By Shout-Africa Nigeria Correspondent – Sunny Ofehe is the coordinator of Rotterdam, Netherland-based Hope for Niger Delta Campaign (HNDC). He has been in the forefront of campaign against pollution and gas flaring in the region by International Oil Companies (IOCs). Ofehe hit National limelight when he mobilised Dutch MPs on a visit the Niger Delta as part of his international campaign to attract attention to the damaging explorative activities of IOCs in the region.
Ofehe has been threatened, arrested, and persecuted for campaigning for a better Niger Delta, but has remained resolute in his belief that a Niger Delta devoid of gas flare and pollution is possible.
In this interview with Emeka Umejei, in Johannesburg, South Africa, spoke on the Shell operated Bonga Oil Spill in the Niger Delta, Boko Haram, corruption in Nigeria, and the return of violence to the Niger Delta.
Q; Violence appears to be returning to the Niger Delta, what do you think is responsible for resurgence of violence in the region?
I will not want to agree that violence is returning to the Niger Delta at the moment. There may be some pockets of incidences which are unavoidable, and this can be expected because you cannot please everyone.
I have my fear for the near future and that will be if the boys who are currently studying abroad returns and the government cannot integrate them.
So far, I don’t see any meaningful program that will engage the boys in the areas of job when they return. The oil companies have stated from the outset that there will be no vacancy in their companies.
The government of Goodluck Jonathan must put emphasis on infrastructural development of the region, in addition to creating more jobs for the jobless youths.
If the government can get it right in policy implementation, then any future violence or insurgence will be drastically cut down.
Q: You are known to be passionate about the Niger Delta, how best do you think the government of the day can bring about lasting peace in the region?
My passion for the Niger Delta region cannot be doubted. Apart from being a native of this region, I see them as hospitable, very friendly and happy people. In the midst of their suffering, you still see them very happy especially the children.
My love for the region grows even more anytime I visit the remote areas of the creeks. I have just explained above the strategy that can cut down the violence.
The insurgence in the Niger Delta is dominated by jobless youths who are idle. They say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. If government can create job opportunities for these youths, and also create micro finance institutions that can give soft loans to youths, women and the elderly, the people are creative enough to start their own businesses.
The government must also look at creating funds that will enable civil society organizations carry out projects that the government may not have the expertise to handle. This will not only help to implement government policies but also create jobs.
The provision of basic infrastructure like good water, electricity and roads can also help the people expand their business potentials.
Q: The recent oil spill in Shells Bonga oil field is yet to attract any form of compensation from Shell?
I don’t think that compensation is the first thing when you have massive oil spills. You must first evaluate the environmental damage and the health consequences of such a spill. It is the result of these analyses that can guide you in reaching the value and volume of the compensation.
In the case of the Bonga oil spill, there was no independent report on the cause and quantity of the spill. We could only see satellite images via the internet and information from the website of Shell who in this case was the perpetrator of the spill.
The government regulatory bodies like NOSDRA and DPR all lacked the competence to carry out their duties. Their powers are limited by lack of funds and technical equipment. So, the government has lost its grip on how to regulate the International Oil Companies (IOCs).
How will they be able to push for compensation of victims when they lack the technical knowledge to evaluate the level of damages?
It is these kinds of inefficiencies on the part of the Nigerian government that give undue power to multinational oil companies operate at their whims and caprices in the Niger Delta.
Q; But many had thought that with a Niger Deltan as President some of the nagging challenges in the region will have been addressed?
I think I also agree with those who think in that direction, but come to look at it critically, he is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and must be careful about his policies towards the Niger Delta, otherwise his opponents can use that against him.
I have also been a critic of this administration because I think they have not done enough for the region. Most of the policies that are running the Niger Delta today are actually the policies of the late President Yar’Adua administration.
I think the best thing that this administration can do for the Niger Delta people is to ensure that the Petroleum Industrial Bill (PIB) gets through the legislative house and becomes law.
The enforcement of the local content law and the reorganization taking place in the oil and gas industries will benefit the local people if this administration will fearlessly continue to enforce these policies.
Q: The challenging security situation in Nigeria is beginning to reach worrying stage, what do you think is responsible and solutions.
The Boko Haram problem has given Nigeria a very negative image internationally. Most businesses have suffered because foreign investors don’t want to invest in a country having the terrorism tag.
We lobbied some members of the European Union Parliaments to visit the Niger Delta and they all agreed and fixed April 2012 for their visit. However, a few weeks ago, I got a mail from the facilitator to inform me they have all pulled out because of the worrying situation in Nigeria.
Individual Nigerians can tell their stories of how the nation’s insecurity has affected them directly or indirectly. It is now a national issue considering the number of innocent people who have lost their lives. The most recent, is the death of a senior police officer, who died along with his aides in a helicopter crash.
The truth be told, Boko Haram is not acting alone, they must have funding from perceived aggrieved politicians. There is no one man that is bigger than Nigeria, so the intelligence community must act and bring culprits to book irrespective of their status.
The cause of all these can be traced to systemic breakdown, insecurity at our borders and political greed. We must seek help from countries like the US and UK, who have the expertise to combat crimes relating to terrorism.
I strongly believe in a united Nigeria because in togetherness we have a greater potential. The solution to the problem must not be the responsibility of the Nigerian government alone. We must stand up as a people to fish out the evil ones among us, irrespective of tribe or religion.
Q: Nigeria is hugely endowed with natural resources but it appears to be wallowing in inept underdevelopment, what in your view is responsible for this decline?
Like I said before, corruption and greed by people saddled with the responsibility to put Nigeria on the global map has been what is responsible for our decline.
How can one man want to amass the nation’s wealth? How much do you need before you can call yourself a rich man? Wealth, like I said does not define who you are. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, The Dalai Lama, and even our own Prof. Wole Soyinka are not billionaires but people reckon when their names are mentioned around the world.
Just because poverty has made the Nigeria people to worship the rich doesn’t make them influential, we must consider Nigeria first, and think of how the wealth can benefit everyone.
Mrs. Hilary Clinton during her visit to Nigeria lamented that she cannot imagine how Nigeria as the 8th largest oil exporter in the world can be importing petroleum products. This should be food for thought for our leaders.
A country that has made close to 500 billion dollars from exporting crude oil in the last 40 years is still under-developed. The nation’s foreign reserve has nothing meaningful, and the ordinary people don’t benefit from global oil windfall.
We cannot boast of any area of development even when oil is still selling at an average of 80 dollars per barrel. We over rely of export of crude oil at the expense of other sectors like agriculture and construction. Spain’s economy was built on construction, and The Netherland’s economy on taxation system. We must not forget that the world is shifting towards alternative energy sources in other to go green, and also stop the West reliance on oil from developing countries and the Middle East.
What is the plans of the government when demand for our crude oil drops. Remember cars are now running on electricity, and cleaner energy sources, so oil will not be on demand forever.
Norway has invested so much in fishing, in a way that you hardly know if they even produce oil. The revenue from their oil is untouched and kept in a reserve. The government is also investing hugely in alternative energy sources.
Q: Leadership has been described as one of the lacuna in rejuvenation of Nigeria’s economy, what do you think?
Sure, leadership has been the bane to our economic development. Nigeria has the size and population, besides the natural resources to compete with even the United State when it comes to economic development.
We also have the human resources and capacity. Successful Nigerian intelligentsia are scattered all over the world, contributing to major world economic powers, while the country is impoverished.
Countries like India, Malaysia and Singapore were nowhere when Nigeria was making huge foreign exchange from export of not just only crude oil, but agricultural produce. Today, these countries have made so much advancement.