Nigeria’s $41bn oil revenues at stake as Buhari meets Niger Delta leaders
by ONYINYE NWACHUKWU, Abuja
November 1, 2016 | 2:40 am| | | Start Conversation
President Buhari will today in Abuja meet with 80 Niger Delta leaders for talks on how to restore peace in the militancy-torn, oil rich region.
Billions of dollars in oil revenues lay at stake. Nigeria exported petroleum products worth $42 billion in 2015 according to data available on the website of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). But oil revenues would be halved this year due to the rise in militant attacks in the Niger Delta, where 90% of Nigeria’s crude oil exploration takes place.
Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources says the meeting is not a negotiation but a courtesy call by the leaders on the President, where talks would basically centre around finding solutions to the crisis in the Niger Delta which at its height cut a million barrels a day off Nigeria’s crude oil output, resulting in the country losing its position as the largest crude oil producer on the African continent to Angola.
“We are going to be having an open- minded meeting. We all are trying to find solutions. And there is honesty of purpose about it,” Kachikwu tells BusinessDay.
“The meeting is not a negotiation; it is a courtesy call on the president so that we can exchange views on how best to go about this negotiation plans. We have about 80 people attending the meeting and you cannot negotiate with 80 people at the same time.
“But at least, we can hit the nail in terms of where the issues are and get also the consensus of government. If we can get a consensus on how to move forward and build a team that will work on the issues as we go ahead, that is fine.”
This is the first time President Buhari will be meeting formally with leaders from the Niger Delta since the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) a shadowy militant group that has carried out the most devastating attacks in the region agreed to a unilateral cease-fire in August.
The cease-fire has been shaky but has largely held. Last week, the NDA claimed responsibility for the bombing of Chevron-Escravos export pipeline at Escravos offshore, Delta State, the second such attack since the self declared ceasefire by the group.
However, the NDA says the hits are not a signal of the resumption of the attacks but to ensure that the government does not take the planned dialogue for granted.
The Avengers have accused the government of insincerity with the dialogue following alleged militarisation of the region and the recently concluded Operation Crocodile Smiles, which saw soldiers storming the creeks during the ceasefire and arresting and killing several suspected militants.
Kachikwu, also a Niger Delta indigene, who will be sitting at the centre of the proposed talks with the leaders regrets that “Year to date, we have had about 1,800 attacks on pipelines, surpassing about 3,000 seen over the last four years, cumulatively.
“So we had more attacks this year, so something needs to give, we need to move back from that,” he tells BusinessDay in an exclusive interview.
“And my attitude to it, and I have said this to my Delta brothers, is not an attitude that if you do not do this, I will do this. Government has a responsibility to protect its environment, its citizens, its assets and it will never give up on that.
“But obviously, going to war is not the way to do it; talk is the best way to do it, but we also have civic a responsibility to security, so I do not think the question will be if we do not do it fast enough, you are going to go back and start militancy.”
Kachikwu disclosed on 27 October that the government is targeting zero militancy in the Niger Delta by mid 2017 and will intensify security in the region.
Kachikwu says stopping militancy in the Niger Delta will give government the room to begin to really address the Niger Delta challenges frontally, as he raises concerns over the several billions of naira earmarked for the Niger Delta region over the years which were misused.
“We have responsibility as a government and the President recognizes this responsibility that, to the extent that this can stop and should stop, and should not even be an element of negotiation, then we have a responsibility to go back and look again, ask what has gone wrong in the Niger Delta itself, all the monies that we have put in there, nobody can find it.
“When I say this, some people get upset, we have spent $10 billion to $40 billion over the last few years, a lot of that did not even get there, some of that got diverted through all kinds of schemes. I am not saying that Niger Delta misused it, some did not even get there. “Then some that got there were used for very flamboyant things that did not really deal with the lives of the people and our infrastructure need in the area.
“But I don’t think we should negotiate on threats, the right thing is to negotiate on a complete understanding of the urgency of the problem which we have seen in the last few months,” he notes.
Kachikwu also says that President Buhari has approved a roadmap, some of which is that the security in the Niger Delta is going to move from the responsibility of the military and the country’s security apparatus, to that of the oil companies as it is done the world over.
“This means they would need to institute processes that would work with local communities to guide and protect their production facilities.
“While that collaboration may not be armed collaboration, it covers the trust deficit that existed in the region and provides very unique earnings and income-making opportunities for people within the local communities.”
The minister had also disclosed that the presidency has also agreed to look at the possibility of setting up a specialised petroleum force.
“That is going to draw on the elites of the security services, and be provided with resources that are amphibious, that are technology driven to enable them to be able to respond to the request of the oil companies if they get overwhelmed outside their first line security.”
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