Fraud scandal rocks amnesty programme in Abia
… as Osinbajo warns oil host communities on use of resources
The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was in Abia State for a Town Hall meeting as part of efforts of the federal government to interface with Oil Producing communities. Our man, PETER OKORE in Umuahia reports:
The visit of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo to Umuahia, the capital of Abia state, for the second time this year saw a gleam of solution to one perennial problem in Abia state or the other. It will be recalled that Prof. Osinbajo visited Aba, the commercial nerve-centre of Abia state on 26th January, 2017, to launch the Nationwide Micro, Small and Medium-scale Enterprise, MSME clinic, where he identified Aba as the home of Micro, Small and Medium-scale Enterprises, in Nigeria and that Nigeria cannot do without Aba.
To his surprise, the manufacturers and entrepreneurs based in Aba complained to the then Acting President, that the operations of some Federal Government institutions, like the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, and National Agency for Foods, Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, etc, were inimical to industrial growth and entrepreneurial expansion in Aba, the Enyimba city as it is popularly called. They alleged that those agencies were responsible for the closure of many industries in Aba.
Without much fanfare, Osinbajo went into close- door meeting with the relevant Federal Government institutions in the City.
After rubbing minds with them, the Vice President reminded the agencies about the new National Industrial policy of the country formulated to enhance diversification of the nation’s economy in order to beat the recession. He implored them to look in-wards in the course of their operations and make for a sustained cordial working relationship with the Industrialists and entrepreneurs for business to thrive in Aba. A close economic watch indicates that the hostile business environment has since changed for the better in the town. Many business activities have sprung-up and more shops opened everywhere in town.
Again, on the 24th of March, Prof. Osinbajo was in Umuahia to meet face-to-face with the oil host communities in Abia State. This time the occasion was a Town Hall meeting, as part of federal government’s programme to interface with oil producing areas in the country. Abia State is one of the Oil Producing states of the federation. The venue was the International Conference Centre, Ogurube Lay-out, Umuahia, instead of in one of the schools located within Ukwa-West, the host Oil producing community of the State.
Those present at the meeting to hear the Vice President included, youths from the oil producing communities, traditional rulers, Civil Society groups, Students Union groups, Federal Ministers, members of Abia State executive council, Heads of Federal and State Ministries and Agencies, MDA’s, Town Unions, the religious, stakeholders, Federal and state legislators(retired and serving), etc, were there in their numbers to make their own contributions on their present plights and Oil exploitations in their areas and hear response from the Vice President.
The meeting featured Questions and Answers. There were both paper and oral presentations by groups and individuals. Virtually, all who spoke hammered on the similar and associated problems that had affected the communities over the years.
Incidentally, it was during the presentations that the Vice President came to know that it was only Ukwa-West Local Government Area in Abia state that produced oil . He also lamented that inspite of all odds, there is nothing, on ground, to show for the oil production, except the devastated farmlands and aquatic habitations.
It was also at the forum that the Vice President and many came to know that only nine(9) communities produce the black gold that sustain s Nigeria. Those communities are all based in Ukwa-West, namely, Owazza Community, Uzuaku, Umu-orie, Umu-Offor, Umukalu,Umuahala, Umu-okwuo and Umu-nteke. No oil-well has yet been discovered in Ukwa-East LGA, as against opinions held by many parties. Further, the meeting revealed that after the discovery of oil in Oloibiri, Bayelsa state in 1956, that the next place oil was discovered in commercial quantity in 1958, was in Owazza, Ukwa-West LGA. In addition to this was the information that even some oil wells being tapped from and located in Ukwa-West and the royalties thereof, are being credited to Oyigbo-North LGA in Rivers State.
These are not all. Another demoralizing revelation was that out of a list of 337 Presidential Amnesty Programme beneficiaries trained in different skills and supposedly to have come from Abia State as brandished at the forum by Gen. Paul Boro of the Presidential Amnesty Office, Abuja, that none of them actually comes from Abia State. They were alleged to be fictitious names fabricated for the occasion. No Ukwa-West youth/Abia state citizen had been included in the Presidential Amnesty Programme. Of course, the list could have sailed through and the negligence continued, but for the Town Hall meeting. Of course, the loud shouts of No! No! from Ukwa-youths ,that greeted that document, told the whole story.
However, the grouse of Ukwa ,the Oil host communities and the citizenry, as enumerated to the Vice President at the forum, included age-long neglect as oil bearing community and total marginalization as such, bad access roads, no electricity supply, no portable drinking water, none of their children is employed in any of the Oil prospecting or exploiting companies operating in their land, hazards of Oil production and Gas flaring, which have polluted their environments, posing health challenges, their youths are not being employed by the federal government, no scholarships for their children, fragile and unproductive farmlands, etc.
They appealed to the federal government to look into their numerous and perennial problems so as to give them some sense of belonging as host oil producing communities. They also added that in spite of the age-long neglect, the communities have remained calm and peaceful in the interest of the Nation, rather than taking to arms, the way others did to fight for attention and compensation.
In his response, Osinbanjo assured that President Muhammadu Buhari -administration is determined to ensure that those who come from oil producing areas of the country should be able to see and benefit from the natural resources from their area. He said that it was regrettable that the communities which produce oil from where the country earns its greater revenue, that such benefits are not reflected. Osinbajo then promised that the Federal Government would build modular refineries in all the oil producing communities in country. He explained that when such refineries were established that Asa community in Ukwa- West local government area of the state must be a beneficiary.
In the words of the Vice President: “Let us use what we have to our benefit now, for a better future. I want to use this opportunity to commend the elders, traditional rulers and youth leaders of the Asa community for the matured way they have been handling the issue of youth restiveness and I want to assure you that your community will be rewarded for maintaining peace. Oil producing communities have endured a lot. This is a new period in our time in Nigeria”.
According to the Vice President, the federal government has designed a new Roadmap for the development of the Niger-Delta region, including undertaking a partnership arrangement with states, Local Governments and other stakeholders in the crude oil business aimed at giving a fair deal to oil producing states in the country. Osinbajo said the federal government was working hard to see that oil producing states will be given a fair deal in the country. He noted that though many oil producing communities have not benefitted from oil, they also suffer the hazards of oil exploration and gas flaring hence federal government’s decision to intervene.
Prof Osinbanjo assured that Abia state would be involved in the new Presidential Amnesty Programme of the federal government to the benefit of legitimate Abian indigenes. He disclosed that the federal government has ordered all contractors of abandoned projects to return to site within 30 days or face prosecution, adding that soon an NDDC commissioner of Abia origin will be appointed from the oil producing communities. He commended Ukwa youths, in particular and Abians, in general, for being peaceful and assured that they must benefit from oil being drilled from their land.
The Vice President was earlier conferred with a Chieftaincy title of: ‘Enyioha,’a friend of the people by the traditional rulers of the state when he paid them a courtesy call at their secretariat before the town hall meeting.
In his brief remarks, Abia State Governor Dr. OKezie Ikpeazu told the VC that the people of Oil producing communities have spoken their minds. He made public that no Abian has benefitted from the Amnesty programme of the federal government and made a case for Abia to be included in the Programme. He further revealed that Ukwa sons and daughters were not in the employ of oil companies operating in Asa land and demanded for the establishment of more federal universities as against only one (Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike) currently in existence in the state.
Earlier Governor Ikpeazu told the audience that he was taking the blame for not taking the VP to Asa to see things for himself, stressing that doing so would not have enabled him to know the problems of the people.
In their separate speeches, stakeholders including former senate president, Adolf Wabara, Sen Enyinnaya Abaribe, Hon. Uzoma Abonta, as well as representatives of various groups in Ukwa pleaded with the vice president to address the various issues raised by the various interest groups from the Oilproducing communities. They particularly, asked thye Federal Government to look into the problem of marginalization of Ukwa people by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the NDDC as well as oil companies in Ukwa.
They requested the federal government to include Abia people in the Amnesty programme of the federal government, appoint an NDDC commissioner for the state from Asa, and establish a federal University in Ukwa land, among other requests.