COMMUNIQUÉ FROM THE JOINT MEETING OF THE CORE COMMUNITIES PARAMOUNT RULERS’ FORUM AND MOBIL PRODUCING NIGERIA UNLIMITED’S CORE COMMUNITY TECHNICAL COMMITTEE HELD ON TUESDAY, MAY 27, 2017 AT THE PALACE OF THE PARAMOUNT RULER OF IBENO, HRM OWONG EFFIONG ACHIANGA
After the meeting of the above-named groups, where deep retrospection was given to the litany of excuses given by ExxonMobil for its barefaced refusal to relocate its operational headquarters from Lagos to Akwa Ibom State, we are compelled to state as follows:
That the company has always claimed that it was not feasible to relocate at various times in the past because of a number of reasons, including insecurity but the community feels that the American oil giant is simply scared of its shadow;
That we have it on good authority ExxonMobil is deeply worried about exposing its expatriate and other senior workers to the hazards of the environmental pollution and devastation they have caused through long years of negligent operation;
That they have refused to move because they know the level of destruction their operations have brought to the land and people of Akwa Ibom State and so they believe the environment is unsafe, health-wise for their senior staff considering the frequency of early deaths and reduced life span of the inhabitants of the area;
That we recall the company started out as Mobil Producing Nigeria in 1955 to prospect for oil around the Badagry area with head office in Lagos. From its Lagos office, it explored the Nigerian coastline and found oil in commercial quantity off the coast of the then South Eastern State. By 1969, the volume of business had peaked to a level it had to establish an airstrip, a liaison/operational office in Eket. Two flights or more operated daily to carry its workers, contractors and light materials from Lagos to Eket for the operations of the company.;
That between 1969-1989, the business grew to the extent that it established full operational office; built a housing estate for its senior staff – both expatriates and local; acquired residential accommodation in town for several other workers and began to invest in infrastructure development within the area;
That in 1989, the oil producing communities noticed that while the oil company was growing rapidly and its staff reveling in affluence, the communities had remained stagnant. The communities also observed discriminatory practices in the staff recruitment, deployment, promotion etc., induced leader of the communities to compel the company to a meeting on July 15, 1989, where terms of relations were negotiated and agreed. Among the issues in contention then was the relocation of the head office of the company from Lagos to its operational area where all its businesses were domiciled;
That Mobil Producing Nigeria cited constraints which made such movement untenable then and these included the absence of communication facilities outside the area; inadequate infrastructure; lack of an airport; proximity to federal government agencies and inadequate accommodation for offices and staff;
That the communities agreed with the company to give more time for improvement in those areas of deficit with the hope that in 10 years, the movement would be feasible;
That in 1998, a major protest ensued between the youth/women of the communities on one side and Mobil Producing Nigeria and the state military government on the other side. The intervention of elders of the communities led to a negotiated settlement which culminated in the singing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 1998. One of the agreements in the MoU was a phased movement for the headquarters from Lagos to its operational area;
That when Exxon took over Mobil Producing Nigeria late in 1998, it abandoned most of the agreements in the MoU including the phased movement of its headquarters;
That rather it transferred most of the operational departments to Lagos; moved most of its senior staff from the housing estates to Lagos; closed down Jetty and took several obnoxious decisions which could have precipitated crisis but the people kept their cool. It has now become clear that these negative administrative changes were geared at isolating the company staff from the hazardous conditions prevalent in the operational area;
That when democratic rule commenced in 1999, the civilian government led by Obong Victor Attah, took up the agitation for relocation but regrettably, the regime fell prey to ExxonMobil’s intrigues and manipulations and the momentum was lost;
That it was, therefore, a pleasant surprise when Acting President Yemi Osibanjo rekindled hope for the Niger Delta region when he directed the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu to “engage” with IOCs “on the way forward” over calls for their relocation;
That it is important to reiterate that as at now, all constraints envisaged in the past have been overtaken by developments in the polity. With the GSM and broadband infrastructure, communication is no longer an issue. An airport is now available within 30 minutes of its operational area. Infrastructure facilities are much improved and nearly perfect;
That the Federal Government agencies had moved from Lagos to Abuja; office and residential accommodation would be readily available once the company indicates a commitment to move.
After-all, in Lagos, ExxonMobil is still squatting in a rented office accommodation owned by Mobil Oil Nigeria Limited and using facilities in hotels (some with tunnels to its offices) and setup by its proxies in Lagos;
That the excuse recently canvased by ExxonMobil that its three companies are coordinated from Lagos office is grossly deficient, untenable and not even worth discussion. It is a mere hyperbole designed to cover the real reason for its refusal to relocate. Mobil Oil Nigeria Limited has been bought over by NIMPCO and thus nullified the argument;
That we take notice of the recent attempt at the House of Representatives to settle the issue of relocation through a motion and point out that it was a wrong approach. It is a decision for the executive. However, it is pertinent to point out that the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila (because he represents Lagos) allowed his selfish interest to becloud his sense of judgment and patriotism when he kicked against the motion. He appears not to be in touch with his people, who have persistently and vociferously been clamouring for a restructuring of the country in line with fiscal federalism. When the federation is restructured, would the IOC’s remain in Lagos to exploit the resources of the Niger Delta region?
That the onus for the relocation of international oil companies to their areas of operation, however, rest squarely on the Federal Government of Nigeria. With its 60 percent investment against 40 percent by the Joint Venture Partners, the Federal Government should show commitment and give a clear directive to its partners to relocate;
That investments in the mainstay of the country’s economy should not be managed by “squatter” companies operating from briefcases and computers with a readiness to leave as soon as the oil is finished.