Toyin Akinosho, geologist and former employee of an international oil company is the Publisher of the highly rated Africa Oil and Gas Report and is reputed for his deep knowledge of the Nigerian oil industry. In this interview with NKRUMAH BANKONG-OBI, he explains why oil companies are shutting down production in the Niger Delta and its implications for the Nigerian economy
What essentially is responsible for oil companies in the country closing shop?
There is the issue of vandalisation there. You have Agip closing down. Agip has always been one company we thought knew Nigerians well, you know they are Italians. We have always thought that they know how to go round communities, and I don’t want to say they bribe people. But they basically have a way of reaching out to the host communities. The fact that Agip is now complaining means there is a fundamental collapse. This is a company that knew how to work with government at all levels. At the grassroots they knew who to speak to in the communities. But now they can’t handle it any more.
Apart from the fact that you publish an oil and gas journal, you are an expert in this field. What does it cost the nation in real terms, given this gradual migration of oil companies?
It goes beyond just cost implications. You need to do the maths yourself. It’s not something that one can pull out of the air. If you want to calculate in terms of the 100,000 barrels that have been shut in by Agip for three months, or the fact that Shell plc is telling everybody that they are losing 50,000 barrels per day or more, and some people are saying 120,000 barrels per day is being lost, we don’t know the exact figure. That is why it is difficult at this level to put a cost tag. But beyond that, there is also the fact that when a company is planning to produce oil or is already producing oil, it becomes impossible in the Nigerian situation, to say this is how much this project will cost because there are too many uncertainties. You want to order for pipelines, you want to begin to factor in how many times those pipelines will be vandalised or cut in. This is different from a company that knows basically that there is enough security and nothing will happen to their installations, so you can say your project will cost 50 million dollars or 10 millions dollars.
But you can’t be planning for an uninterrupted robbery of your material. What that basically means is that when the investors that come here, when they are planning in The Hague, Paris, Houston, or California before they come and make their investments, they put on the slide, usually, there is the map of the world. And these guys tell you the number of fields they are producing in Netherlands or in the North Sea, what they are exploring in Sierra Leone, what they are doing in Angola etc. This typically is what they do and they are ranking the countries. They will say “But there is a lot of oil in Nigeria but we can’t get there.” That is money that we are losing. How do you quantify that? This is the kind of thing that this oil insecurity creates. That is money that would have come in. Chevron, the company I work for, has not drilled a single well in swamp and shallow off-shore in the last two years. The only well it tried to do off-shore was the one that had a rig blow-out, that is not vandalism though. But you would have expected that when they sorted that out, they would have drilled again. No, they are not drilling because there is so much uncertainty – PIB issue, the nation itself is not sound. There hasn’t been any company in the world, apart from China that has voted to come and invest in Nigeria. Even the big international majors, none is coming. Only the Chinese who have so much money and are looking for where to invest it have come in. Look at how Total plc is leaving. Up to the last three months we were thinking that the majors are running away from swamp and onshore, but we are beginning to find out that even people who were drilling deep water are leaving, because of what we have created – this Diezani Alison-Madueke mentality. And it’s going to run us down before anything else. The companies drilling in deep water are leaving, the oil companies like Total are not drilling there anymore.
There was a time government hired private companies to safeguard our coastal areas as well as provide security for the oil companies.
Which private companies are you talking about?
I know for example, that Tompolo, the former militant has one such security firm
Yes! If you are handing over the thing to those kinds of people, what do you expect? It’s what goes round, comes round. You are basically telling them that “you are good guys, you have done well.” It’s all the same network.
That is what happens when you discover that it pays so much, if I can take on the government of Nigeria and be rewarded for it, why don’t we just do it?
The people who weren’t doing it before saw what was happening and they came in. There is also the matter that the amnesty basically has not worked and they know it. What it has created is layers of bureaucracies for a lot of characters who are middlemen between the militants, a lot of who can’t read or write, and the people who pay the money. So, if for example we are about 20 of us and we are going to be earning 50,000 naira because we put down our arms as militants, that gives us something. But then if you say for example that Mr. Segun Oni is going to be collecting it on our behalf, because we can’t sign ourselves, and Mr. Oni collects 500,000 that about 20 of us are supposed to collect every month, but then gives each of us 20,000 naira and pockets the rest. Now if there is some guy who, because every of this situation requires foot soldiers, can arrange ammunition and lead the group, another crisis would have been born. If we stop the situation in which the foot soldiers have to turn to some other lords, we will solve this crisis.
Is the emergence or persistence of the foot soldiers a failure of the Nigerian security system?
The amnesty programme sort of admitted that the Nigerian security system couldn’t handle militancy at that time. So, the Nigerian amnesty thing was conceived around ‘let’s pay the war-lords to settle their boys every month.’ But now they created a set of people who don’t pay the foot soldiers their full money, thus getting the boys frustrated. Those people are available for the new people who challenge the fact that the government has given the Tompolos of this world so much power. So, if I can arrange ammunition and other things because I’m feeling that the Tompolos are making it big, if I don’t have people who are willing to work for me, I won’t go anywhere. But in the Niger Delta, there are lots of people who are ready because they thrive on the status quo, because they aren’t being fully paid for laying down arms. Why won’t they not go ahead and join me in my new crusade to steal oil? Let me tell you how this thing started. We had this criminalisation around 2000/2001, when it became an issue. And Shell plc started thinking about finger-printing Nigerian crude oil. When Shell said that, a lot of people were wondering what was happening. But former President Obasanjo sent soldiers to the place. And they began to muscle in. He did so much but he made a single mistake. He grabbed Asari-Dokubo around the same time that he took on Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Those are big guys in Ijaw Kingdom. He grabbed the two and the struggle in the creeks morphed into something else and all kinds of characters were showing up because, as MEND claimed, they were a social group. But as far as I’m concerned, it was a decoy to oil theft. The boys began to bomb oil installations. Many of us were saying this is a Niger Delta emancipation and all that. President Yar’Adua who succeeded Obasanjo didn’t have the confidence to use the military to solve any problem like Obasanjo had. So the thing became kidnapping and after the amnesty they returned to vandalisation. This is the second phase of vandalisation. It started in 2001, morphed into militarisation with kidnapping. The poor workability of the amnesty programme has now ushered in this vandalisation again. And considering that other things are also happening in the country, government is not able to focus on vandalisation. When you are giving a thief a job, it doesn’t send the right signal out, it encourages brigandage. That’s why this is happening in the Niger Delta.
Do you see a loophole in the original conception of the amnesty programme and the subsequent implementation of the programme?
Even the way it was going to be implemented by Yar’Adua, the amnesty thing was flawed. If you listened very well to Ledum Mitee, who was President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, he said categorically that the way the amnesty thing was being implemented was wrong. He said what a technical committee in which he was a member said was that there was a problem with the form the amnesty idea took. I think that all of those militants should have been allowed to get their pay in one central point, rather than creating some guy who reports to you and gives you some money behind the scene. That’s part of the crisis. I think part of the crisis is also that you can’t have an engagement of tens of thousands of people at the same time, a whole lot of people were going to be left behind anyway.
During the January 2012 fuel subsidy protests, we had people protesting against the subsidy removal in parts of the country and we also had people in the Niger Delta protest in favour of the president. Is this ethnic problem contributing to the problem in the oil sector?
Ethnicity has always been our problem. That is why I say if we don’t solve the problem of militancy and the people helping that trade, it will consume the oil sector. Why does Boko Haram thrive? It thrives because they find people to employ. If you can’t find workforce, if you are big man who sets up a company, that company won’t work. Those elites in the Niger Delta who are in this trade do not even live in those villages. They live in Port Harcourt and Warri. We say money from Niger Delta was used to develop Abuja. But shouldn’t the elites first develop their areas? These guys don’t even build houses there, they don’t care. So who is going to develop the place? So, it’s the Nigerian standard political tendency to allow ethnicity determine everything. And this time, they are in power, so they say “why not, it is our oil.” So, Diezani will always have the backing of people who are Ijaw like herself, they will look at characters like me and say those are Yoruba boys who are living in Lagos and writing things. That is why you have Achebe write a book and the people attacking him are Yoruba, so it became an Igbo versus Yoruba war. The Ijaw elite feel it is their time, so they don’t mind even if they spoil their environment. If you look at those images coming from there, you know, you can control Shell’s exploration or drilling activities but you can’t control it when every village turns their own land into polluted ponds. My problem as a geologist is that the water body in Ijaw will get round. You think it’s only going to affect the creeks in the Niger Delta? The creeks flow into the Atlantic and you know the Atlantic is what is down the road near where we speak here on Victoria Island. You think that the toxicity will not get here? And it is bad that we don’t do community health , we can just say somebody died without knowing if it’s a result of that water.
In a general sense, what is the implication for a country that hangs only on oil for economic survival?
If we continue like this, we will not have an industry. I was very surprised when Petro Brass said they want to leave deep water. Deep water was supposed to be safe. Total sold a big deep water asset to the Chinese three months ago. We used to say that the major oil firms are running away from land, they are going to deep water. But it’s becoming different. I’m not seeing an industry. I’m publishing an oil and gas journal. I’m beginning to re-think my own strategy of publishing it. I probably might go for more culture material which is something I’m strong in, so that if everything crashes, I will no longer have a magazine that nobody will buy.
How in your opinion do you think these issues can be addressed to keep the sector afloat?
I really don’t know, except that the President should stop pretending that everything is okay. I will basically suggest that he removes the minister. I know that this is a person who refuses to see oil company managing directors. They are investors, even if they are lousy people, you will basically want to see them and forget their faces. What she does shows that she doesn’t even understand what we are talking about. She’s tied everything to personal fief and if it does not affect her, she is not interested. There have been other recommendations even before I grew to this stage. But nothing changed.
There is also the absence of education of the boys as to the danger of their activities. Isn’t it?
I agree. The Niger Delta people are not taking advantage of what is happening to invest in massive education, make everyone go to school like the west did many years ago. They should fund infrastructure, education especially. The only place you hear about massive infrastructure for education is Rivers State and you wish that there was more emphasis on getting more people educated than having schools you will spend much money on and have less people learning there. I agree that there have to be good schools but this idea that it has to be a great school with little attendance does not follow. Let’s leave those who are doing something. What have you heard that Delta State has done? I don’t know. I have been to Warri three times between 1981 and 2011. And every time it’s the same. In fact, I prefer the Warri I saw in 1981 to what I saw in 2011.
JD:Mr Akinosho will soon be on THE DISCOURSE with JIMI DISU on Classic97.3fm