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The Niger Delta, Changing Narratives

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Niger Delta

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Aside from being perceived as backward and degraded, occasioned by crude oil exploration, exploitation and production, the Niger Delta region means different things to different people.

To some, it is a region where the communal right to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies is being violated in the Niger Delta. By its admission, the oil industry has abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region which need to be identified and studied in detail. Aquifers and other water supply sources which are being adversely affected by industrial or other activities need to be recovered while communities are adequately compensated for their losses.

To others, it symbolizes a location where the government, employs a non-participatory approach to development/broad-based consultative approach that strips the people of the Niger Delta their sense of ownership over their own issues, where the government and other Nigerians failed to see the problem of the Niger Delta as a national one and not restricted to the region.

To the rest, it is a zone where fierce war has been raging between ethnic and social forces in Nigeria over the ownership and control of oil resources in the Niger Delta. And as a direct result, a long dark shadow has been cast on efforts to improve the wellbeing and economic development of the region’s individuals, peoples, and communities.

However, looking at recent developments particularly as it affects the region; it will not be described as hasty to say that the narrative is changing.

Out of many, this piece will concentrate on two.

First is the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) by both Houses after seventeen years of back-and-forth movement on the Bill. And recently, precisely on Monday, August 16, 2021, signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.

A Bill, now an Act that provides legal, governance, a regulatory and fiscal framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry and development of host communities. It contains 5 Chapters, 319 Sections and 8 Schedules.

The second development has to do with the recent declaration/revelation by Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in Lagos at the GbaramatuVoice Newspaper’s 6th Anniversary Lecture/Niger Delta Awards.

Beginning with the last, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, among others, told the gathering that this administration was determined to see through to completion of all the critical projects embarked upon in the region.

In his words, “we have invested significantly in the Niger Delta as the region that holds the energy resources that have powered our progress for six decades as well as the keys to an emergent gas economy.

“In 2017, following my tour of the Niger Delta, which involved extensive consultations with key stakeholders in the region, the New Vision for the Niger Delta was birthed in response to the various challenges which had been plaguing our people.

“The objective of this New Vision is to ensure that the people of the region benefit maximally from their wealth, through promoting infrastructural developments, environmental remediation and local content development.

“We also have the Solar Power Naija Programme under the Administration’s Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) which will complement the federal government’s effort towards providing affordable electricity access to 5 million households, serving about 25 million Nigerians in rural areas and under-served urban communities nationwide.”

At this point, the Vice President, who was represented by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Office of the Vice President, Mr Edobor Iyamu, said something that looks more like a presentation of a scorecard.

He captured it this way; “Today, I am pleased to announce that the New Vision for the Niger Delta has begun to yield some tangible achievements. As part of the quest to expand economic opportunities in the region, this administration has promoted investments in modular refineries.

“The objective of this initiative is to address our present energy demands and empower the Niger Delta people through promoting local content. So far, 3 Modular Refineries have now been completed, these are the Niger Delta Petroleum Resources (NDPR) Modular Refinery in Rivers State; OPAC Modular Refinery in Delta State and Walter Smith Modular Refinery in Imo State, whilst there are several others at different stages of completion across the region.

“The remediation exercise happening in Ogoni land, under the recommendations of UNEP is another milestone we are proud to announce as an administration. The clean-up commenced in January 2019, with the handover of the first batch of sites to the selected remediation firms.

“A total of about 57 sites have so far been handed over to contractors by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) under the Federal Ministry of Environment.

“It is important to note that the Ogoni clean-up is the first of its kind in the history of the Niger Delta. Indeed, this is the first time the federal government is directly involved in remediation activities within the region.

“We are equally committed to expanding infrastructure in the region. This includes the ongoing construction work on the 34-kilometres Bonny-Bodo Road/Bridge. This project, which was abandoned for decades, is a tripartite agreement between the federal government, Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG) and Julius Berger Nigeria.

“When completed, the Bonny-Bodo Road/bridge, which was flagged off in October 2017, would connect several major communities and boost socio-economic development in the region.”

The Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Rail Line project, which was commissioned by Mr President in September 2020, and has the capacity to handle both passengers and freight services, is connecting several communities and promoting commerce within the region.

The federal government is also developing a number of deep seaports across the region, including the Bonny, Warri and Ibom Deep Sea Ports, among other development projects such as the establishment of Export Processing Zones to boost economic activities.

In 2018, the National Universities Commission (NUC) approved the commencement of undergraduate degree programmes at the Nigerian Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State.

President Buhari approved a N5 billion take-off grant to support this university, which happens to be situated in the great Gbaramatu Kingdom. The University currently has students spread across 13 undergraduate programmes in three Faculties, namely: Transport, Engineering and Environmental Management.

In terms of addressing concerns around public safety and social security in the region, while ensuring peace and stability in the region, the administration has, among other things, sustained its commitment to the Presidential Amnesty Programme under which youths and ex-agitators are engaged in formal education, vocational skills acquisition and empowerment programmes that offer a pathway towards productive and dignified livelihoods.

The cumulative effect of all these measures is certain to have a positive transformational impact on the Niger Delta and on the future of our nation as a whole. This path of progress and prosperity is one that we will pave by maintaining the partnerships between the administration, the leaders of the region and the communities. He concluded.

Away from Vice President’s comments to the recently passed/signed Petroleum Industry Act.  Among its content, Chapter 3 made far-reaching provisions for the Host community’s development.

The chapter, going by commentaries, demands that any oil prospecting licence or mining lease or an operating company on behalf of joint venture partners (settlor) is required to contribute 3% – 5% (upstream Companies) and 2% (other companies) of its actual operating expenditure in the immediately preceding calendar year to the host communities development trust fund. This is in addition to the existing contribution of 3% to the NDDC.

The board of trustees and executive members of the management committee may include persons of high integrity and professional standing who may not necessarily come from any of the host communities. Available funds it added are to be allocated 75% for capital projects, 20% as a reserve and 5% for administrative expenses.

Finally in my view, even as these developments appear alluring/ welcoming, the truth must be told to the effect that the people of the region are particularly not happy with the paltry 3/5% allocation to host communities by the new ACT.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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Schneider Electric: Driving the Digital Transformation of Nigeria with Augmented Reality

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Schneider Electric

The future impact of Augmented Reality (AR) will significantly transform businesses and consumer marketplaces in Nigeria, should its adoption be accelerated across various industries and platforms, says Schneider Electric.

As more breakthroughs in technology continue to take root, the group has remained consistent in sensitizing its partners on the potential of AR, being one of the keys to digital transformation in the industry. Companies must therefore capitalize on AR and pursue the opportunities that can significantly boost operational productivity and enhance efficiency.

Speaking on this innovative technology, Belema Koleoso, Territory Technology Lead, Schneider Electric, says although much progress has been made since 2019 when Schneider Electric’s AR technology EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor (EAO) was launched as a global hero offer, which works to enhance data accessibility for quicker and more accurate decision making, there remains a lethargy in the Nigerian market to adopt this technology.

Company campaigns have been run to sensitize clients to understand how EAO uses AR technology to optimize the operation and maintenance of industrial sites and equipment, AR aids effectiveness, helps to optimize human assets, and bridges the prevalent generational skill gaps. In this regard, she specifically highlighted the workforce crises that Schneider Electric foresees in the next 5-6 years, with the aged industrial population as the search for well-trained workers sometimes poses a challenge.

Belema says with AR, companies do not need to lose the experience plants cultivate with the exit of personnel, instead, years of training and experience can be “retained” through iteration of workforce turnover. For example, templates, assets, and manuals can be aggregated into the EOA application, customizable by the client; it puts real-time information at your fingertips, whenever and wherever it is needed, enabling operators to superimpose current data and virtual objects onto a cabinet, machine, or plant. This software combines contextual and local dynamic information for mobile users, enabling them to experience a fusion of the physical, real-life environment with virtual objects. It becomes a mobile work buddy for employees commencing the learning curve and in all reduces operational cost while increasing plant operational efficiency. This ensures that people who are put into the system meet the experience that others who passed through the system left behind.

AR presents completely new ways of executing tasks, with instant diagnosis, contactless maintenance, increased efficiency, and lower cost. Industries, including construction, aviation, consumer packaged goods, energy and chemical, mining and minerals etc., can use EOA to enhance their operations. The cloud-based software rides on any controller to learn activities and aggregates assets, moving past proprietary original equipment manufacturer parent protocols to focus on the tasks.

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Schneider Electric believes increased industry leaders across sectors can therefore use EOA to their advantage, where data drives processes and decisions metamorphosizing to “smart decision makers,” riding on data to make optimal decisions smarter and faster.

In retrospect, Belema says the pre-covid in Nigeria technologies like AR were seen as typically “nice to have.” She says she highly anticipates a time when more people will understand the immense benefit of this innovation and evaluate this technology as a necessity. “Often, the feedback on this is a nice-to-have, after a review of what AR offers. But I will push for people to look at it like this – When you have something that will optimize your processes, it moves from being a nice-to-have to a must-have.”

To drive this renewed mindset, the AR expert opines policies, such as the environmental sustainability policy, can bolster digital transformation. Stakeholders would need to advocate an optimized use of energy sustainably. Enforcement of which would naturally drive the adoption of technology across industries quicker.

“When people see that sustainability policies are enforced, for example, you are penalized for not meeting a target, or incentivized for meeting a target; you would see that the case would be different. Naturally, people will begin to adopt technology to meet their goals.”

She also advocates for Nigerians to consider AR as a total cost of investment that enhances optimal output, as customers are more prone to adopt a baseline approach, where they are satisfied with running their operations minimally without incurring additional costs.

With technology improving and becoming more widely available, it is undeniable that AR will become essential for businesses to thrive in the upcoming years. Schneider is optimistic that its position as a thought leader and industry partner in the digital transformation of energy management and automation is about to gain new ground, enabling the emergence of a new landscape of energy, paradigm shifts for the industry, and a revolutionized experience.

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Climate Change: Between Harriman and Kayanja Ideologies

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climate change

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The debate on climate change is among the most presently discussed topics on the earth’s surface. All these years, I have, going by the commentaries from the Western world, believed that Africa’s non-commitment to the call for global action on climate change was responsible for the real and imaginary challenges confronting the continent.

Making this perceived climate change challenge look real was the recent news report that to tackle the problems, the World Bank Group has committed about $70 billion and urged governments of different nations to set up structures to engage and access the fund.

However, such a belief system recently underwent a positive transformation while listening to Professor Tosan Harriman of Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.

Tosan, who spoke at the GbaramatuVoice Niger Delta Economic Discourse series held in Warri, Delta State, among other things, said; “the truth is this, we saw the hypocrisy of these people (Western worlds) recently when, because of the Ukraine-Russian war, they are not talking anymore about clean energy, rather, we see them go back again focusing on coal, getting out coal to drive the heat.”

“Africa cannot give away its resources because Africa doesn’t need the English of climate change. Our continent is blessed, our continent has resources, and our continent is galvanizing on those resources to ensure there’s a global world order. Taking Africa’s resources from Africa is like committing Africa to another new colonial tendency that will finally incapacitate and make it useful in the global situation of things, and that’s exactly what my argument has been.

“So, quickly, therefore, let’s have our mindset reconstructed about the fact that we are not a danger to Europe and America; we are not a danger to politics of climate change. The only grammar behind climate change is the economy.

“If they take from you the resources that offered you a comparative advantage, it opens them up to their economic value in the context of a global chain, in the context of a global productivity chain, it opens them up to their economic value where they now begin to sell clean energy to people like us in Africa who don’t need it. It’s so important we have these facts properly straightened out before we get into this other issue.

“The world has been talking about clean energy, what we call resistance against greenhouse gas emission. The kind of carbon deducted from the exploration of our crude oil, those are the carbons that we have, and that’s what the world has been talking about. They needed clean energy that would help the Arctic Circle maintain its height and then help the entire ecosystem to be properly balanced along the lines of certain determination that they thought had been there from the beginning and all of that.

“In Europe and America, if you actually desire clean energy, you should not in the 21st century be talking about coal because coal is all about greenhouse gas emission. If you go to the home of the Queen, you will see them using coal, and I keep making this argument that if Norway as a nation has the level of oil we have, nobody will be talking about greenhouse gas, nobody will be talking about climate change, and I have always held the position that every nation should be allowed to grow within the context of his own resources.”

He said that the best the world can do, which is an issue he raised at the Cairo 27th conference recently held, is that we should look at the conditions of African nations, what we call the dependent nations and all of that, dependent on the global world situation and all of that.

“We should look at their conditions, and then we can’t take them; we can’t take from them the issues that directly propel their sustenance; we can’t be talking of climate change when the entire nation of Africa depends on what creates a greenhouse. The best we can do is to scientifically, now begin to look at this resource and then redesign it in such a way as to mitigate the fears that are already being expressed by these other groups fighting for climate change. Those are the issues we raised, and it’s so profound that the world needs to hear us,” he concluded.

Comparatively, while Professor Tosan’s ideology/argument made a whole lot of sense to me, I, however, still recall how Mr Ronald Kayanja, Director of the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), spoke on the same topic (climate change) but maintained a different view.

This was at a function on Friday, September 20, 2019, in Lagos to mark the year’s International Day of Peace, which had as a theme Climate Action For Peace. Kayanja’s understanding and postulations about climate change were the direct opposite of Tosan’s argument.

Apart from Kayanjas’ definition of climate change as changes in these weather patterns over several decades or more which make a place become warmer or receive more rain or get drier, what made the lecture crucial was the awareness of the dangers of and warning on the urgent need to address climate changes which he said have become even clearer with the release of a major report in October 2018 by the world-leading scientific body for the assessment of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), warning that in order to avoid catastrophe, we must not reach 1.5 C and 2oC.

In a similar style, Kayanja in that presentation used an analytical method and properly framed arguments to underline how; the current conflict in North-East Nigeria is not unrelated to the changes in climate in that region over time. As well as provides a link as to how; the climate change challenge also sets the stage for the farmer and herder violence witnessed in parts of West Africa and many countries that face violent conflicts in Africa: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur), Mali and the Central Africa Republic.

He argued that local tensions over access to food and water resources could spill over into neighbouring countries as people seek to find additional resources and safety – placing more strain on the resources of those countries, which could amplify tensions. In these instances, climate change does not directly cause conflict over diminishing access to resources, but it multiplies underlying natural resource stresses, increasing the chances of a conflict.

As to what should be done to this appalling situation, the UN boss said that the UN Secretary-General had made climate action a major part of his global advocacy, calling on all member states to double their ambition to save our planet.

For me, as the debate rages, it is important to underline that Kayanja’s position looks alluring in principle. But then, this piece holds the opinion that African leaders and policymakers must not allow the propositions canvassed by Tosan go with political winds.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Economy: Simplistic Thinking in Africa and African American Communities

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African American communities

By Nneka Okumazie

There is caution in African American communities not to criticise each other to avoid appearing to take the side of others against the community. This agreement, useful in a few cases, has become part of the problem of the community where there is an appearance to condone horrible things.

If the problem is to avoid sounding like others, then another channel to criticize but not sound like others should have been sought.

In the community, the killings of the same kind, even for some who have made it, sometimes over absurd things, meets mute responses or fierce firestorm from the leaders of the community.

Do not criticize has allowed all kinds of comments and behaviours to fester in the community, and it keeps getting worse, but everyone minds their business because black people come first even if it is evil.

There is a limit to protests. There is a limit to heightened sensitivity over the past. There is a limit to ignoring internal responsibility. Proclamation of emancipation is a starting point, but every other way, as a people, to ensure more strength has to be sought. Civil rights are great but there is a need for the kind of economic success of Asia to be strong and not act or be seen as a victim because victimhood is limited.

There is a limit to entitlement for the sake of it, in a time when economic concerns are a priority for all. An individual success story is already old for a people with the majority on the lower economic and social side. A charity that benefits a small number of people in a small community is negligible for people. Speaking out for the sake of it, against oppression by other races, is also limited for a successful black. Whatever feel-good story on history or origin may promote fantasy, but ensures backwardness in reality.

As more blacks, everywhere, are getting prominent and failing in some positions, the other races have been able to lob criticisms without getting racial, something that many blacks do not attempt for each other.

There are streams of simplistic thinking that are static ends for a people, and breaking out of it, as a people is important for progress.

In Africa, most people keep saying the government is the problem or corruption. But there are different countries, structures, regions, states, governments, etc. yet there is hardly a major success story comparable with some in Asia.

Asian success is different people in different sectors making progress ahead and above the government so that government gets to adopt those into policy. If everyone with some responsibility or a few in different fields pursues major progress, the government does not have the power to crush all of them. The government would have to adopt or enable some. The excellence that made those would have them draw others. The government too would promote some policies whose success or adoption would meet the advancement the people are seeking, so it would work.

But what is obvious in most African countries is that the government often has the best answer, which is often really low, so from other sectors, things are lower, so most things are worse. And whenever there is a crisis, it is even far worse, because those who could try have failed, so left to the government, everything goes down.

Government is not the problem in any African country so long they have sectors and people who hold responsibility. Simplistic thinking says it is government.

Some have also said that they should use African religions for swearing officials into the office to prevent corruption. If enacted, some people would find a way around it, so it solves nothing.

There are desperate Africans who migrate to other continents, by the sea, desert and other ways, to find survival. Their move is parallel to professionals who run away too, because the place is bad, as a belief, not because they are actually in some dire situation.

There is a comment on brain drain, but brain drain is not a problem for professionals who are replaceable. Many of them would not do better than what government would do, so leaving or staying makes little difference, so no matter the certificates or certifications, it is not a brain drain if their work had not been consistently aiming at progress.

For many, success is seen as location or position when success is time or other things not related to material or resources. The things that are needed for progress, like courage, fairness, sincerity, honour, and selfless diligence for all that is not available, makes many to point to the wrong things.

[Psalm 144:4, Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.]

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