Who Owns the Oil? By Omole Ibukun

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BETWEEN November and December 2021, the Nembe oil spill at Santa Barbara wellhead in Bayelsa was all over the news. According to the Governor of Bayelsa State, Duoye Diri, it was the worst oil spill he has seen in his lifetime. The wellhead is under the control of Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Aiteo, founded by Benedict Peters from Delta State, is largest indigenous oil firm in the country yet the oil spilled non-stop for thirty-two (32) days.

According to a resolution of the Nigerian Senate, a whopping 2 million barrels of hydrocarbon and gas spilled into the environment, destroying the environment there. The Senate further mentioned that it had to force the alleged culprit of this environmental damage to remedy the situation. In reality, it took a protest and press conference on December 6 of the 41 communities that the oil spill affected to force the Aiteo management to put a stop to the spill by December 8.

While the company has claimed that the oil spill was caused by sabotage, the Bayelsa State Government Technical Committee consisting of regulatory bodies investigating the spill have said that it was caused by equipment failure. This puts the fault of this oil spill at the door step of the company. We can recall that Benedict Peters was fingered in the Pandora Papers scandal for his corrupt oil deals with former petroleum minister; Minister Alison Madueke.

Now that we know who the oil wealth does not belong to, we need to ask ourselves who it belongs to. Emiliano Zapata said “the land belongs to those who work it with their own hands.” The land belongs to the people, all of the working people. This is true not just for the land but also for the treasures in it.

This is just one example of how the indigenous ruling class of the Niger Delta does not have the interests of the Niger Delta at heart when they claim that they have been sidelined or marginalised in the oil wealth of the country. It is just a crisis of sharing formula for funds that never gets to the masses. This is the local ruling class that Edwin Clark belongs to, and it is why his position over the ownership of the oil wealth in the Niger Delta can only be taken with a pinch of salt.

Even ‘activists’ who were more militant than him, like Tompolo and Dokubo, have now become billionaires from the oil wealth in the region while the region remains truly underdeveloped. The soot crisis in Rivers State recently is an evidence of this. This wastage and environmental destruction is enough evidence that the local ruling class does not regard the oil wealth as if it is theirs.

Can this mean that it is the National Ruling class, represented in Dangote or Obasanjo (who has claimed the oil wealth belongs to Nigeria), is right? I think the trillions owed to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by the Federal Government speaks enough as a proof of irresponsibility on their part too. The debt owed by the Federal Government to the Development Commission is to the tune of 1.8 trillion naira. This is aside the debt owed by oil firms which is supposed to he recovered by the Federal Government to the commission to the tune of 649 billion naira. This is the same Obasanjo who as president responded to the protests in Odi village for environmental rights and indigenous control of oil wealth with a massacre of the people of the Odi, Bayelsa State. Given this irresponsibility, it is therefore clear that the national ruling class cannot lay claim to the oil wealth.

The oil belongs to all Nigerians, including Niger Deltans, but Obasanjo’s Nigeria is not the same as our Nigeria. The Nigeria of Oil well ownership for the friends of the elite like Obasanjo is different from the Nigeria of perennial fuel price increase for the working people. Clark’s Niger Delta is not the same as the Niger Delta of the working people where environmental devastation has become the order of the day, and caused by the same people in Clark’s tribal elite club who can land their jets in another clean part of the world in any minute. Putting the oil wealth under the control of this local ruling class gives the same effect as putting it under the control of the national ruling class or the international multinationals.

Now that we know who the oil wealth does not belong to, we need to ask ourselves who it belongs to. Emiliano Zapata said “the land belongs to those who work it with their own hands.” The land belongs to the people, all of the working people. This is true not just for the land but also for the treasures in it.

It is the people that work the land that the land affects, and that need the products of the land, that can lay claim to the ownership of the land. It is the people that exist in that geographical space who bear the environmental cost of living with these resources. It is the people of the Niger Delta and of Nigeria generally who face the effect of the environmental pollution on the climate and on the farming, fishing etc. They are the ones that can regulate the sector in the interest of their environment.

In reality, both the people of the Niger Delta and the general Nigerian population own this oil wealth on the assumption that we have chosen to exist as a Federation. Our economic and political interests in the rest of Nigeria have become intertwined with that of the Niger Delta since we have chosen to exist together constitutionally as a Federation.

It is the everyday Nigerians working in the oil sector that owns the oil wealth. It is the everyday Nigerians who are in daily need of fuel products that own the oil. This should also apply for the solid minerals that can be found in the other parts of the country. While members of the ruling elite allegedly smuggle out gold for example with their private jets, it is the local and general population that face the environmental effects of gold mining. This is the basic argument against deregulation and privatisation of the oil sector that takes away the oil wealth from the control of the people.

Since the fates of the working people are this intertwined, this brings us back to the major issue of the debate, which is whether Nigeria exists as a Federation presently or as just a Federal Government with a shaky allegiance from local territories. The hijack of oil wells by the Babangida military Federal Government is just one symptom of the total hijack of the Federation by the Federal Government of Nigeria. It is the reason why local governments have to battle to have autonomy from state governments. It is why state governments are wrapped up in controversies over VAT allocation.

There are alternatives to fossil fuel that Nigeria should be exploring but given the FG’s negative disposition to the minimally environmentally friendly Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), it is obvious that only a working people’s democratic control of the sector can protect the environment. While Clark and Obasanjo would prefer us discussing the symptoms of the problem which is the question of who owns the oil wealth, what we should be discussing is the question of: who owns the country – The elite or the working people?

This is why a part of Nigeria enjoys federation funding for a Sharia Legal system, side by side with the existence of a secular constitution. The federal government has hijacked the federation and other tiers of government are no longer working. Given that these other tiers of government are meant to decentralise government than the federal government, this hijack has significant effect on Nigeria’s democracy. It is therefore important to reverse this over-centralisation of political and economic power in the hands of the federal government for the existence of a truly democratic federation, but the task goes beyond just that.

The oil belongs to all Nigerians, including Niger Deltans, but Obasanjo’s Nigeria is not the same as our Nigeria. The Nigeria of Oil well ownership for the friends of the elite like Obasanjo is different from the Nigeria of perennial fuel price increase for the working people. Clark’s Niger Delta is not the same as the Niger Delta of the working people where environmental devastation has become the order of the day, and caused by the same people in Clark’s tribal elite club who can land their jets in another clean part of the world in any minute. Putting the oil wealth under the control of this local ruling class gives the same effect as putting it under the control of the national ruling class or the international multinationals.

It is a democratic alternative to these dangerous options that we must find. This is responsible for the calls for the total nationalisation of the oil and gas industry under the democratic control and planning of the working people. There are alternatives to fossil fuel that Nigeria should be exploring but given the FG’s negative disposition to the minimally environmentally friendly Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), it is obvious that only a working people’s democratic control of the sector can protect the environment. While Clark and Obasanjo would prefer us discussing the symptoms of the problem which is the question of who owns the oil wealth, what we should be discussing is the question of: who owns the country – The elite or the working people?

It is this question that a democratic movement of Nigerians must address politically including but not limited to workers in the oil and gas industry, Nigerians struggling to afford fuel products, and community environmentalists concerned about the poor regulation of oil multinationals and indigenous companies destroying the environment in the Niger Delta. It is this struggle for democratisation that we must embark on now that the Buhari Government is set to increase fuel price again and make life hard for the working people. Rather than sit and watch while Obasanjo and Clark whip up tribal and national sentiments for their personal interests, it is better that the Nigerian people rise up together and unite in protest to defend our collective wealth against looters and polluters.

Comrade Ibukun writes from Abuja and can be contacted on 09060277591

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1 COMMENT

  1. Comrade Ibukun are you saying that you who writes from Abuja own equal stake or own equally the oil in the Niger Delta with those who have been inhaling soot and living in a literal oil spill disaster all their lives. Even if you lived there you might not be fit to claim equal ownership of the oil if you lack common ancestry with the people there. The oil in the Niger Delta belongs to the workers and poor of that region and no one else. They and only they can decide whether or not to be part of any federal structure with the formula with which they would partake in federal derivation. There’s only one Nigeria and that is the Nigeria formed by cohesion of the colonists and it is sustained by their proxies in the north. You keep using the expression “since we have chosen to exist as a federation” but who chose this. Need you be reminded that till today Nigeria is a forced marriage. The arrest and detention of NK and SI should be enough to show this. Nigeria can only exist as an oppressive vassal state of world powers. Nigeria can only be a prison of nationalities and there’s no democracy in a prison. Emiliano Zapata whom you quote spent his life fighting colonialism, imperialism and national oppression not avoiding or wishing it away. The context in which he quoted it was against settler colonialist oppression and on the side of the indigenous people

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