The American oil giant, ExxonMobil, has explained why it cannot move its head office in Nigeria, from Lagos to Akwa Ibom State where the company produces oil.
The demands for International Oil Companies, IOCs, in Nigeria to relocate their head offices from Lagos to the Niger Delta region resurfaced recently during the acting President Yemi Osinbajo’s tour of the troubled region.
During his visit to Akwa Ibom, Mr. Osinbajo directed the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, “to engage” with the IOCs “on the way forward” over the calls for their relocation.
The acting president’s directive was seen as a major boost to campaigns by Niger Delta States to have oil companies relocate to their states of operation.
But ExxonMobil, in a response to a similar demand on it some 12 years ago, had said that the relocation of its head office to Akwa Ibom wouldn’t have “a significant impact” on the state, and also that such movement “was not practical for a number of reasons”.
In a 2005 letter addressed to a U.S-based Nigerian environment activist, Tom-Mbeke Ekanem, the oil company said, “Mobil has three businesses in Nigeria which are managed by one Lead Country Manager. It is essential that the headquarters of each of those businesses be consolidated in one office where support services can be shared.
“Lagos offers each of those businesses a convenient and well-suited hub from which all three businesses can be efficiently conducted and coordinated by that manager.”
The letter was written from the ExxonMobil’s international headquarters, Texas, in the U.S, and signed by the then Public Affairs Manager, Fred Marshall.
Mr. Ekanem published the letter on Friday on an Internet discussion group, Ibom Forum.
The company said another reason why they wouldn’t relocate their head office was that their “primary federal government contacts in Nigeria” were based in Lagos.
It said that Akwa Ibom was still getting huge benefits from its operation, despite the company’s head office being in Lagos.
“The majority of MPN’s business activity is centered in Akwa Ibom. MPN’s operational headquarters are in QIT, Ibeno, where about 80 percent of MPN employees are based,” Mr. Marshall said in the letter.
“MPN also has a liaison office in Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom, to facilitate interactions with the state government.
“Additionally, the majority of our community assistance is focused on Akwa Ibom.
“Another consideration is that MPN participates in a joint venture in which the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) has a 60 percent interest. Hence, the majority of any relocation cost would be primarily borne by NNPC.”
PREMIUM TIMES contacted Ogechukwu Udeagha, the Manager, Media and Communications, in Mobil, to find out what is the company’s position on the current agitation, but he declined comment.
During Mr. Osinbajo’s visit to Akwa Ibom, one of the speakers who made a case against the federal government, Mobil and other IOCs operating in the state was Nduese Essien, a former minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.
Mr. Essien told the acting president, “Apart from the 13 per cent oil derivation money paid to the state government, the oil producing communities in Akwa Ibom have nothing to show for several years of oil exploration in the state.
“The federal government has shown no interest in meaningful development and presence in the areas, other than providing policemen and other security personnel in the area.
“They only provide policemen and other security to ensure that oil flows uninterrupted in the area.
“The oil services companies come from outside Akwa Ibom with their workers whose taxis are paid to their places of residence. The auxiliary benefits and the multiplier effects of operating in the oil producing area are therefore lost.”
Mr. Essien said the story of oil exploration in the state was “the story of woes”, and added that the state was exceptionally peaceful in the Niger Delta region because the elders prevailed upon the youth not to bomb oil pipelines.
“We can no longer guarantee that the youth will continue to listen to us if the federal government continues to ignore us,” Mr. Essien said, pleading with the federal government to reward the state with needed projects and human development.
He reiterated the demand of the people that oil companies operating in the state should move their headquarters to the state.
“Today, all those impediments ranging from lack of airport, road network, housing, and accommodation have been conquered. They don’t have any excuse not to move their headquarters to Akwa Ibom.”
The agitation for the relocation of Mobil’s headquarters was initiated about 15 years ago by the then Akwa Ibom governor, Victor Attah, who is known for his call for resource control and fiscal federalism.
During his administration, in 2001, Mr. Attah brought the World Conference of Mayors to the state to use it to further the agitation against Mobil.
After their conference in Eket, the mayors who came all the way from the U.S and Europe added their voices to the call for Mobil to relocate its head office to the state.
Mr. Ekanem, the environment activist that ExxonMobil wrote to, believed that a lot of changes have taken place in the last 12 years that should compel Mobil to change its stand on the issue.
“If nothing else, now that Nigerian Vice President has thrown his weight behind this thorny issue, our state government and the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly should be emboldened to take on this issue with renewed vigor and optimism,” Mr. Ekanem wrote on Ibom Forum.