The Bayelsa state government has fired a note of warning to multinational oil firms over suspected discrimination by the said companies.
The warning was conveyed in a press statement titled: “Discrimination by the Oil Companies in Bayelsa State” signed by Bayelsa state’s attorney general and commissioner for justice, Kemasuode Wodu and dated Sunday, October 26, 2014.
In the statement, the government said it had set up a committee of legal experts to make sure the firms situate their operational offices in the Bayelsa state capital, Yenogoa.
The state said it has been a major contributor to the country’s economy and development as a result of the crude oil which was abundant in the state, bringing to mind that the mineral was first mined commercially in Oloibiri, which is in present-day Bayelsa about sixty years ago.
It noted that the multinationals like Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited, Chevron/Texaco Nigeria Limited and Con Oil Nigeria Limited have been operating in the state with operational offices scattered all over the country, in major cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri and other states in the federation, from where their operations have been coordinated and managed.
The statement decried the fact that since these operational offices were not within Bayelsa state, the states which do not have as much significant contribution to the firms’ production enjoy considerable development – as company infrastructure, employees’ abode, mass employment and allied businesses are set up in the said states – to the detriment of Bayelsa state, which produces the oil, adding that these operational offices are the catalyst for the basic development of any state.
Wodu said: “It is my view, with the greatest respect, that the foregoing situation legally amounts to discrimination against the people of Bayelsa State, contrary to the provisions of Section 42(1) of the Constitution. The African Charter on Human and Peoples Right also prohibit discrimination of people. The plight of the people of Bayelsa State has been aggravated by the fact that it is the State and its people that bear the brunt of the oil and gas operations in the Country due to the consistent degradation of the environment by incessant crude oil spillages across the State. Our environment is in a grave state of devastation and despoliation. The Companies do not carry out appropriate remediation of the degraded environment and neither is adequate compensation paid for the damage occasioned by the frequent spillages.
“We must mention that the Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources is vested with the relevant statutory power to take steps to remedy this situation. Section 2 of the Petroleum Act vests in the Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources, the power to grant relevant licences to the oil companies to carry out crude oil and gas exploitation. Section 9 of the Petroleum Act also gives the Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources the power to make regulations in guiding the operations of the oil companies. The Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources can therefore by regulations made pursuant to the Petroleum Act, direct that the said Oil Companies should establish their operational offices in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State where very substantial part of their crude oil and gas operations take place. We therefore respectfully call on the Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources to so act in order to aid the economic and infrastructural development of the State.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that when this is done, the internally generated revenue of the State will dramatically shoot up and the State will be able to meet its responsibility of providing basic infrastructure including hospitals, schools, motorable roads for the people of the State. Meanwhile, I have constituted a crack team of legal practitioners to seriously consider the possibility of forcing the oil majors to open up their operational offices in the State by means of the legal process, should the Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources fail to come to the aid of the State.
The Bayelsa state government also said it would communicate intimately with the oil firms, hoping to achieve its aim without having to employ the use of the judiciary. It also said it was ready to provide land to be used for the setting up of the offices, adding that the state government was ready to provide the firms with Certificates of Occupancy (C of O) within three months if the requirements are met.
Wodu also called on the minister of petroleum resources to bar the ongoing sale of OML29 in the Nembe area of Bayelsa State by the Shell Petroleum Company of Nigeria Limited because neither the Bayelsa state government nor any Bayelsa indigene was allowed to bid, negating paragraph 14 of the First Schedule to the Petroleum Act
In conclusion, Wodu’s statement says: ‘”nfact due to the importance of the issue of oil and gas, I have decided to set up a Department of Oil and Gas in the Ministry of Justice. This Department will be charged with responsibility of dealing with all legal issues relating to oil and gas in the Ministry of Justice.”