The power of propaganda, as an aphorism goes, lies less in its systematic and deceptive distortion of the truth than in the willingness of people, generally speaking, to be lied to. This willingness to be deceived is possibly the only, certainly the best, explanation of how many otherwise knowledgeable individuals, institutions and pundits in the country swallowed Senator Solomon Ita Enang’s recent mendacity on the sacred floor of Senate that Northerners controlled 83% of the country’s oil wells, hook, line and sinker.
Predictably my column to that effect last week drew a lot of flack. Of the 47 texts and the odd email or two I received in reaction, the vast majority supported the senator. Several, including one from +2348183916532, warned me not to “insult our senator for revealing the truth to Nigerians.” Another from a reader who simply called himself Godfrey (+2348076823815), quoting a Thomas Carlyle’s words about every man having a coward and a hero in his soul, described the senator as “a man who has a hero in his soul.” He then proceeded to give me some words of advice on how one should “learn how to accept the truth, no matter how bitter.”
Another reader, Ubong Joseph, texting from +2348023262979, was less charitable. “Mr. Mohammed Haruna,” he said, ”l’ve just finished reading your piece on Senator lta Enang’s submission on ownership of 83% of Nigerian oil blocks by your brothers and your comments is yet an indication that as a typical Northerner the “Food is Ready” and “Share the Money” syndrome of the North must be maintain(ed) indefinitely by your Northern Cabal. For actions and comments like this, may the soul of Lord Lugard never, never Rest in Peace for that forceful Amalgamation in l9l4.”
Elsewhere much of the reactions to the senator’s claim have been no less supportive than those of the three above. One of the most interesting, I believe, came from “General” Ateke Tom – yes, he of the war-lord fame from the Niger Delta. The reader, I am sure, can readily recall that only last August, the respected New York Wall Street Journal, published a damning article which exposed how he, along with four other former war-lords, received the princely sum of 40 million dollars a year from the presidency, ostensibly to stop oil theft in the region. Ateke Tom’s share of the fees, the newspaper said, was 3.8 million dollars.
The scandal obviously was not just that the payments were under the table. Worse, no services were ever delivered in return; oil experts have said there have been more oil thefts in recent years than at any time before these payments of what was clearly protection money to the ex war-lords.
In a full page advert in Thisday of March 11, “General” Tom, writing as “Leader” of IZON IKEMI which he described as “a nascent group of concerned Nigerians drawn from the Ijaw speaking states of the Niger Delta,” praised Senator Enang for his “patriotism” in exposing the way the villainous Northerners have cornered the oil wealth that did not belong to them.
IZON IKEMI, he said, “heartily commends the patriotism of Senator Ita Enang… for exposing the deceit in the oil sector of our nation.”
Senator Enang may be a hero and a patriot for many in making his claim, but anyone who really cared for the truth would never have needed more than to merely scratch the surface to see that his claim was anything but the truth.
The simplest way to get at the most authentic facts is to get the oil authorities, specifically the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), to publish the list of all the oil wells we have in this country and their ownership. If I want to prove the senator wrong, one reader said quite sensibly, I should get my facts and publish it.
Well, I tried ahead of today’s column and made little headway; Dr Omar Farouk, a spokesman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said his department didn’t have the figures and directed me to the DPR. I called the director, Mr Osten Olorunsola, several times on the 14th of this month and got no response. I then sent him a text identifying myself and requesting for the list. I was yet to hear from him as at the time of this writing. And I wasn’t really surprised; a mutual friend who is an expert in the oil business had asked for the same information and was refused.
However, even without DPR publishing the list there has been sufficient information in the public domain for any sensible person to see through our senator’s mendacity. For example, back in 2007, Mr. Basil Ominyi, then Chief Executive Officer of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, by far the country’s biggest oil producer, told Corporate Nigeria, an annual guide for business, trade and investment in the country partly sponsored by NNPC, that his company produced over 40% of Nigeria’s oil and supplied 75% of its commercial gas. He also claimed that the company’s mining area of 31,000 square kilometres “contained more than half of Nigeria’s oil and gas reserves.”
In the same interview, he pointed out that NNPC’s joint venture with his company, along with similar ventures with ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips – all three from the U.S. – Eni from Italy and Total SA from France, accounted for nearly 95% of Nigeria’s oil production. The ownership structure of all six joint ventures is between 55 and 60% in favour of NNPC. In terms of management control, Northern presence in all six is virtually nil, or at best marginal.
Commonsense – which, alas, seems so uncommon in our essentially malicious politics – should instruct us that the dominance of our oil industry by the giant oil multinationals has left less than 10% for ownership by our local oil companies. Anyone who imagines that Northerners controlled 83% of this leftover from the Big Boys need only refer to the list of the indigenous oil companies and their owners which Olusegun Adeniyi, the authoritative and well-informed Thursday columnist of Thisday and the chairman of its editorial board, published last week, to see that his imagination is precise only that – imagination, and a wild one at that.
Before Segun, Government, an in-depth investigative weekly publication in the stable of Leadership newspapers which looks like a cross between a Sunday newspaper and a newsmagazine, had published a three-page list of all the actors in the oil business including the multinationals, the local companies, the service companies and the drillers, etc, in its edition of February 4. Even the most casual examination of the lists in the two newspapers will give the lie to our senator’s claim of the ownership structure of the country’s oil wells.
The motive for that lie is obvious, or should be, to any reasonable observer of our politics; divert the public’s attention from the bigger culprits for the short, nasty and brutish lives of the hapless people of the oil producing Niger Delta. And the bigger culprits are no other than the leaders of the region themselves, including, of course, our distinguished senator and the ex war-lords of the region like Ateke Tom, who have been living it off in Abuja and other big cities of the country since the declaration of amnesty for the region’s militants several years ago.
Few Nigerians have captured the level of culpability of the region’s elite for its woes than, first, Chief Edwin Clark, the self-declared leader of the region, and second, Chief James Ibori, the jailed ex governor of Delta State.
More than five years ago, Chief Clark told The Nation (August 11, 2007) that the governors of the region were the most corrupt in the country. “Nigerians,” he said, “are worried why the recent activities of EFFC resulting in the arrest and trial of certain governors in the country have not affected the former governors of the Niger Delta who were known all over the country and the world as the most corrupt and investigated governors by the EFFC.”
Long before Chief Clark, the jailed Chief Ibori provided probably the biggest insight into the cause of the Niger Delta’s predicament of poverty in oil riches. Lamenting the self-exile in far-away Australia of Dr. Eric Opia as the fugitive boss of OMPADEC, the precursor of NDDC, the governor told the since rested Post Express (July 11, 2001) “Our son Opia is on the run today. Those that stole OMPADEC money are still walking the streets. Those that ate OMPADEC money are not from the Niger Delta. If Opia took money actually and embezzled it, yes he is our son. The money is still within the region.”
Clearly it is this inexplicable attitude among the likes of Chief Ibori that only those from the Niger Delta should be free to steal the region blind, and not any perceived control of the region’s oil wealth by outsiders, which is the principal source of the region’s predicament.
Those who all too readily jumped at Senator Enang’s blatant mendacity to blame outsiders for the problems of the Niger Delta should be honest enough to accept that scapegoating others is no solution to those problems.