Barr. Simeon Wilcox is the youth leader of Bonny Kingdom and spokesman of Joint Niger Delta Youth Movement (JNDYM) in this exclusive interview with Paul Obiajunwo in Port Harcourt he examines the activities of the multinationals in the oil rich Bonny kingdom and the Niger Delta region. He also speaks on the burdens that come with it, the needs to engage the youths and so on.
As Bonny Youth leader how far has the struggle being in the area, can you say the rich environment is a blessing or curse?
A professor wrote a book and titled it “the resource curse” what he meant is that having everything you need under your table by nature makes you lazy. Having everything you need under your table removes that aspect of life that makes you struggle because by implication it gives you that impression that after all you are the owner so what are you fighting for. I will not deny the fact that the resource curse in the Niger Delta and particularly in Bonny kingdom is the biggest challenge the nature has brought for us. It is a blessing having the resources but what you do with it is what determines if it will be a curse or a blessing. In our own case we have everything we need and everything we pray to have but we don’t have the benefits therein. Our people are still unemployed, largely unskilled. The social cultural activities don’t show the presence of the multinationals that are there. Something has got to be done which is the right management of the resources that we have. And in terms of developing new frameworks to work with the communities and these multinationals and at the end of the day there has to be a meeting point for the benefit of the region.
The multinational companies operating in the region have always complained that our youths are unskilled do you agree to that?
Far from that, the Amnesty programme is a programme that started based on the perception that the Niger Delta youths are not skilled. If you think back, you will realize that the youths were trained, they got scholarships but when these scholarships comes up the non indigenes will be the ones to benefit. Before the Amnesty Programme, vacancies were being announced secretly and before it gets to the knowledge of the host communities they’ve already brought those that will be employed. So that was how the youths started agitating against such enslaved method of neo-colonialism. While these youths were agitating they took them to Abuja for negotiation, Amnesty was given but has it changed anything. The only thing I know is that they know now that we have the capacity to resist them and win the war. But as to the number of persons that has being trained, I will give kudos to former President, Goodluck Jonathan and late President Yar’adua because the Niger Delta region is not as it uses to be. We have a lot of trained youths, the Amnesty Programme trained quiet a large number of people like pilots, pipe welders, Engineers and so on. Now the level of skill development in the Niger Delta region has increased. The next question is, is it matching the number of jobs being created, the companies operating in the region cannot be giving the same excuses of yesteryears that the people are not qualified. It is not true we have lots of qualified youths in the region; I know quite a number of people that the Federal government trained that are still looking for jobs. Let me narrow it down to Bonny that has NLNG base, the NLNG trained some persons but they still say the youths are unskilled. We gave them a list of persons to employ but when they got there they deliberately failed them and the next minute they brought in their own people. There has to be a meeting point, the Federal government has to come in. We can’t keep these things the way it has always being, it won’t work that way.
How do we know that these companies are not employing our youths, is there anything the government should do
That is where the three tiers of government need to come in; I won’t blame it solely on the multinationals, our government is to be blames too. Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) trained some persons they have the records, Amnesty programme also have the records of those that are employed and those that are not. If the Federal government comes into this matter they should be able to look at the records. Because there is no project that would be awarded in this country without the signature of the Federal government these are the people that have the records. But since they have these records they can call these companies together and organize a workshop and tell them how these people will be absorbed. Even the Nigerian content board is training people in Niger Delta on different vocations. But one thing I know is that if we can be a bit honest and throw away selfishness we can achieve something. I don’t believe in government giving a percentage of employment to this region, what I believe is that they should create an enabling environment for employment.
With many multinational companies operating in Bonny one would have expected the area to be will developed
Bonny is the third highest revenue producer in Rivers State, NLNG gives the Federal government N7 billion annually, now they are building more facilities they are going to employ more people. I know the state government is only responsible for income tax; Shell is in charge of 35 percent of Nigeria’s crude oil despite. In all these Bonny has no roads; it has no Federal government presence. The only Federal government presence is the Federal Polytechnics of Oil and Gas. NNDC approved contract to link Bonny roads together but till today that project has been abandoned, in fact they have squandered the money. We had a press conference and we gave an ultimatum but till today nobody has reacted. Bonny is the only community that produces so much yet has little. If you want to travel to Bonny you need to prepare for one hour rough riding on the sea and get attacked by pirates. If you travel to Bonny and you don’t go with NLNG boat or a private boat mounted with securities then you are not safe how then do you expect us to be happy. NLNG has 1,200 staff only 90 are from Bonny and out of that 90 we have people who are not staffs. Bonny people are getting blind because of the constant gas flaring, our shores are washing off, our youths are unemployed Shell pays N37 million as rent while NLNG pays N140 million to state government.
From when oil was discovered in the Niger Delta region till date what different does it make to the people?
Without oil Niger Delta region would have been also developed, it might not be as accelerated as oil has made it to be. Places without oil still have some scanty development because nothing remains static in life. But the development in Bonny is not commensurate. If you put it on a scale of 100 it is not up to 10. Before they started NLNG they took my people to Bintu in Mali and showed them how it is properly organized and promised them that Bonny will be like Bintu, a paradise on earth but guess what twenty years after that Bonny is still a shanty town. The light they gave to us is fading away they even want to privatize it. The light you hear about in Bonny is not free, we still pay bills and tariffs it’s just that they subsidized it. The Bonny master plan has failed; it was only last year they tried to revive it through the Amayanabo of Bonny. Although they have contributed to the development of the area but as an oil producing area it is not commensurate, a place where Nigeria has its resources, those that don’t have oil are far more developed than us.
What are your challenges as a leader?
The state and Federal government has to come together and have an interactive forum with the youths. Let’s put our heads together and think of a structure that can make these things free and fair so that when there is employment they can let us know or allow us to manage it. That is if an opportunity comes up and we say there is five spots for the Niger Deltans we know that really five Niger Deltans are there. Let us keep aside selfishness and think of a way to move forward, what we are trying to avoid is a repetition of the militancy. If these things are not put in place as soon as possible it will resurface from what I’m seeing on ground now. People are aggrieved, aggrieved in terms of the three physiological needs of man. Imagine the kind of sentiments that are coming up that Yoruba and Hausa people are taking everything and we are being cheated, they are not addressing these issues. I think the Federal government should address these things, those that have been trained get them engaged because an idle man is not just a devils workshop it is also man’s workshop because it is man that pushes his fellow man to do evil.
How do you combine the struggle with family life?
It is not easy, it only takes the grace of God, there are only few people like me in this struggle in terms of fighting intellectual battles. A lot of people believe on lets fight, let’s block the gates but I think we’ve passed that level, for me we have better plans than blocking of gates. And that should be our last resort, let it not always be our first. I am in this struggle because I am from Bonny in Rivers State then because I am a Nigerian, it is a struggle that my uncle was part of and fortunately I grew up with him. But most importantly I have to balance it, I have a family to take care of, I have an office to run sometimes there is a price to pay. Leadership is not a thing of brilliance it is a thing of wisdom no matter how brilliant you are if you don’t have the wisdom of God you cannot lead, there is no how you can balance it, all although you can balance it to a level.