The Bayelsa State government on Sunday asked multinational oil companies with operations in the area to relocate their operational offices from Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri to Yenagoa, the state capital, or quit the state.
The State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Kemasuode Wodu, said in Abuja the government took the decision in response to the discrimination suffered by its citizens at the hands of the oil companies.
According to the Commissioner, despite Bayelsa State’s contribution of oil and gas to the development of the country, the companies do not have their offices in the state capital.
“It is worthy of note that crude oil was first produced in commercial quantities in Nigeria at Oloibiri in the present day Bayelsa State almost 60 years ago,” Mr. Wodu said.
He listed Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited (NAOC), Chevron/Texaco Nigeria Limited and Conoil Nigeria Limited as some of the major oil companies operating in the state.
He said while the companies have their operational facilities all over Bayelsa State from where they drill crude oil and gas, the offices are either in Lagos, Warri in Delta State, or Port Harcourt in Rivers State.
He said apart from coordinating and managing their operations, key management decisions, employments and contracts are made from these operational offices outside the state.
“In these locations, they have very large state of the art modern office and residential complexes. Some of these estates are comparable to those available in the developed world, if not better. Some of these structures are skyscrapers and some of these estates are built on tens of hectares of land,” he claimed.
Besides, he said several other indigenous and multinational service companies have had to stay outside Bayelsa to enable them relate with these companies and their managers and Executives to secure businesses.
Apart from several other businesses that also follow these companies, the Commissioner said the hospitality industry and financial services sector, amongst others, are other major beneficiaries of the presence of the operational offices of these oil companies.
He noted the benefits associated with the location of the oil companies, including the expansion of the economy of the area, revenue from employee income taxes to the state as well as taxes for the land and other company properties.
Besides, he said employees of those companies would also impact the economy of the area by either renting houses, buying land and building houses and estates as well as patronizing the local markets and supermarkets.
“It is my view, with the greatest respect, that the foregoing situation legally amounts to discrimination against the people of Bayelsa State, contrary to the provisions of Section 42(1) of the Constitution,” Mr. Wodu said.
He said the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right prohibits discrimination against a people.
The plight of the people of Bayelsa, Mr. Wodu said, has been aggravated by the fact that it is the state and its people that bear the brunt of the oil and gas operations in the country due to the environmental degradation by crude oil spills.
“Our environment is in a grave state of devastation and despoliation. The companies do not carry out appropriate remediation of the degraded environment and neither is adequate compensation paid for the damage occasioned by the frequent spillages,” Mr. Wodu said.
Urging the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to invoke her powers and act to aid the economic and infrastructural development of the State, the Commissioner said the state has already set up a special committee of legal experts to take steps to compel the oil firms to relocate to the state.
He said that when this was done, the internally generated revenue of the State would receive a boost for the State to be able to meet its responsibility of providing basic infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, motorable roads for the people of the State.
In the meantime, he said the state government would also interact with the companies to explore the possibility of achieving that objective without resorting to the legal process.
He said the state government was ready to provide incentives, including land and Certificates of Occupancy, to encourage the companies agree to open their offices in the area.