Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji
On the Nigerian political map, Port Harcourt is a beautiful city. This is decipherable from its geographical features. Rivers State where Port Harcourt is the capital city is host to the Oil and Gas Free Zone, which serves oil and gas industries in the West African sub-region. It also has a petrochemical plant, two refineries, a fertilizer plant, and the nation's second busiest seaport, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) and other multinational oil companies.
Because of the strategic location of Port Harcourt, the city has for decades, been home to hundreds of expatriates working in the oil and gas sector. This informed the decision to commission an international airport to open the region to increased domestic and international air traffic. Flight operations between neighboring African and European countries such as Cameroon, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo, Benin Republic, Ghana, Britain, France and Germany take place at the airport. Importation and exportation of oil and gas exploration, materials and equipment are also airlifted through the airport.
But that tends to be the best story of Port Harcourt, the industrial hotspot of the Nigerian oil industry. The comatose state of public utilities, heavy traffic, poor level infrastructure, common-place environmental pollution, ineptitude in city governance and now high rate crime and insecurity is already the defining line. The continuing rate of kidnapping of people for whatever reasons gives me enormous concern.
Painfully, June 2007 marks the 51st anniversary of the discovery of oil in Nigeria. Although oil exploration began in Nigeria in 1938 around the Owerri city area, when Shell d'Arcy (later Shell BP) obtained a license, it was not until June 1956, that that company discovered oil in commercial quantity at Oloibiri (in present Bayelsa State). Export of crude oil started in 1958.
As at today, there are, in the Niger Delta, 11 oil companies operating 159 oil fields and 1, 481 wells; all with a strong presence in Port Harcourt city. In a recent report, titled "Ways of Using Oil Boom for Sustainable Development" published by the African Development Bank (ADB), Nigeria's total earnings from crude oil was put at $600 billion (or about N84 trillion) in the past 45 years. That should translate into over N1.8 trillion per annum for 45 years.
Today, Nigeria has degenerated into a mono-cultural state, with oil as the mainstay of the national economy. Oil reserve in Nigeria is estimated at 22 billion barrels which, at current production level of 2.7 million barrels per day (official figure), will be exhausted in less than 24 years. Nigeria is the world's sixth largest oil producer. Other Third World oil-producing states, such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Venezuela, Indonesia, Azerbaijan and Kuwait, have used their oil wealth to transform those countries into modern states.
Now 51 years old, the advent of oil discovery means different things to different people. To the beneficiaries of the oil industry, mainly those who have held the reins of Federal and State power over the years, the discovery of oil in Nigeria is a blessing. However, to the overwhelming majority of the citizens of Nigeria, particularly those of the Niger Delta, the discovery of oil is a curse.
Gas thermal stations in the Niger Delta account for 50 per cent of Nigeria's electricity supply; even so, half of the community has never seen electric light. The landmass in the Niger Delta is desiccated and rendered unsuitable for agriculture; the water mass is polluted and rendered unsuitable for fishing. The people wring their hands in utter frustration, watching helplessly as over 87 per cent of the revenue from oil is taken away to found new towns and develop existing ones outside the Delta region.
The inhabitants of the area experience scorching heat daily from endless gas flaring, an established cause of leukaemia. According to industry sources, Nigeria accounts for over 78 per cent of all the gas flared in Africa and 25 per cent of the world's total! Unconfirmed reports have conservatively put the quantity oil stolen on a daily basis from the Niger Delta at 200,000 barrels.
In a recent report, the World Bank stated that the Niger Delta is the least developed part of Nigeria in terms of social infrastructure and modern facilities, yet since the early seventies, about 95 per cent of export earnings come from the petroleum resources of the Niger Delta. On a national scale, Nigerians are some of the poorest human beings on earth, living, on the average, on less than one dollar per day, despite the huge revenues derived from oil daily, monthly and annually.
Sadly at this stage of our development the oil industry in Nigeria is witnessing a rash of militant organizations in the Niger Delta. This has been precipitated by a number of both remote and immediate factors such as the death and execution of some environmental rights activists, such as Isaac Boro, Ken Saro-Wiwa and others, the arrest and detention of some, like Asari Dokubo, and the impeachment of DSP Alamiesigha as governor of Bayelsa state.
With over N80 trillion in 45 years, Nigeria, given good leadership, should boast of the best hospitals in Africa, the best primary, secondary and tertiary institutions, a network of good roads and bridges, etc. such as we have in the aforementioned oil-producing nations. Absolute want of good leadership has been the rub. Successive Federal and State Governments have failed to use oil as a catalyst for national development and have paid lip service to education, with the net result that capacity building remains a mirage.
Writing in his regular weekly column on the issue Reuben Abati had posited that the current crisis in the Niger Delta in form of the transformation of that region into a mini-Iraq with aggrieved citizens taking oil workers hostage, and demanding ransom as if they were disciples of Osama Bin Laden is the inevitable outcome of the failure of the Nigerian state and the professional political class to address the politics of oil.
It can only get worse and it will. It would appear that the youths of the Niger Delta have finally discovered how best to treat and beat the Nigerian state. In the past weeks, they have kidnapped many oil workers; a total of about twenty. They have seized two vessels, and attacked three flow stations.
Reuben had emphasized that each time radical militants of the Niger Delta seized oil flow stations, kidnap oil workers and inflict punishment on Nigerian security forces, the international price of crude oil shoots up. The daily production output of the oil companies in the Delta drops, and so Nigeria loses revenue. Oil theft is made easier, and perhaps more important for the purpose of the militias, the international community focuses afresh on the problems of the Niger Delta. Their action is dramatic.
The effect is even more so. Shell which depends on the Niger Delta for ten per cent of its global oil production, as well as the other oil majors are already used to crises of this nature. There can be no doubt that they consider violent attacks on their processes and installations, part of the price to be paid for doing business in Nigeria. Shell has evacuated over 300 of its staff. Chevron has suspended some of its operations. But they will return either as partners of the Nigerian state or of the commanders of the Niger Delta, depending on how the coming showdown is resolved.
The main challenge lies in how six, seven years into civilian democracy, the Nigerian government has not been able to make any progress in the Niger Delta. The situation in that region worsened during military rule especially under General Sani Abacha who unleashed a regime of terror and repression on the people, killing Ken Saro-Wiwa, the MOSOP activist and eight others. Abacha turned the people against one another and sacked communities.
There was some respite under General Abdusalami Abubakar whose main contribution was to organize fresh elections and hand over to civilians. But with the return to civilian rule in 1999, it was expected that there would be ample opportunities for addressing the injustice, the abuse of human rights, the repression and the exploitation which had driven the people of the Niger Delta to the wall. Unfortunately, the response of the Obasanjo administration has been characterized by a disconnect between form and substance.
The impact of all these to Port Harcourt the major city in the entire region is worrisome. There is no doubt that Port Harcourt should be a replica of Abuja FCT, but this is regrettably not the case. Port Harcourt is the capital of Rivers state Nigeria. The city is predominantly an urban community with a population of about 2.5million people. The people are mostly civil servants, oil company workers, students, entrepreneurs, the unemployed and traders with an average household income of US$4.50 per day.
Current infrastructure provision in the city is below average. There are open and well paved tarred roads in the city’s outer areas but beyond them are adjoining streets and pathways that are subject to regular flooding which often make them impassable. There is erratic supply of electricity. Current domestic water demand varies from 15 to 30 l/person/day, but supplies have grossly been insufficient because the utility providers have long gone comatose, leaving such services to mostly semi-skilled entrepreneurs who are cashing-in on the parlous situation to make big money.
In Port Harcourt city privately owned and operated water schemes dot the entire landscape, with owners selling the water to residents via water trucks, carts and kiosks etc. The same situation applies to the provision of sanitation services. Private and Privately owned sanitation trucks and personnel are putting up efforts but these have not really met much success.
The sanitation situation in Diobu in particular is hugely abysmal. Here, open defecation is still rampant and common. During wet period i.e. rainy season, some people especially women and children “shit and wrap” their excreta in their homes, only to throw them into runoffs. Where these ‘wraps’ end up remains an open guess. Further exacerbating the poor situation of sanitation is the fact that Diobu hosts a major market that is patronized by thousands of people from and beyond Port Harcourt every week. This naturally keeps the neighbourhood busy everyday.
A preliminary assessment recently conducted by an NGO, RAWDP to appraise the poor sanitation in the Diobu area in particular, and the entire city revealed shocking facts. Aside the facts that the market lacks toilet facilities, over 85% of households in Port Harcourt share sanitary facilities, like toilets. This is very common in densely populated or ‘face –me, I-face-you’ buildings. In such places, yard latrines are common with a user ratio of 50 persons per latrine (toilet) per day; only few households have separate and detached personal latrines.
Aside the filthy status of most of these latrines, an obvious consequence is the high filling rate of the pits. To the residents, it does not matter, because they can easily tax themselves or contribute to raise the fee for the dislodging service. Most yard latrines in Port Harcourt are emptied on the average, 5 times a year. Most of them are also shallow because of nearness to ground water, the area being a coastal region. In some other places, make-shift latrine structures are common. These structures are constantly dirty and smelly with lots of flies.
The many Pour flush latrines in the city are generally unkempt because of persisting water scarcity. Another disturbing and shocking revelation is that the two Local Government Councils responsible for the city has no defined strategy for meeting the sanitation needs of a big urban city such as Port Harcourt. There are of course established units such as the Public Health personnel at the councils, responsible for among others, routine inspection of households; but efficiency of these units are seriously in doubt. Beyond the existence of these units, the councils lack broad initiatives on sanitation.
No concerted effort or plan to build new toilets in public places or mobilize the city is in the offing. The councils are yet to see sanitation as a priority. Most schools, motor parks, markets and even churches do not have a functional toilet. Where they existed, they are filthy and over used.
Currently compounding the situation of things in Port Harcourt city is the growing spates of hostage taking. Having lived in Port Harcourt I am afraid that these novel criminal activities will crumble the city and bring the oil industry to its knees. I am also panicky on the best panacea to be used in quelling the problem. Already foreigners have been advised to desist from travelling to Port Harcourt and its parts because of the near inevitable personal risks linked to kidnapping.
I look forward to a new Port Harcourt and hope that all those in charge could respond to the degenerating situation in a most sustainable way.