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Think Twice – Niger Delta Is Dying Gradually  –  Chris Udoh  

We are traveling on a doomed journey – BusinessDay interview with Igo Weli, GM External Relations of SPDC published on Sunday 20th August 2017.

A very nice and interesting piece.

“The Niger Delta is so volatile that most of their educated and exposed ones prefer to murmur in private against the implications of the violent agitations and economic destruction going on, lest they be targeted. Those that work in the oil industry are even more scared to avoid being seen as anti-people. Worse is the previous disposition of Shell Nigeria to keep quiet and the truth to say itself. This made those saying Shell has done nothing to look correct. Now, one man in Shell, Igo Weli, the GM External Relations, seems to break that tradition.

The Elelenwo-born technocrat has chosen to step into the arena to throw fact for action, to take on the doubters and cry for the economy, for investments and for jobs. The oil major has started a series of stakeholder- meetings in the region, asking for dialogue, facts and way forward, something unprecedented. His words, which he spoke to IGNATIUS CHUKWU, should introduce him and cast his pro le better.

Essence of the message to the Ogoni people and what the expectation from it

The key message for me is, our past is gone but we have to work for the future. We cannot bury our heads in the past and also lose the present and the future. The Niger Delta we have today is no longer attractive to investments. Let’s face the truth. The question is why? There are issues in governance and issues in Nigeria but some places are still working. Lagos is working. It is about the choices they made; it is about the way they organize themselves and the confidence they give to investors. We don’t have it here in the Niger Delta. That is the truth. Our message here is, let’s be careful about the choices we make. Let us not destroy our selves and destroy assets.

Is it out of anger? We should use more of our heads than our hearts. We should ask ourselves; is this the way to go? How many serious investors can put down their money in the Niger Delta today? It is because a lot of the things that are done here scare investors.

If a Nigerian like Aliko Dangote could shun Niger Delta areas that produce the raw material and invest $18billion in Lagos for a facility that should be in Niger Delta, it is a signal. I read in the newspapers that it would create 149,000 jobs. If that does not wake us up, then I am really scared for this region. We need to change and start doing things differently. We need to roll back from this doomed journey. We are traveling on a very wrong road and we have to stop and go back to take the right route.

Starting point and locating the change agents

It’s a responsibility for all of us, but what we at SPDC are doing is to put some things in place to start this thinking. Some of us pursuing this ideal are also from the Niger Delta. We want to see the region return to past glory when every graduate used to lobby to serve in Port Harcourt, hoping to get job in the oil industry. They knew that once they came to Port Harcourt, there was high probability to get a quality job. That is no more the situation. People actually don’t want to come here again. If you go to Trans- Amadi, it is a shadow of itself. It is beyond oil and gas. Some say, some communities don’t like Shell. It is more than that. Michelin is gone, others have gone, so what effort are we making to keep industries here. That is why our youths don’t get jobs after school. Which new investment is going to create that job you want to get? The investor is always busy thinking of how to manage crisis instead of how to grow the business. It is no longer one week one trouble but one day one trouble. Often, there is no job being done, everyone is idle.

As I have always said, you can do things that can hurt SPDC in the short term but don’t forget Shell is a global brand with assets all over the world. They can make adjustment but can our people adjust when you send a message that your part of the world is not safe for investment. By your actions, you say your part of the world is not good for business. We need to think deeply before we act. The cost is really high.

So, we are here to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We are not going to make wild promises like some people are making. We are not going to say we will turn this place to heaven. We know they are not going to be able to deliver those promises. Don’t be fooled. Instead, we are going to work with you, do things that are doable, but you also play your own role. That is why we are here. I am so happy the way it has gone. Listening to all the speakers, I think we are making progress that would lead to good turning point in the future. It is in the right direction. It would lead to the right direction we expect, which is stability, progress, development, peace, good quality of life.

Need for a kind of pan-Niger Delta conference to look at this issue and arrive at a position

Well, we just play our role, we are just one organisation, and we are not government. The key thing is about understanding of where we are. I don’t think people understand how bad things are and the role they have played in making it that bad. If we understand that, then we can agree on the platform. The commitment I am making on behalf of SPDC is that we would always be part of anything to change the narrative that would turn the Niger Delta to that shining star. The region should be different from other parts of Nigeria, a place people travel to come and see. I believe that in terms of resource allocation, we have a lot so far allocated here. You saw the figures published recently about how much the states in the Niger Delta have received. It is a lot of money. There is the NDDC, Ministry of Niger Delta, Amnesty, and others, just to develop one region. SPDC and SNEPCo have spent $1.8billion from 2002 to date. These are just two out of 20 companies in the Shell group. Why are we not different, why are roads not different, why is power not different? It is because of the choices we are making. Don’t be fooled. Our problem is not resource allocation but deployment. What is crucial is how we utilise it. It is the honesty with which we assess the performance, what we expect from our leaders and what we focus on.

Together we can turn this around. Whatever method we want to do it, SPDC I work for will be happy to be part of it. Everybody, every agency would have to play a role. We must face the facts. We must take responsibility. We cannot keep blaming every other person; the north or the west, the colonial masters, or the oil companies. That is not true. There is no society that can develop by one company. You also have to play a role. These allocations to Niger Delta were not managed by companies but by individuals on behalf of the Niger Delta. Let us change the Niger Delta. We are here doing this today, I would have been doing other things in the company but I am from here and I want a better future for my children.

It is not about Shell going back to Ogoni, It’s not about SPDC or oil but about stability in the region. That is the bigger picture. It is not about Shell going back to Ogoni, absolutely not. There is a bigger picture. It can be another company, but let’s have stability and investments. It can even be a company outside oil and gas. What we are saying is that; if you do not position the region and attract investments, we are doomed. The future is in private investment. Investors will always go to peaceful places where people will not set their businesses on fire. That is the point I am trying to make.

Consider factors of production; raw materials and stability. Investors now view stability more than raw material.

A study on what investors look for in the developing countries showed first, rule of law (do they obey their own laws?); next, protection of investors (investors are a rare breed that people grab closely and protect. How many Dangote are there in Africa?); also, judicial system (how is it functioning?)

I am from the Niger Delta, my three children are here. We are going nowhere. There is no perfect company in the world. You only promise what your balance sheet can carry.

Look at the Warri example. When they were giving Shell trouble, they said go, others will come. Shell left since 2010 but no new serious company has moved in. Some stay in Benin or Lagos to operate and jump in and out. The people now ask Shell to come back.

You can hurt SPDC but they are strong enough to bear the pains and move on, but can you adjust? Can you develop the oil yourself?

Countries are stopping cars that use diesel; the US has stopped buying our oil. Why not exploit our oil fully now that others are doing so, to diversify our economy? Those who promise everything may not work.

What Shell has done

From 2012 to 2016, SPDC contributed $29billion to the federation account which all governments share; from 2002 to 2016, they contributed $1.8billion to NDDC alone; 60 per cent of SPDC staff members are from the Niger Delta. Some doubt it but this is verifiable. It has been tendered to the National Assembly and to the Local Content Board. We have their names and telephone numbers.

We can recover from where we are. You may agitate but follow the rule. There is constructive engagement and destructive one. It’s a choice. It is about our future, not about SPDC.

People point to developments in Lagos and Abuja as if they were built by Shell. States are developed by their leaders. The published figures of allocations that came to the Niger Delta are spent by the leaders of the region, not by Shell. Lagos was developed by decisions they made. The Niger Delta has its advantages too, but sharing money to the youths to make them peaceful is not sustain- able. Companies flee and fast food joints take over, churches take over. This is bad signal.

The future is in investment, more companies. Those who scare away investors are not helping the region. Even the agitators from the Niger Delta, when they hit money by agitation, they go to Abuja and outside Nigeria to invest. Be wise. “

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