Culled from BD Sunday (By Ignatius Chukwu)
When deeply knowledgeable and intelligent men begin to shiver in fears over a matter where others see no danger, then, disaster is around the corner. After all, horses and donkeys were said to be the first to flee at the approach of the first tsunami years ago in the US when humans were frolicking and making merry around the beaches, until disaster struck.
This seems to be the situation Nigeria finds itself; where deeply knowledgeable experts in the oil and gas industry such as Dr Brown Ogbeifun begin to feel fear while most other Nigerians haggle over political control, scooping petrodollars and feeling safe.
Ogbeifun has gone round the oil and gas industry and for many years sat astride the PENGASSAN leadership summit in Nigeria as president the Petroleum and Gas Workers Association of Nigeria. Today, he is a consultant on the hydrocarbon industry and a campaigner for reforms in the oil/gas industry. He is one of the brains behind the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that has suffered almost two decades of standstill in the National Assembly and he has joined forces to push for reforms, sanity in the oil industry, and community equity to help bring stability.
Ogbeifun, now leader of an international NGO, African Initiative for Transparency, Accountability and Responsible Leadership, stormed Port Harcourt on November 13, 2018, with experts on war against corruption in the oil/gas industry with a one day workshop to groom traditional rulers and community leaders on recognizing what corruption has done in the oil industry and how to domesticate the power to say ‘no’ to this on the hands of the community people.
In an exclusive interview with BD Sunday at Echelon Heights on Stadium Road, Ogbeifun raised strident alarms, saying Nigeria has delayed oil/gas reforms for too long and that danger loomed ahead if nothing was done, now. Explaining why he is persistently stretching so much to stop the decay and rot in the oil industry many years after he had retired as PENGASSAN leader, the comrade said: “I fear of what may happen tomorrow to all of us, if we do not take immediate step. How do I mean? If you are a multi-millionaire where everybody is poor, you are as poor as the poorest man in that community. It means that a time will come (people may not see it, I do not wish we come to that extent) when people are going to rise up against the bourgeois in this society.”
Explaining, the expert said: “I keep telling my children that I have lived my life. If I had wanted to do things the way people wanted me to, I would have been a multi-millionaire today. I left the PENGASSAN House (leadership) in 2005, yet, I am still engaged in the system by people who think I have the integrity for them to latch on. That to me is a legacy that no man can take away. It is also very instructive to note that it is not as if I am begging for bread but there is need to stop this disaster looming not far ahead”.
When what the former PENGASSAN boss dreads happens; “It will not matter that time whether you had only a bicycle or Keke Napep, the oppressed people would think that anybody that was not like them (trekking) must have made money from somewhere and is an enemy. They would begin to clobber and kill people. I do not want it to get there but it is where we seem to be headed. It is better therefore to raise a voice and create the critical mass of people that would begin to say, look, never again can we do this. If we continue to run the system we are running like this, what would be the future of my grandchildren? I might have gone but what would be the future of my great grand children?”
He said many may ask why he was worried about the future generation, but he provided quick answer: “I worry because in my time, I went to school in comfort, but today people go to school in anger and frustration. They are going to be hostile and if care is not taken, they will take up arms. I don’t think that is the society we want to build, and that is why in our own little corner, we are engaging people to join in the fight against corruption; corruption that can gravitate and cause poverty. People are taking the money meant for the commonwealth. You kill an armed robber because he has stolen a phone, but there are pen-robbers that steal an entire destiny and kill masses. They loot funds for roads and abandon them to become death-traps and many Nigerians are dieing by this, yet, these people walk the streets and we celebrate them. That is why we must ensure that never again can we climb to this level where people will steal our money and will not build the projects. They steal the money in education and our education system crashes; same in health and medical tourism flees the nation to other places. If we pool all this looted money together, it will transform Nigeria. That is why we are begging people to join this campaign. My objective is; if history is written in decades to come and I am still alive, my name will be written as one of those that worked to bring this reform.”
On what happened at the advocacy workshop at Golden Tulip in Port Harcourt, venue of the strategic workshop which featured a seasoned researcher and lecturer at the Niger Delta University (NDU), Dr Zibima Tubodenyefa, the former PENGASSAN president said; “I do hope and think that because of the audience today which of course encompass the traditional rulers, the leaders of ethnic nationalities, NGOs, and more, would begin to mobilize for action. This is because these people have over the years said the Niger Delta deserved a better stake in the affairs of the nation, especially when it comes to developmental processes. They will begin to mobililse, not by violence of agitations that may cause ripples in the system as 2019 approaches, but by constructive engagement, collaborations with the oil and gas actors and governments even with members of the host communities to see what can be done to tackle the issue of corruption. That was why we came into Port Harcourt. It is to tackle the issue of corruption as it affects the oil and gas industry.”
The approach, according to him, is not to accuse any player but that he knew that the reasons why there is projects stalling in the Niger Delta is because of corruption.
“In class today, you saw the example of Gelegele community for instance where a project that started during the era of Shehu Shagari over the decades but has now come to fruition. Why? We had conflict generated around the name, the project, etc. We had those who had turned the conflict into an enterprise. We really need a situation where we have to re-orientate ourselves and shift from rent-seeking character at all levels so that our communities can reap from the fruits of oil and gas like countries like Norway and Saudi Arabia have benefited.
“We do hope that with this new coalition, new partners would be able to start engaging people on the need to see the interest of the common man within the community over and above their own interest. In this case, you do not fight to become the leader of the people because of your gains but because of what you are going to do. That is a new orientation and it is going to take some time to achieve; but I am an optimist once we set our minds on something.”
On how the community people would be expected to fight against corruption successfully in the face of external forces in the corruption equation, Ogbeifun said: “That’s a very pertinent question and I want to thank you for it. I will answer in two ways. If I know something is impacting me and development is eluding my community because of divide-and-rule and because of corruptive tendencies, I will tell you, look, instead of the money you are using to cause discontent in the society, put that money back into your coffers for you to execute the project.”
He went on: “Most investors want stability. Investors that have credibility that are even external to the communities run away because of some of the rents that we seek from them. So, if organizations know that if I go to community ‘A’ and they do not accept rent but demand for execution on specifications, meeting timelines, employing their people, and do not take your money, they would change their approach. Those who are external to the communities have found it easy to manipulate them because of what is happening.”
He however said some things were beginning to happen. “I read about a contractor being quizzed by the EFCC for abandoning a particular project. If that is beginning to happen, then hope is near. One of the recommendations here today is that those who abandon projects should be punished. Once that begins to happen, no contractor would toy with the people.”
The Edo-born exert noted an example. “When the Oba of Benin returned and was made king, the first thing he did was to abolish extorting those coming to build projects. What it means was that investors began to flock to Edo State because they knew they no longer had constraints in accessing land. That is a traditional ruler. Once people begin to see influx of investors, other communities would stir. They would say, if it is succeeding in Edo State, it will happen here. So, there are roles they can begin to play.”
As the participants leave this place, he went on; “Some will call their people and mention that what they saw in Port Harcourt was cause for change, and that it was either we changed or faced trouble in the future. Look, if you push the people to the extreme, they will react and everybody is at risk. Must we wait for that time to come? That is exactly why we are doing what we are doing. I believe that it is possible and that it takes a lot of willpower to do that, but some people have determined to do it.
“The leaders of the ethnic communities can summon their people and say, let us not disrupt any project that is coming. That does not mean that they would not benefit much, they will. Their children are going to get employments through first-offer principle. It is in the interest of the communities for us to do this.”