To Restrucure Nigeria or Not to; The Ogoni-Bodo Experience
This is a true life story.
In 2008, SHELL Nigeria had two major oil spills in Ogoni land which led to a legal battle between SHELL and the communities involved. After the federal government failed in helping the involved communities get justice from SHELL, the communities resorted to self-help. They independently dragged SHELL Nigeria to an international court. After an interesting hearing of the case against SHELL, SHELL saw the strength of the case in favor of the communities and in a swift move to avoid international embarrassment, SHELL agreed to settle the issue in an out-of-court settlement. SHELL finally agreed to pay the affected Ogoni community (Bodo) the sum of £55million (N16.6billion) as out-of-court settlement!
The money was to be paid in three stages. The first stage; individual settlements. The sum of £35million was set aside to pay individuals affected by the oil spill. The second stage; community settlements. The sum £20million was set aside to be paid to the community through development projects. The last stage was for clean-up and remediation of the entire community. It was SHELL’s responsibility to handle that.
This is where the interesting part of the story begins.
As part of the first stage settlement, the community came up with a list of people who were to benefit from the £35million individual claims settlement. Each of these individuals was to get between N600,000 and N1.5million as settlement. The process was a success. Tens of thousands of youths, women, elders and children benefitted from this stage. If a man had ten children, each of each child was entitled to N600,000 as individual claim! They all got paid. Elders got millions of Naira. Everybody involved in the process got their share of the money. Bodo community of Ogoniland became monetized. There was money everywhere. Celebration everywhere. This happened just few years back.
The second stage settlement; community development settlement. As part of the initial agreement, the £20million for community settlement is not to be shared but to be used for development projects in the community. This was where the wahala started. The community became divided as to what constitutes ‘community development’ and how such a project should be carried out. Majority of the enlightened elites of the community insisted that the funds for community development must be used for the purpose; development projects must be awarded since it was part of the agreement. Majority of the youths on the other hand had their own argument against the initial agreement. The youths argued that Bodo Community already has good roads, hospitals, schools, etc and that the said ‘development project’ is only a smart way by the elites to award dubious contracts and steal the community funds. They therefore insisted that the £20million community development fund must be shared just like the £35million! The youths did not just stop here, they went as far as attacking those perceived elites who opposed their position. They even burnt their houses! At the end, the elites were cowed into accepting the position of the youths. The £20million was shared in an absurd and skewed manner!
Now, the last part of the story. Remember, this is a true life story that happened between 2008 and now.
As part of the last part of the agreement, SHELL has recently awarded contracts for the clean-up and remediation works in the said Ogoni land. The contract was awarded to a foreign company but due to the local content policy in the oil & gas sector, this foreign company had to partner with an indigenous contractor (who happened to be an Ogoni man but from another Ogoni community, not Bodo). The people of Bodo have brought up a two new arguments. The first; the contract must be awarded to an indigenous contractor (from Bodo) as a partner. The second argument is that; there is no need for the clean-up again, since the oil spill happened since 2008, nature has cleaned up the community already, so therefore, LET THE MONEY FOR REMEDIATION BE SHARED! So far, the contractor is yet to resume work because SHELL is unable to reach a compromise with the community on this issue.
This is the end of the story.
Now to the major reason why I brought up this story. Many Nigerians who oppose true federalism believes that if Nigeria is restructured, the Niger Delta will become a war zone, brothers will kill brothers, oil companies will flee, and the Niger Deltans will be unable to manage their new wealth and might end up killing themselves and making the region ungovernable. In order to avert such a situation, the status quo should be maintained, Nigeria should not be restructured!
My response to such pretentious nationalist thinkers is this, if the Ijaw people decide to kill themselves over their own crude oil wealth, how does that concern the Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and Ogoni man? Let it be their regional or ethnic problem to deal it. By the time they realize they are now responsible for their own underdevelopment and see the pace at which other regions are developing, theywill learn the importance of compromise.
Nigerians should stop bringing up unintelligent arguments to oppose true federalism. Nigeria is not working. The earlier we realize that the Niger Delta crude oil money is a curse to the entire country’s progress, the better for us.