We aren’t benefitting from oil wealth — Akwa Ibom community

Oil rig used to illustrate the story.
Oil rig used to illustrate the story.

The people of Esit Eket Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State, have said that their living conditions do not reflect the wealth made by the companies extracting oil and gas in their area.

Esit Eket, alongside three other local government areas – Eket, Onna, and Ibeno — is the host community for the American oil company, Mobil Producing Nigeria, in Akwa Ibom.

Other oil-related companies operating in the area include Frontier Oil, Seven Energy, Seven Uquo Gas Limited, and Accugas.

The community people let out their grievances against the oil companies during a town hall meeting organised by a non-governmental organisation, Policy Alert, on Friday.

The meeting was part of Policy Alert’s #WetinWeGain campaign, aimed at mobilising resource-rich communities to utilise data of payments made by oil companies to governments.

Such data, as explained by Policy Alert, could be used by the communities as a tool for making more effective demands from companies and government for the purpose of improving the benefits the communities derive from the investments in their backyards.

Data from reports of various companies operating in the area was shared with the community.

The Policy Alert team informed the community of the entry of Savannah Oil into the area through a recent deal with Frontier Oil.

The proceedings of the town hall are contained in a press statement from Policy Alert, emailed to PREMIUM TIMES, Saturday.

“We have become greatly marginalised because of our oil,” a local chief, Ete Ikot, who is the head of Uquo Clan, Esit Eket, told officials of Policy Alert. “Memoranda of Understanding reached on community development and clean-up of oil spills are never honoured by the companies.”

Mr Ikot said his people had been silent for too long on their travails. “We cannot remain silent because silence will weaken the community interest,” he said.

The chief called for mutual trust and cooperation among the communities in the area.

Godwin Francis, the president of Afigh Iwaad Eket, a socio-cultural group in the area, while welcoming the Policy Alert team, said the communities cannot on their own alone deal with the challenges confronting them. He said they needed the support of civil society groups.

Mr Francis commended Policy Alert for the initiative and said the youth in the area would continue to partner the organisation.

Iniobong Usen, Policy Alert’s Programme Lead, Extractives and Open Data, said at the town hall that Nigeria’s Niger Delta region has remained largely undeveloped and poor despite billions of dollars the country has gotten from oil and gas.

“One reason for this state of affairs is the secrecy surrounding decades of transactions between the companies and the Nigerian state, which enabled massive corruption and loss of revenues that should otherwise have gone into improving the lives of Nigerians and the host communities in particular,” Mr Usen said.

“Some reforms have happened in the sector over the years, such as the annual publication of oil, gas and mining audit reports, as well as Payments to Government reports by companies mandated by some of their home countries. These have increasingly shone the light on some of the anomalies in the sector.

“The next step is for citizens to take such data and use it to extract accountability from government and companies. We have come to your community today to put that data in your hands so that you can use it to get more benefits to your community.”

Ken Henshaw, Executive Director of We The People, a Port Harcourt-based non-governmental organisation, was one of the resource persons at the town hall.

Mr Henshaw urged the people to be interested in oil-related activities in their community since they are the ones suffering the adverse impact of oil pollution in the area.

He advised the community to invoke laws enacted to protect their rights to free, prior and informed consent, noting that improper consultation with the community by oil and gas companies amounts to theft of community property.

The town hall was organised in partnership with Publish What You Pay (PYWP) Nigeria and PWYP UK, to share new simplified data on transactions between government and companies with community members while affording communities a space to speak up on their own experiences with the companies and government agencies that receive oil revenues.

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