Iteveh Nur’ Ekpokpobe is an advocate of no mean repute. An investigative journalist, social commentator, Consultant, rights activist and Convener of Isoko Youth Groups Coalition for Marginalization in the Award of Pipeline Surveillance Contract in the Niger Delta Region.
In this interview, Iteveh unearthed several issues surrounding the pipeline surveillance contract, crude oil politics, how too many personal interests are affecting the direction of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited, how several national actors may be encouraging inter-ethnic crisis in the Niger Delta for pecuniary purposes amongst sundry issues.
Within the last few weeks there have been media attacks on the Executive Vice President (Upstream) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited as well as sundry issues bordering on ethnic bias as it relates to the Niger Delta Pipeline surveillance contract. What is your position on the matter?
If we call a spade a spade, we would know that a bulk of these media attacks and tension are unnecessary. Attacks on the Executive Vice President (Upstream) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mrs Oritsemeyiwa Eyesan, especially from the Ijaw Ethnic Nationality, on grounds of favouritism or ethnic bias, are both laughable and insulting to other ethnic minorities in the Niger Delta region. Why do I say this?
Let me give us a historical perspective. Sometime in May, 2022, the Isoko National Youth Coalition on Pipeline Surveillance, through Isoko National Youth Council met with the then Group Executive Director/ Chief Operations Officer (GED/COO) of the defunct Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr Adokiye Tombomieye, an Ijaw man. In that meeting he said a pipeline surveillance contract would soon be awarded by the NNPC, and that for Isoko to get their pride of place, there was need for Isoko youth to submit a paper showing the volatile axis of pipeline infrastructure in the their region.
Isoko youths went back home, did a compilation and wrote officially to the office of Mr Adokiye, in a letter titled Challenges facing Petroleum production in NPDC/ Joint Venture partners in NPDC OML 30 unsecured wellheads/ platform locations, oil field facilities, NPDC OML 26/30 Export pipelines and recommendations. This letter was date 14 June 2022 and received by the office of GED/COO Upstream on 15 June, 2022. Mr Adokiye on receipt of the letter assured that Isoko youths would be effective engaged and accommodated in the pipeline surveillance contract as and when awarded. This formed the fulcrum of our agitation as Isoko Youths.
Eventually the contract was awarded with the exclusion of the interest of Isoko nation. Who were those at the helm of affairs? The Minister of State for Petroleum was Chief Timipre Sylva, an Ijaw man from Bayelsa, and the Mr Adokiye Tombomieye (an Ijaw man from Rivers State), who had been promoted to office of Executive Vice President (Upstream) of the NNPCL. The contract which covered Isoko region was awarded to Tantita Security owned by Chief Ekpemupolo Government (Tompolo) an Ijaw man from Delta State.
The Ijaws who are crying foul today saw nothing wrong with the arrangement. Even after I and my partner, Mr Karo Edor, led Isoko youths to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privilege and Public petitions chaired by Senator Ayo Akinyulere, where recommendations were made to the NNPC for Isoko Youths to be accommodated, considering their peaceful disposition towards protection of crude oil installation in the Niger Delta Region, we still met resistance.
It is both disturbing and surprising today that some of these persons, would sponsor media attacks on a woman who was appointed barely months into office. It is even more surprising that the current Minister of State for Petroleum, Sen. Heineken Lokpobri, superintending over the NNPCL, is an Ijaw man from Bayelsa State. There is no way the EVP would make a recommendation without the input or ratification of the NNPCL Board or the the minister. I hold nothing against the Ijaws. They are my brothers from the Delta South senatorial district. But as a voice, my duty is to cry out in the wilderness to discourage such insinuations.
All I have to say on this matter is that those who peddle these media banters should be wary, lest they fan inter-ethnic crisis in the Niger Delta region. I do know (and almost everybody in the Niger Delta will agree with me) that the Ijaws are the most favored ethnic nationality in the Niger Delta. We must learn to trust the sanctity of the process and not attack individuals on the unfounded grounds of ethnic bias and allegations of nepotism.
The Isoko ethnic nationality is the most marginalized in the Niger Delta region. We have not resorted to mudslinging, rather we have engaged and keep on engaging all necessary legal channels to drive our narratives.
Meanwhile, the Isoko Youth Coalition wants to use this platform to commend the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu (GCFR) for graciously appointing a daughter of the Niger Delta region as the Chief Executive Vice President, Upstream, Oritsemeyiwa Eyesan.
We, in this coalition and Isoko nation at large, really appreciate Mr. President for this amazing gesture and gift to the Niger Delta people, and we strongly believe that her appointment will bring monumental impact and change in the oil and gas sector. There is no doubt that she will bring in her expertise born of both training and experience to bear as a top carrier management staff who has performed excellently well in her previous positions before now.
Her milestones in the NNPCL are public knowledge. The Executive Vice President, Upstream, Oritsemeyiwa Eyesan led the top management of the NNPCL to broker a peaceful meeting between Total Energy, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) as well as the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) following an industrial action embarked on by the two unions. The fruitful intervention led by Eyesan has restored the nation’s crude oil production output of about 275,000 barrels daily by Total Energies to the Federation.
The issues have been amicably resolved by the NNPCL management on the approval and authorization of the GCEO of NNPCL, Engr Mele Kyari. Indeed, it is a major milestone achieved for the sector in the interest of Nigerians. On behalf of the Isoko Youth Coalition, I urge the new EVP, Mrs Eyesan to remain steadfast in duty as attacks are also part of the job especially in developing climes like Nigeria.
One would think that after so many months of running, the crisis and dust surrounding the award of pipeline surveillance contract in the Niger Delta Region by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited would have subsided. The story is not so. What do you think the problem is?
There are two dimensions to the pipeline surveillance contract. First, the security/business dimension and secondly the political dimension which bothers on control. It is public knowledge that the contract for security and maintenance of pipelines in the Niger Delta region were initially handled by Ocean Marine Solutions Limited (OMSL) owned by Captain Hosa Okubor of blessed memory.
The dynamics of political power play in Nigeria, prequel to the defeat of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, tipped the scale to a point where the need for balkanisation of the contract became convenient. It was this balkanisation that elevated Tantita Security which belongs to Chief Ekpemupolo Government (Tompolo) from the status of subcontractor to a full-fledged contractor whereby the region was divided into three corridors, to wit: the Western, Eastern and Central Corridors. In the same vein, Ocean Marine Solutions limited had metamorphosed into Pipeline Infrastructure Nigeria Limited (PINL).
The issues we see surrounding the implementation of these contracts stem from the fact that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) under the capable leadership of Mr. Mele Kolo Kyari, was ill-advised as to the true ethno-cultural dimensions of the Niger Delta region. While the contract was designed with good intentions, the execution was faulty. I have said it on several fora that, like Nigeria, the diversity of the Niger Delta Region make it susceptible to volatility if not carefully managed.
Agreed, one ethnic group reigns supreme today as leaders of the region because of their presumed contribution to the emancipation struggles of the region. It is on record that five flow stations were shut down in the history of Nigeria was on 18 June 1999 by the Isoko National Youth Movement under the leadership of Mr Fred Obey as part of an “International Day of Action against corporate rule and the existing international financial system,” or an “International Day of Action against Imperialism”. But we are not here to recount the history of the Niger Delta Struggle.
The fact that it is assumed in Abuja that Ijaw Nation is the only ethnic group in the Niger Delta region fueled the error of judgement. There are several minority ethnic groups with viable crude oil production quantum like the Urhobos, Isokos, Ndokwa/Ukwuanis and others. And awarding a contract of such magnitude with recourse to them became a slap.
The contract as awarded represents dominance and control of the region. That one ethnic Nationality is so empowered to oversee the security architecture of other ethnics groups spells doom for others and is the very rationale behind the palpable tension in the region. As Isokos, all we are saying is that we are a peaceful people, and being the second place crude was discovered in Nigeria, we are very capable of securing our pipelines and oil infrastructures. I believe every other ethnic nationality tows the same path.
On issues surrounding Isoko development, what is your take?
Issues bedeviling the development of Isoko nation are ubiquitous. They are beyond unemployment, financial security and marginalization. As we speak, do you know that Isoko nation has little or no power supply for decades? And it is global knowledge that power is central to industrialization and development.
Recently, the quest by the Isoko Development Union (IDU) led by Prof. Christopher Akpotu, to channel its share of funds accruing from the three per cent Petroleum Industry Act (PIA 2021) and invest it in gas-powered alternative energy as being threatened by the oil corporations in Isoko North and Isoko South councils. It made headlines. You can verify.
Inquiries made to the companies by the IDU hit the brick wall by the refusal of the oil companies to disclose how much is due to the Isoko nation since the PIA law came into effect. This development will obviously, scuttle the plans to provide alternation power to Isoko nation to rev up businesses, making way for the establishment of industries in Isoko to provide employment and reduce youth restiveness.
Worried by the poor electricity supply year-in year-out, because of the inability of electricity distribution companies (DISCOs) to provide power, IDU had decided to explore alternative provision of power to its citizens by converting the abundant gas being flared by these oil companies to electricity.
IDU’s quest for alternative energy provision is as a result of the Federal Government’s utter neglect of Isoko people as a major oil-producing ethnic nation that has no single government’s presence in terms of facilities or political patronage with regard to appointment of Isoko sons or daughters into any federal organ or position, whether as minister, diplomat or head of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA).
Uzere, a community in Isoko, is the second community where oil was discovered shortly after Oloibiri in Bayelsa State in commercial quantities. Whereas Oloibiri’s oil wells have since dried up, the wells in Uzere are still waxing strong as major oil and gas hubs that supply huge quantities of hydrocarbons that continue to fuel the national economy. Yet Uzere and the entire Isoko are in darkness without any Federal Government’s presence. This is also the case in other Isoko communities that are hosts to oil facilities, from Olomoro, Oleh, Irri to Ozoro, Ovruode, among others.
Beyond any other development indices, Isoko Nation needs power supply and we will not rest until it is addressed.
How far has the Isoko Youth Coalition gone with the negotiations for the interest of the Isoko Nation?
As you are aware, sometime in August 2022 a contract for the surveillance of oil pipeline in the entire region was awarded several companies.
The contract threw stakeholders in the region into a frenzy. As a coalition, we wrote several petitions to the Presidency, the National Security Adviser, the National Assembly, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited and others.
Following our petitions to the senate, the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions headed by Sen. Ayo Akinyulere, on instructions of the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, held on January 28, 2023 on the issues raised.
The hearing was attended by the conveners of Coalition of Isoko Youths, President Generals of Isoko Communities in Bayelsa State, representative of the Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva and others.
The Senate committee recommended at the end of the hearing, the need for the NNPC and the Federal Government to engage Isoko youths and stakeholders for keeping the peace and protecting crude oil installations in their areas ever since the beginning of exploration till date.
The Group Chief Executive Officer of the NNPC, Mr Mele Kolo Kyari reached out to the leadership of the coalition after which the now former Managing Director of the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), Mr Ali Muhammed Zahra, was delegated to interface with the leadership of the coalition and the companies, to wit, Tantita Security and Zane Energy Limited in order to officially accommodate our youths.
These deliberations which kicked off since January 2023 gave birth to several meetings and decisions. For months, we were shifted on a course. This course was supposed to resolve the issues that instigated our agitations but it did not.
It is sad that over this period of time, all the promises made to us have not been kept. These back and forth movement confirmed our fears and obvious truth, that there is a deliberate attempt to deprive Isokos and by proxy, Urhobos of their quota in this negotiation.
It is also a well-established fact that 32% of the entire oil production in Nigeria runs through the pipelines planted on Isoko land and it is our perspective that Isoko be treated as critical stakeholders in the ‘Nigerian Question’.
We have our hope anchored on the assurances of the Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Mele Kolo Kyari, who despite his busy schedule has been on top of the matter. Deliberations and consultations are still ongoing.
In the same vein, I must commend the NNPCL’s GCEO, Mr. Mele Kyari for his positive intendments towards Isoko Nation. He has been fatherly in his approach and we hope it materializes in the re-award of the contracts.
Lastly, I call on all Isoko youths to remain peaceful and focused on the positive gains of peace for development. It is not yet uhuru. But in a matter of time, we shall get there.
We also urge the federal government to encourage the peaceful disposition of Isoko nation and reward it by engaging its people. May Allah (SWT) make it easy for us. Ameen.