Much joy greeted the news of the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Badagry, Lagos. But after a visit to Aje , which is the host community, CHUKWUMA OPARAOCHA brings to fore the fear and concerns of the residents.
Only very few communities have very strong ties to Nigeria’s rich history, like Badagry does. The ancient community, which is situated in Badagry Local Government Area of Lagos, tells a story of the brutality of man towards man, as expressed in the regrettable recollections of slavery, bondage, total separation from loved ones and deaths.
Many artifacts and monuments which signpost this brutality now adorn the shores of this ageless community, where people from all walks of life pay periodic visits to.
But in the last few weeks, the community seems to have transformed from this unenviable and historical status as a major transit point for slaves to the Americas and Europe in the 15th century, into an oil community in Nigeria. The status has in turn lifted Lagos into the group of oil producing states in Nigeria.
As already known, the coastal community recently became Nigeria’s latest crude oil destination following the breakthrough recorded by an indigenous oil company, Yinka Folawiyo Petroleum Company Limited, after what is believed to be years of sheer hard work, resilience and focus, especially given the about $400 million the indigenous company had invested in the business in the last 25 years.
But desperately willing to avoid the mistakes made in the likes of Oloibiri, Ogoni land and other parts of the Niger Delta where oil also at times referred to as the black gold, was discovered decades ago, the leaders and residents of Badagry say they would leave no stone unturned in ensuring that the mistakes of the past were not repeated.
To find out how the community is bracing up for its newly found love, and more importantly what residents want put in place so that their beloved community which is renowned for its aquatic life and tourism tendencies before full exploration would begin in the community’s coastal waters, Nigerian Tribune had to travel to the heart of Badagry spanning a distance of over 100km.
The journey to Badagry began from the very noisy Iyana Ipaja, where yellow-painted and ubiquitous commercial buses popularly known as fanagon littered the roads, each looking for passengers. Nigerian Tribune correspondent walked past a horde of bus conductors with each bellowing out places like Idimu, Egbeda, Ikotun, Ayobo, and Ipaja, among others, in their bid to outwit one another to attract passengers. Eventually, a section carved out for bigger buses heading to Iyana Iba was spotted, and one of them was eventually boarded.
The journey to Badagry was generally uneventful, but a quick stop made in front of the once popular French Village, showed a somewhat pathetic picture of what has become of an institution that once attracted French speaking individuals from all over the world.
A peep into the premises of the school revealed an environment whose buildings seemed to be fast falling apart, while a section that was perhaps meant for other purposes, had been converted into a spot where some youths were seen playing a game of table tennis.
The journey eventually culminated in Aje, the closest community to the shores where the oil wells were discovered.
A trip round various sections of the community showed residents who appeared somewhat unperturbed by the discovery, as they went about their regular business activities without any form of excitement or ecstasy in the prospect of their community becoming one of the most developed in Badagry in years to come.
The community which is largely a fishing one, has houses built in such a way as to encourage communal living and interactions among residents; there were no barriers, no fence, or walls separating one house from the other.
A community unruffled
Half-dressed children were seen running across untarred street roads, while the adults sat in the shades of stalls made from palm fronds.
As earlier indicated, a large number of residents accosted by Nigerian Tribune did not show any indication they were excited by the oil discovery, thus many of them preferred to steer clear of the matter, while a few just discarded the whole idea as another government’s invention to enrich a few at the expense of the majority.
For instance, an elderly woman, who was seen attending to a bunch of kids in what appeared to be the once popular jelosimi (a makeshift school for kids to temporarily stay away from home) class said she wasn’t getting carried away with the whole story.
‘What do we stand to gain?’
“Why should I be excited about the discovery of oil in Badagry when eventually only a few people will share the money that comes from it among themselves? We have seen this being demonstrated over and over again, when the collective wealth from oil was taken by just a few people. What I am interested in is what will bring food to my table,” she said.
Though her stance seemed to fall in line with that of a number of other people who are of the opinion that anywhere oil is discovered, there’s bound to be troubles and destruction, a few have however shared the optimism that the development would eventually lead to the growth and development of their beloved community. However, they were quick to note that the government must ensure the right things are put in place so as to avoid the mistakes in the Niger-Delta.
One of those who share this view is a middle age man who identified himself as Mallam Shehu.
Seen sitting in the company of others in what appeared to be a mechanic workshop, meters away from the popular Oba Akran of Badagry’s palace, Mallam Shehu wasted no time in advising the government not to rush to explore the oil wells or make money, but rather to ensure that the right things are done in such a way as to give no room for error that could either lead to oil spillage or destruction of the environment in any form.
“We appreciate what the government has done so far and how all those involved worked tirelessly to ensure that the mineral resources hidden on our shores were eventual found after what appeared to be years of efforts without results. However, there shouldn’t be any rush to start mining or making money, as all measures must be put in place to ensure that things are done right. Efforts must be given to the tiniest of details. We do not want the misfortune that befell some of the Niger Delta communities repeated here. A lot of us are fishermen, if our waters get destroyed as a result oil exploration, where do you want us to go?” he said.
Shehu also had a piece of advice for the government in terms of employment generation for members of the Badagry community, especially youths, who he said, should be the first beneficiaries of whatever accrues to the state in terms of employment.
“We want our youths to be empowered, as we believe that the whole thing should have a marked improvement in the lives of our youths. Again, we don’t want what is happening in Niger Delta to happen to us in Badagry, thus if the youths are properly engaged, they will not have time for militancy,” he said.
Nigerian Tribune also visited the palace of the Oba Akran of Badagry, Aholu Wheno Menu-Toyi 1, where efforts had previously been made to book an interview appointment with the monarch. However, the monarch was not available for comments, and the Palace secretary, identified only by his first name, Julius, who had earlier promised to help book an appointment with the Oba, made efforts to work out an alternative which involved booking an interview with one of the king’s high chiefs.
But the high chief himself also declined granting an interview with our correspondent, citing a previous interview granted a newspaper (not the Nigerian Tribune) also on the oil discovery, which he said did not go down well with some communities in Badagry.
“The Oba himself gave the directive that we should avoid granting interviews for now until some issues in Badagry which are connected to the oil discovery are finally resolved. So I am very sorry, I won’t be able to attend to you, and I can assure you that other high chiefs will also decline,” he said.
FG must be careful—Lawmaker
But in his comments, the lawmaker representing Badagry 1 Constituency in the Lagos House of Assembly, where the oil wells fall, David Setonji, also called for a lot of caution before exploration would commence in full.
He said he personally received the news of the discovery with mixed feelings, because of the failure of past Federal Government to carry out its promises to ensure full protection of the environment.
“This is a very serious issue that must be well planned. I got the news of the discovery with mixed feelings. Ordinarily, I should be happy, but going by what happened in the Niger Delta, I am not very excited, and as such I want the government to tread carefully,” he said.
He further added that while the community will gratefully accept what accrues to it from the 13% derivation that would come to Lagos State as an oil producing state, he said the community would not sacrifice this on the altar of the environment degradation of Badagry.
“We therefore want a conduct of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the entire oil field and the results made known. But the Lagos State government, being a sensitive government, I know will do the right thing, yet we will want them to take the right step all the way, so that we will not regret discovering oil in Badagry in the future,” Setonji said.
Meanwhile, the Lagos State House of Assembly is seeking for a suspension of all oil exploration activity in Lagos to give room for the meeting of all major stakeholders with a view to avoiding all future problems associated with oil exploration as currently being witnessed in the Niger Delta region of the country.
The stakeholders’ meeting which will be held at a yet-to-be determined date will involve all investors, exploring companies, the ministries of Energy and Mineral Resources and Environment, other relevant state government officials, as well as members of the host communities in Badagry, among others.
The Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, stated this recently, while urging the state government to be pro-active on the matter and learn from the mistakes of the past which he said had led to the environmental degradation and consequently all forms of violent agitation in the Niger-Delta.
Thus the Speaker added that all oil companies involved in the exploration of oil in Badagry had to stop production promptly if they had already started doing so. This, he said was to give room for the state government to be better prepared and to put adequate measures in place before exploration would start in earnest.
“We must safeguard the host communities but we must also commend the companies that have been investing in oil exploration in the state over the years before oil was eventually discovered there,” the Speaker said.
“All necessary infrastructure must be put in place to protect the state and the host communities so that we would prevent what is happening in the Niger Delta from happening in Lagos State,” he further said.