 without the accompanying liabilities or will inherit both?
How is the Rivers state government going to get Shell to pay its counterpart funding for the clean-up and remediation exercise as proposed by the United Nations Environmental Programme for the Ogoni area including parts of OML 11?
It would have been better to allow the UNEP-proposed clean-up and remediation exercise of the oil spill devastated area to be completed or even kick-off in earnest before the talk of asset takeover and resumption of oil exploration and production activities by any interest group?
It should have occurred to the Rivers state governor that the said handover at best could be a diversionary ploy and an attempt by Shell to elude its liabilities in OML 11 communities and the entire Ogoniland by handing over its assets in the area to the State Government
The divesting Shell has serious obligations assigned to it in the exercise and if it’s allowed to hands-off the acreage now, the entire effort by both the federal government and UNEP at cleaning the massive oil spillage in Ejama Ebubu area and other parts of Ogoniland would definitely run into a hitch except the Rivers state government is promising to pay the expected counterpart funding assigned to Shell.
Another serious issue borders on the choice of a new operator (s) as proposed by the governor. Which of the oil companies would be acceptable to both the state government and the Ogoni people and whose definition of “acceptable” is going to be accepted across board without suspicion and unnecessary rancour?
Already there are insinuations by some Ogoni groups that Wike may be zealous in this asset acquisition thing because it serves his personal interest. Whether this is mere propaganda or outright blackmail against the governor, it is better to have everybody carried along in this matter.
No matter how good the state government’s intentions may look, if their action is perceived wrongly, you cannot expect any form of cooperation from the communities as we are already seeing from all kinds of Ogoni groups. And the government also cannot ask them to go hell because they may decide to embark on the journey just to see what will happen.
Now, without mincing words, the Ogonis should be told in any language they understand clearly that it’s time for a paradigm shift if they actually want Nigeria and the world to continue to take them seriously. To me, the struggle has completely lost focus. Every Ogoni man and woman is a ‘human and environmental rights organisation’ thus making a mockery of the spirit and intent of the initial struggle against Shell and the federal government. Now you don’t even know what the legacy issues are. This has to be addressed!
For over ten years, I have been urging the Ogonis (MOSOP) to be more creative in their demands. If you don’t want Shell or any other existing oil multinational operator to come work in Ogoniland, MOSOP and some other groups should have incorporated an oil company and source for technical partners to do business with. But no, the self-acclaimed activists prefer to be on this path of everlasting struggle just because they eat from it at the expense of the generality of the Ogoni people.
Nigeria and the entire world cannot shut down because Ogoni is resisting Shell. Every struggle is to achieve a means but the Ogoni’s own is becoming an everlasting campaign that most times gets so blurred you cannot even decipher what they are asking for. Not to worry, the Ogonis will hear from me more elaborately in the forthcoming piece. God bless Nigeria!!
(IFEANYI IZEZE writes from Abuja: [email protected]; 234-8033043009)