The challenges faced by the Nigerian economy are enormous. For any country to realize its full revenue-generating potentials through its natural hydrocarbon endowments there is the need for peaceful and mutual co-existence between the operating companies and their various host communities.
For the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company Limited (NPDC), the divestment of Oil Mining Leases (OMLs) 26, 30, 34, 40 and 42 came with great excitement and hope for the rapid transformation of our Oil and Gas Company. Since then, NPDC has embarked on several visits and consultations with various stakeholders with the aim of gaining the acceptance of host communities of the five assets.
This phenomenon is not entirely new as research has it that when two or more parties come together for varying interests, disagreement or conflict is bound to occur. What is important is the way and manner issues are managed. If managed or addressed properly, it could bring about lasting peace and conducive atmosphere for operations. If mismanaged, it could become grounds for possible escalation of crises to the dismay of all.
The recent feud between NPDC and some communities is not different. That is why the various meetings between NPDC and its host communities point to the fact that the company is not resting on its oars towards ensuring that its oil and gas business is done without any hitches for the benefit of all stakeholders.
This new relationship is strongly predicated on the propositions that all parties would:
· be transparent and sincere in all dealings.
· abide by the stipulated timeframe for conclusion of all agreements
· adopt the most beneficial Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoU) model as a template for both parties.
· adopt the policy of dialogue as a means of conflict resolution.
The above resolutions were adopted during the joint meeting between the triumvirate of the Delta State Government (led by the Deputy Governor, Prof Amos Utuama); NPDC team (led by the Managing Director, Mr. Iyowuna Briggs) and the representatives of four host communities (comprising Uzere, Igbide, Olomoro and Oleh).
In addition, the need for host communities to acknowledge and accept NPDC as the new Operator of the divested assets was re-echoed at the meeting. Prof Utuama made the appeal when he urged community members to give NPDC the needed support to enable it function effectively. He added that the era where oil companies operate profitably at the expense of the communities was over.
He further explained that the frequent disagreements between NPDC and the host communities have made it difficult for the company to operate at some of its locations in Delta State.
For instance, five days after the takeover of the operatorship of OML 30 on 1st February, 2013, the Oroni & Olomoro flow stations were forcefully shutdown by the members of the Igbide and Olomoro communities respectively. Oroni flow station was eventually shut down for over fifty days. This resulted in the deferment of production amounting to over 115,000 barrels.
This shut-down of production in various fields will impede the attainment of the company’s medium target of 200,000 barrels of oil per day by the end of 2013. Already, NPDC is witnessing a drastic drop in its daily oil production from about 130, 000 barrels of oil per day (bopd) to 115,000 bopd, coupled with the substantial loss of revenues.
Speaking same vein, the Managing Director of NPDC, Mr. Iyowuna Briggs enjoined members of the communities to embrace dialogue in resolving issues rather than resort to shut down of operations as such actions may not be favourable to all concerned. He re-affirmed that it was the company’s strong belief in dialogue that brought about the intervention of the Delta State Government.
Mr. Briggs allayed their fears when he informed the gathering that in line with NPDC policy, members of the communities who were on the former operator’s payroll on contract basis have been re-absorbed by the company and in some cases, their stipends have been upwardly reviewed by over one hundred per cent.
Representatives of the affected communities also had the opportunity to air their grievances. But, the beauty of it all was that at the end of that meeting, the communities accepted to give NPDC a chance to prove its worth.
Measures So Far Taken By NPDC
The former Managing Director of NPDC, now the Group Executive Director of the Exploration and Production Directorate of NNPC, Engr. Abiye Membere, anticipated communal disruption of the company’s operational activities when the new assets were handed over to NPDC. This made him to start consulting rulers of the communities as a first step to get their buy-in before the actual takeover of the assets from the former operator, SPDC.
Engr. Membere began with an epic visit to the Ovie of Ozoro Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, (Barr.) Anthony Ogbogbo Ibuka I. The Ozoro kingdom is the host of Ogini flowstation in OML 26 which is currently producing about 11,000 barrels of oil per day. The GED, E&P had during the visit assured the Ozoro Community that all legacy issues with the former operator would be resolved amicably. That visit understandably fostered an enduring relationship between NPDC and communities in Ozoro Kingdom.
In line with the GED E&P’s promise, the present Management of NPDC is also consulting with stakeholders to ensure non-stop operations in all its locations. One of such meetings was the recently held Open Forum at the Conference Room of the prestigious Best Western Home Ville Hotel Benin-City It was a gathering of NPDC top Management, partners, representatives of the communities, SPDC and Non-Governmental Organizations.
In view of the seemingly challenging operational environment, the primary focus of the forum was to identify issues and strategically proffer innovative solutions for the development and implementation of sustainable business relationships.
The employment of qualified personnel for community affairs topped the list of the numerous suggestions given. In this regard, the MD cleared the air when he announced the employment of about thirty persons into the Community Relations Department. He also appealed to all participants to support NPDC in achieving its objectives one of which is to make a positive difference on the lives of those hosting our operations.
In continuation with the engagements, a high - level delegation led by the MD, Mr. Iyowuna Briggs visited the Odio – Ologbo of Oleh Kingdom, His Royal Highness, William Ovrawah JP.
The purpose of the visit was to formally inform the custodian of Oleh Kingdom and his kinsmen that NPDC has taken over the operatorship of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 30 from the former operator, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and also enlighten them on the company’s operational activities.
The visit created a new working relationship between NPDC/Shoreline Natural Resources Joint Ventures and the people of Oleh Kingdom. It also availed both teams the opportunity to learn and get acquainted with one another.
During the visit, Mr. Iyowuna Briggs re-assured all of the continued recognition of Oleh Kingdom as a strategic host of all the assets in OML 30 when he said: “the assets are constants, the kingdom will always be recognized as the host of this very volatile government properties, we are here to stay through thick and thin and we are going to keep to our promises”.
The Managing Director also pleaded with the monarch and his people to embrace peace and dialogue in resolving issues whenever such arose. He promised that NPDC as a responsible company will not repeat the mistakes of the past but will select and build on the good ones inherited from the former operator.
In his response, His Royal Highness William Ovrawah (JP) promised to promote a peaceful co-existence between the operators and his subjects. He also pledged to unite all aggrieved persons in the kingdom even as he urged NPDC to put smiles on the faces of the people of Oleh through the provision of basic social amenities and employment opportunities.
The Oleh monarch further added that dialogue will be their watch word at all times and promised thus: “we are ready to associate with NPDC, we want progress but peace must come first. We will try our possible best to see that we live as one Nigeria. As much as we can, with the sincerity and cooperation of both parties, dialogue will remain our watch word so that at the end of the day our relationships will be strengthened for better functioning of your company”.
It should be noted that Oleh Kingdom is one of the hosts of NPDC/Shoreline Natural Resources JV flow stations, well-heads and Field Logistic Base with an average production capacity of 45,000 barrels of oil per day.
For OML 40, the NPDC Management led by the Manager of Community Relations Department, Mr. Bruno Sobotie also visited the Agadagba of Egbema Kingdom, His Royal Highness; Bini-Pere III. The visit was to inform the Monarch and his people that the company was set to resume work in OML 40 having successfully taken over the operatorship of the asset from the former operator, SPDC.
As a strong promoter of a mutually beneficial relationship with the host communities, the Manager assured that every Egbema indigene who had dealings with the former operator, SPDC would retain his job. He solicited for more support and dialogue from all stakeholders to enable NPDC improve on the things SPDC left behind.
“On behalf of NPDC Management, we are indeed very grateful. We appreciate your willingness to accept us, and we will not disappoint you. Our approach in business is to see everybody in the asset as a stakeholder. We cannot work in the system without carrying the owners of the land along”, he said.
Mr. Sobotie also revealed that after the visit, the company would commence a comprehensive engagement of all the communities that make up OML 40. This way, relationship would be established, unresolved issues would be discussed and both parties would agree to tackle the issues raised based on priority.
The Agadagba of Egbema Kingdom, His Royal Highness; Bini-Pere III assured NPDC of his continued support and cooperation. He added that his people are simple, accommodating, peaceful and not antagonistic just as he hoped for a transparent business relationship. The same exercise has been carried out for OML 34 host communities and consultations are in progress.
One lesson we can deduce from all these is that NPDC’s success as an indigenous company largely depends on the support of the Federal Government, NNPC, Delta State Government, Local Governments, the host communities, Regulatory bodies and the Security Agencies.
Furthermore, human asset as they say is the greatest asset; therefore the employment of Community Affairs Personnel is a right step in the right direction. This would aid in the progress of negotiations and engagements of the more than 257 (Two Hundred And Fifty-Seven) host communities.
Thirdly, the concept of community participation in Development Programmes as contained in the GMoU model will be deeply entrenched into NPDC programmes. This will create room for communities’ involvement in the prioritizing, planning, managing, monitoring, and evaluation of developmental projects and programmes. The GMoU will also address Skills Acquisition training in different areas as well as empowerment of community members to reduce the level of dependency on NPDC. Also, Enlightenment Workshops would be held at intervals to educate the communities on NPDC operations. Scholarships will be provided for indigenes in both tertiary and secondary institutions. It therefore behooves on all concerned to ensure that all agreements are concluded and signed within the stipulated time frame.
Fourthly, the recent relocation of Community Relations Personnel to Warri, Delta State would among other things strengthen the bond between NPDC and its communities. It will also bolster the company’s footprint in the oil and gas sector. It will further reduce the incessant crisis between the host communities and the company to the barest minimum. As the GED, E&P (former MD of NPDC,) Engr. Abiye Membere once puts it: “One of the things that will aid in strengthening NPDC is the development of the Company’s capacity at the Warri base. So the Warri field base will automatically become one of the operational base of NPDC. That way, we are closer to the fields, we can link up with the communities, visit them and then do our business the way others are doing”.
One of the core values of the Corporation is staff development and growth. This value has continued to play prominent role in the agenda of the Corporation towards meeting the world-class standards in the oil and gas industry. In fact, NNPC staff are rated as one of the best trained in Nigeria. Hence, it is not surprising that NPDC would carry out more in-house trainings on the dynamics of establishing sustainable working relationships and the rules of engagements for its Community Relations Staff.
Also, the engagement of suitable Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) by NPDC should be supported by all Stakeholders.
Finally, the Community Relations Department would strive harder to meet its primary objective of enhancing NPDC’s reputation as a socially responsible company by doing all that is needed to create and maintain good relationship with the communities at all times. It is pertinent to emphasize that all the efforts towards ensuring peace and harmony are a sure way to ensure success. From the commitment, zeal, enthusiasm and sacrifices made by almost all the parties, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. In the mean time, we can confidently say that with these steps, NPDC is on the much-needed path to growth and progress.