Nigeria: Imo oil communities: Exploited, abandoned
By: OKODILI NDIDI
Abandoned Egbema Gas Plant
Could they have been better off if the crude oil in their area lay still and untouched where nature kept it? Some residents of Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta council areas in Imo State have been forced to ask that question since the exploration of petroleum in their communities has left them in agony. For decades, they endured the ravaging of their land by oil explorers. Their farmlands have been eroded and their rivers poisoned by oil spillage. From Ejemekwuru to Izombe, Umuofor, Obidiagwa, Oguta and Awara, among others in both councils, the story is the same.
The indigenous people of these riverside, oil-rich communities are among the most socially and economically deprived in the state. Several of their children and loved ones have met with tragic death in the frequent incidents of pipeline explosions and other health hazards that attend oil exploration. Their youths are jobless, the aged racked by poverty and sickness.
The little efforts made by the Federal Government to alleviate their sufferings were sabotaged, most painfully, by their own. The politicians, who ought to have argued their case before the appropriate authorities, took advantage of their plight to line their pockets.
That is not all. Today several Federal Government projects awarded to impact the lives of the people have been abandoned by the contractors after collecting huge sums of money. Most painfully are the Egbema Gas Plant and the Skill Acquisition Centre in Ohaji-Egbema, which have been abandoned and overgrown with weeds.
The depth of the marginalisation of these oil-producing communities was recently captured by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo during his tour of the Niger Delta.
Prof Osinbajo confirmed that the oil-producing communities in the state have been treated unfairly by the Federal Government, compared to other oil-producing communities in the region. He was particularly touched by the dearth of infrastructure and number of abandoned Federal Government projects in the two oil-bearing council areas of the state.
Osinbajo regretted that the oil producing communities in Imo State have largely been neglected by the Federal Government, noting that the time has come for the affected communities to receive adequate attention like their counterparts in other States.
The Acting President after assessing the abandoned facilities assured that the facilities will be completed and put to use to serve the purpose for which it was installed, stressing that Power is key to the development of the area.
He said, “The oil-producing communities in Imo have a lot of vibrant young men and women who must be carried along in the scheme of things. My interaction today with those concerned has given the government the opportunity to discuss with the people directly involved with a view of making sure that there is justice and even development across the Niger Delta Communities.
“We are going to ask the contractors to return to site, while we probe all the abandoned contracts and all erring contractors will be brought to book. A situation where contracts are abandoned after they were awarded is not acceptable to this government”.
He assured that Imo State would get its fair share of federal projects.
Similarly, the state governor, Rochas Okorocha bemoaned the fate of the communities.
He said, “The theory and songs of marginalisation cannot be sung better by any other ethnic group than the Igbo in this present dispensation. We have nothing absolutely to show, neither do we have any serious sense of belonging in the present government at the National level”.
Continuing, the governor said, “I know you are the Acting President and has the ears of the President. Sometimes we Christians don’t go to God directly, we go through His son Jesus Christ. So there is no better person to tell our painful story than you. You need to take a second look at what is happening in the Southeast. No serious political appointments, no visible federal infrastructure so far, to show the presence of Federal Government in Imo State and Southeast in general. I beg that as the government gives subsequent appointments, let the qualified sons and daughters of the state be considered. Those in business should be considered for federal patronage.
“Imo State played a major role in bringing APC to power because if what had taken place in other states was allowed to happen in Imo State and other states in the Southeast, probably we wouldn’t have had the APC government today”.
He pleaded that “the dilapidated skill acquisition Centre be changed to University of Niger Delta to help bring about lasting peace in the area, while the gas plant at Egbema should be made to work to help in industrialising the area”.
“Given the role that I played as a sacrificial lamb in the Southeast during the elections, my state deserves more. There is no Federal Government presence in the oil producing area and none benefitted from the Federal Government Amnesty Programme. I also ask for the quick refund of the money spent by the state on Imo International Cargo Airport and federal roads in the state”.
Also angered by the neglect of the communities, the Minister of Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, frowned at the deliberate sabotage of Federal Government’s efforts by fraudulent contractors.
He asserted that with the quantity of mineral deposit in the state, it should be accorded required attention, while promising to assist the state recover their lost oil wells.