Nigeria is one of the world's major oil producers. Ogbia village, from which the country’s first oil well was struck, is where the bulk of Nigeria’s oil comes from but the area is sinking in poverty, armed violence and environmental disaster.
Oloibiri oil well was the first to be struck in Nigeria. That was the story I was told before I embarked on a journey to visit this memorable site on my way to a public forum in the Ogbia village, the community in which Oloibiri oil well in Nigeria is located.
The purpose of the public forum was to discuss and solidarize with the people on their plight and impressions about the fact that oil was first discovered and exploited in their community and yet poverty is remains endemic in the area.
Driving from Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, into the heart of Oloibiri, I could not help but imagine what the cohabitants of these communities have lived through given that oil production and export from the Oloibiri field in present day Bayelsa State commenced in 1958 with an initial production rate of 5,100 barrels of crude oil per day.
At the famous Oloibiri oil well is a monument which attests that oil production in Nigeria started there nearly 50 years ago but for the fact that it is dearly engrafted that the edifice was signed and commissioned by President Olusegun Obasanjo himself, I would have doubted the fact that oil production actually started there.
There was not a single industrial structure around the location of the well, to confirm some previous form of industrial activity there.
On arrival at the venue of the public forum in Ogbia community, approximately 5-km away from the Oloibiri oil well, the members of the community welcomed us with joy. They were elated to see a group of people who had travelled from all over Africa to share their story with them.
Their story was a simple one, yet full of misfortune: Yes, oil was first discovered in Oloibiri, but apart from the monument which states that, there is no evidence of it. Speaker after speaker from the Oloibiri and its surrounding villages narrated how their farm lands, water bodies and road have been destroyed by oil spillages and caterpillar trucks. They said conflicts in the region were partly a result of Shell's non-transparent compensation scheme to effected communities.
Lack of standards
Since there are no standards for regulating compensation, different rates are paid to different communities. Conflicts arise within the communities and with the oil companies when affected communities realised that they have not secured as much benefit as other communities. Again some oil companies have not honoured best practice negotiation terms and usually mislead the villagers by telling them to get rid of oil spillages by burning their land.
Leaders of the affected communities also accused the oil companies of not assisting host communities enough with infrastructure such as water systems, health facilities, roads and electricity. The failure of governance has also contributed to the people's woes. Governments - both military and democratic - have come and gone, national development agencies have come and gone, special presidential initiatives have come and gone, all in a bid supposedly to address the ill-effects of oil exploitation but to date the people of Oloibiri and its surrounding communities have yet to see their conditions improved.
The communities in a statement asked us to communicate to President Obasanjo in Abuja that they were tired of waiting for development to come to their villages but they were thrilled to see that other Africans were interested in their story: a story of chaos and neglect of a people who have black gold below their feet.
The youth were, however, not prepared to sit and make calm speeches like the elders. Members of the Ijaw youth group said with vehemence that they were willing to negotiate with the oil companies and government for a fair share of the oil resources. The youth said the government and the oil companies had taken them for granted for far too long and their best recourse was violence.
Prior to visiting Ogbia community, we had spent time discussing the effect of mining and oil exploration on communities endowed with mineral resources in Africa. But all our talk finally made more sense when we met with the people of Ogbia.
The Niger Delta's poverty in the midst of vast oil wealth has frustrated expectations, fostered widespread indignation, entrenched mistrust and incited unprecedented restiveness. The ongoing tension has transformed the lives of individuals and the communities from bad to worse, constricted the operations of these communities and revealed deep crisis in governance.
Conflict has thus become a booming business with grave implications for future development prospects of the area. The result has been a general deterioration of economic, social and political cohesion as revealed by the people of Ogbia community of Bayelsa State who play host to the first oil well in Nigeria. – Third World Network Features
(1) Lindlyn Tamufor is a Programme Officer with Third World Network-Africa.
The above article is reproduced from African Agenda, Vol. 9, No. 3, a publication of the Third World Network – Africa