By Edoamaowo Udeme
Uyo, Akwa Ibom State/ Stakeholders in oil and gas rich Esit Eket local government area of Akwa Ibom State have cried out that their living conditions do not reflect the enormous resources being extracted from the area by oil and gas companies and the huge revenues the companies pay annually to government.
This was made known during a Town Hall Meeting organized by Policy Alert as part of its #WetinWeGain campaign today at Esit-Eket Local Government Secretariat of Akwa Ibom State. The campaign aims to mobilise resource-rich communities to utilize payments to governments data as a tool for making more effective demands from companies and government, thereby improving the benefits the communities derive from investments in their backyards.
Clan Head of Uquo, Obong Ete Udo Ikot, welcomed the team and expressed his readiness to work with Policy Alert, saying: “We have become greatly marginalized because of our oil. Memoranda of Understanding reached on community development and clean-up of oil spills are never honoured by the companies. That is why we need trust and cooperation between all the affected communities. I am happy that this information has been brought to us here today. We cannot remain silent because silence will weaken the community interest.”
Receiving the team earlier, President of Afigh Iwaad Eket, the foremost youth socio-cultural platform of Eket/Esit-Eket, Pastor Godwin Francis, noted that the communities cannot deal with the challenges all on their own and needed the support of strong civil society groups. He commended Policy Alert for the initiative and pledged the continued partnership of the youths in the area.
Speaking during the visit, the organisation’s Programme Lead, Extractives and Open Data, Iniobong Usen, said: “The Niger Delta plays host to billions of dollars in oil, gas and mining investments on which the Nigerian economy largely depends, yet the region continues to lag behind the national average on several development indicators. 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.
“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.”
Also speaking, Ken Henshaw, Executive Director of We The People, urged participants to be interested in who does what 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.
Data from reports of various companies operating in the area was shared with the community. The companies include Frontier Oil, ExxonMobil, Seven Energy, Seven Uquo Gas Limited (SUGL) and Accugas. The team also informed the community of the entry of Savannah Oil into the area through a recent deal with Frontier Oil.
Policy Alert is a non-governmental organization working for citizens’ rights and development in the Niger Delta region. The Town Hall Meeting was part of a project implemented by Policy Alert 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.