Chief Johnny Arigboha, is the keroemotiemowai (the JP) of Ogbe-Ijoh kingdom. He is the current Chairman of Odidi Community in Warri South West Local Government Area which plays host to two highly productive oil mining licences, OML 42 and OML 30. In this interview, Chief Arigboha, who spoke with Pleasure Onohwakpo delved deeply into the details of how a local operator of OMLs 42 and 30, NECONDE Company is allegedly denying the Odidi Community of their deserved development, using divide-and-rule tactics to allegedly cause disunity in the Community. He flayed the poor attitude of lawmakers representing the community in the state, just as he lamented the negative impact of oil exploration and exploitation in the area.
Could you give a little background to the exploration of oil and gas in Odidi Community?
First, my name is Chief Johnny Arigboha. I’m the Keremotiemowei of Ogbe-Ijoh and Odidi kingdom and also, from Gbaramatu in Okerenkoko – all in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State. So, I’m part and parcel of Odidi oilfield and Jones Creek oilfield. I’m the present chairman of Odidi Community. I’m a business man, Community leader and also, a politician. Talking about oil exploration activities in Odidi Community, Shell discovered oil in Odidi around the late 60s. So many oil wells were drilled. Presently, Odidi has over 100 oil wells including those in the surbubs. There is a major oil transport line which collects all the oil produced in this area to Forcados terminal where they are exported.
The local communities were complaining over marginalization during the period that Shell was managing the exploration of oil in the area. Fortunately and unfortunately, during the regime of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, he introduced the Local Content policy which gave way for local companies to take over oil exploration from foreign companies. Fortunately, OML 42, which is now my concern, and OML 30 were given out to one local company called NECONDE. NECONDE company is owned by one Chief Ernest Azudialu. He took over the operations of OML 42. It was in joint venture with the NPDC who represents the federal government – they work under the NNPC. Shell handed over the operations to the joint venture in 2012.
Since the beginning of the operation of the joint venture, there has been a lot of environmental degradation in the area. Oil spillage has wrecked havoc on the environment. The ecosystem is completly gone, even including the rich mangrove forest which used to be home to wild animals such as monkeys, antelopes, elephants, fishes, snails and even periwinkles which our people used to pick, sacked and sold in Warri for money. The mangrove forest is gone. The whole place has now turned into a desert of adultrated water.
The operations of NECONDE has denied our youths of employment because Azudialu brought all his workers from his home state of Anambra and other Eastern State, thus rendering our youths jobless. As we speak, I as the chairman of the Odidi community and Chief Azudialu are like cat and rat. The only contract he gave to me for the replacement of damaged pipes in a flowline, worth N150 million, I have completed it long ago. He only managed to pay me N50 million but since then, he has refused to pay me the balance of a N100 million. He is owing so much debts all over the place. He brought so many companies from outside to take over all the jobs that are supposed to be given to the community to manage themselves. The people can no longer fish because the ecosystem has been totally destroyed. As we speak, there has been a massive oil spill in OML 30 and they are embarking on joint inspection now to find a way to raise the 28 inches transport pipe which links to Forcados terminal, from the water. In effect, the blessing which God gave to us has now become a curse. And who is doing that? It’s our own people.
On its part, we have the NDDC which is supposed to solve the problem of lack of basic amenities in the riverine area. But as it is, we don’t know where NDDC is going. Rather than employ people from the oil-producing communities, they employ people from non-oil producing communities. So, we don’t know where they are going. Thank God that the National Assembly is now in the process of amending the Constitution and they will definitely deal with the issue of the NDDC.
So, we don’t know where the Commission is going. And this kind of thing can provoke some people, especially the youths, to do what is not expected of them. We don’t know what to do. It is only God that can deliver us.
The governors of the Niger Delta are on their own punishing the rivierine communities. Out of the 13% derivation fund which they receive from the federal government every month, in Delta State, they set up the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, DESOPADEC, but even the 50% of the derivation fund which the government claims to be releasing to the Commission, we don’t see the impact on the oil producing communities. The governor holds back 50%, but he also controls the 50% he ought to give to DESOPADEC. He awards the contracts to his own people, appoints the Commissioners himself and mismanage the money the way he likes without regards to the oil producing communities.
The present state of the NDDC is quite deplorable. It is being alleged that the Minister of the Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, who is from the Niger Delta, has been delaying the inauguration of the substantive board of the Commission to allow it carry out its responsibility of developing the oil producing communities. From the setting up of forensic audit to interim management committee and presently, a sole-administrator for the Commission. As you rightly observed, youths from the Niger Delta are getting agitated and are threatening to attack oil facilities in the region. Would you also blame President Buhari for the failure of NDDC?
Yes, the blame still goes to President Buhari. Both Akpabio, interim management committee and presently, the sole-administrator of the Commission are all political appointees who were appointed by the President himself. The appointments are given to those who worked for them during their elections as political patronage. If not, you appointed Akpabio as a Minister. Rather than constitute the board of the Commission as the law setting it up states, you approved the appointment of an interim management committee and thereafter, you appointed a sole-administrator. Is that not nonsense? Now, that forensic audit that is going on, let us ask ourselves, how many of such audits have taken place in other parastatals before now? Have we gotten results? You will see that in this case, the forensic audit will not produce any result. That is why we from the Niger Delta region are suffering.
Could you, in specific terms, tell us the areas where the people of Odidi Community are suffering from the negative impact of oil exploration and exploitation?
Number one is the impact on our main occupation, which is fishing. Over the years, continuous oil spills have destroyed the ecosystem. Aquatic lives, including fishes, crops and wild animals have been killed. Our sources of livelihood have been destroyed by oil spills, gas flare and pollution. Apart from that, our sources of potable water have been polluted. No potable water for our community. The source of water has been polluted by the oil spill and you can’t drink the water anymore. If you do, you are committing suicide.
There is absolute poverty in my Community. There are no good houses, no schools for our children, no electricity, no road and no health facility for our people. None of us is in any good position in the oil industry and even government. We don’t have money to contest election. `
From your analysis, the government and the oil companies have failed to address the problems of the community. How about the representatives of the Community in the Local Government, House of Assembly and in the Sennate and House of Representatives? What effort are they making to alleviate the sufferings of the community?
My brother, all the representatives from Delta South who is in the State House of Assembly, Senate and House of Representatives are very selfish. All they care for is their immediate families, and not the Community. I have been seeing the handiwork of the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege in Delta Central. He is trying. His father was a Chief Judge of the State. He has been following his father’s footsteps and that is why he is very different from other lawmakers. He is a source of joy both for the Urhobo people and even those of us in Delta South. But others from this area are complete write-off. They go there to amass wealth for themselves and their families.
Could you speak to us more on the alleged marginalization of the NECONDE Coy operating in the area?
The issue of NECONDE is a terrible one. The man is allegedly owing communities, individuals, banks and others. As the owner of an OML, you are entitled to 45% of the production. If you manage it well, there will be no need to owe people or banks. He has series of companies to which he diverts what he gets from the OML into. We have written several petitions against the company, asking the federal government to go away and let only NPDC control the OML. Let him stay away. Whatever NPDC makes, they can deduct his 45% share and give to him, provided he stays away from the management of the OML. That is the only way the Odidi Community can benefit from the OML.
The worst thing about the company is its divide and rule tactics which breeds trouble in the Community. He will bribe a section of the youths and incite them to fight against the existing leadership of the Community. That is what he is doing, specifically in Odidi. I’m the Community chairman but Azudialu went to form another government against me. So, he engages in divide and rule method to tear the people apart and weaken the community.
Increasing insecurity in the country, what is your take on that?
Everything lies in the hands of President Buhari. They attracted bandits from Libya and from other West African countries to remove former President Goodluck Jonathan. They succeeded in pushing Jonathan away. Now, they cannot send the bandits back to their countries. That is what we are suffering in the country today. It is only God through our prayers. I pray that God has pity on us. So, I’m appealing to all christians in the country to be prayerful. It is only God that can save this country.
Is it true that your leadership of the Odidi community is currently being a subject of controversy?
Yes, that is what I have said before. It is this Ernest Azudialu that is formenting division. We wrote a petition to the government and he is feeling very uncomfortable about it. That is why he is setting one section of the youths against my leadership in the Community. In the petition, we complained about his indebtedness to us and pressure is on him to pay our money including those he is owing military security in the area. So, he is getting calls from everywhere. That is why he is trying to set people to fight our leadership in the community.
But we are trying to settle it ourselves. The elders have spoken to the youths not to fight the leadership because the visitor will be happy when we are fighting among ourselves. And what we ought to get, we will not get it again when we are fighting among ourselves.
My leadership has been able to come to an agreement with SPDC to provide electricity to the Odidi community for the first time in the history of oil production in the area. As we speak we have electricity turbine being constructed to provide electricity to the people. The construction is ongoing. It is this same man, Azudialu that has been delaying the construction. My plan is that, since electricity is on the way, the next thing is how to provide potable water, health facilities and free transport for the people to come to Warri to buy things and go back. Those have been my plan before he started mobilizing the youths to attack my leadership.
DESOPADEC has long been in existence. In what area has the Commission impacted on the lives of the people of Odidi community?
Absolutely nothing. There is nothing on ground to show the existence of DESOPADEC in Odidi Community. The only thing we can point to as at now is a 200 horse power fibre boat which the people are finding difficult to fuel and maintain. Apart from that, nothing more.