Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

Oloibiri National Oil Museum: 40 Years After

Long before the creation of Bayelsa State on 1 October 1996, the Oloibiri oil museum tower was built by the federal government in conjunction with an Italian consortium ahead of the construction of a world-class oil museum complex. Alhaji Shehu Shagari, president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 1 October 1979 to 31 December 1983, had laid the foundation stone for the building of the museum at the Oloibiri oil fields, ostensibly to appease the long-neglected people of the Niger Delta region.

The federal government and its allies, the International Oil Companies (IOCs) are not unaware that the region has continued to suffer the adverse effect of oil and gas exploration and exploitation for the past 67 years or so. Yet no tangible remediation measures to salvage the badly damaged environment and possibly marshal plan to accelerate the socio-economic and infrastructural development of the area have ever been contemplated.

67 years after, having become established as the ‘goose that lays the golden egg’ for Nigeria, southern Nigeria remains poor, backward and neglected, as echoed loud and clear by the Sir Henry Willink Commission of July 1958. It would be recalled that the Southern Minorities Movement in 1996 represented by Dr M.T Akobo, Prof. Turner T. Isoun and Mr Solomon Asemota, Esq., SAN had lamented the marginalisation of the region by ‘greedy despotic big tribe hegemonies’. They regretted that this tripod (wazobia) has continued to monopolise the reins of power in Nigeria since independence.

Till today, the situation in the Niger Delta region has not changed much. The people remain poor, neglected and backwards. The only hope they have is the promises for a better lease of life and white elephant projects such as roads tarred with gold and airconditioned cars riding on air. The region is left piqued by these numerous unfulfilled promises by the federal government, its allies, and IOCs. The people’s hope and expectations have for so long been dashed.

When will the Oloibiri oil museum be built? Where are the actionable comprehensive policies and strategies to protect, reclaim and reconstruct the badly damaged Niger Delta region as a result of sustained oil exploration and exploitation for the past 67 years? It is disappointing that the acidic rain on the region due to gas flaring and the consequent devastating health hazards suffered by the people is no worry to the federal government and the IOCs. They are too busy accumulating the petrol dollar, totally oblivious to the monumental ecological damages done to the region.

Despite several regulatory attempts, court injunctions and policies, the federal government and the IOCs have remained adamant and continue to shift the goalpost for the cessation of gas flares in the region. We were told in 2019 that the deadline for gas flaring was put at 2020 and 2020 has long come and gone with no sign whatsoever of the seriousness of that promise while the people of the region are being deformed physically and dying of gas flare and oil pollution-related diseases and ailments daily. 

It is a pity also that much of politics, ethnic and tribal hegemonies, rather than pure economics driven by deregulated market forces, play into the allotment of oil blocks to prospective bidders, and in some cases, unsolicited bidders, leaving the owners of these resources totally alienated or at best, appendages to the ownership, control and management of these oil blocks. This a clear case of poverty sitting on the sea of wealth.

On 8 October 2019, the Nigerian Senate called for the immediate commencement of the up-graded Oil and Gas Research Centre and Museum in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State – Nigeria’s first oil field, wantonly raped and abandoned. This was a sequel to the motion by  Biobarakuma Degi Eremienyo, the senator representing Bayelsa East senatorial district and the vice-chairman of the Senate committee on special duties. The Senate at that time directed the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) to begin the construction of the oil, gas and research centre. The Upper Chamber also urged the federal government to prioritise the development of heritage institutions across the country. It further directed relevant committees of the house to carry out intensive oversight on the implementation of the Oloibiri project. 

Presenting the motion at plenary, Eremienyo regretted that 63 years after (as of August 2019), the discovery, exploitation and production of crude oil in Oloibiri fields and its environs, the source from which Nigeria’s economic and financial wealth accrued had been neglected while colossal environmental problems unattended to, with rising high incidences of health hazards were facing the people of the area and the larger Niger Delta region. The lawmaker explained that the idea of the centre was also to boost foreign exchange earnings for the country and improve the living standards of the host communities. Four years after, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, approved the sum of N117 billion for the take-off of the Oloibiri national museum complex.

The EnvironmentWatch newspaper in its maiden edition on 15 April 1998 published on its front page a story titled ‘Hope on 3 Billion Naira Oil Museum Rises’. Quoting the then group chairman of Delta Holdings (Nig.) Ltd., Chief Ranami Abah, a chartered surveyor and valuer in an exclusive interview, the paper reported that it was regrettable that the proposed museum had not risen above studied works done on it, designs and costings of the project submitted to the federal government in February 1995.

The cost of the project then was estimated at a little over N3 billion in 1995 by an FEC resolution. Chief Abah maintained that the establishment of a national monument like the proposed national oil museum at Oloibiri in honour of its being the pride of the ‘black gold’ was long overdue. In his words: ‘I am hoping that knowing the strategic nature of the oil industry and realising the fact that every country creates their kinds of monuments for the recognition of certain things; and there is nothing in this country that qualifies more than the national oil museum at Oloibiri, where the first oil well was found, and it is that, that has brought Nigeria anywhere at all, something positive will be done soon.’

While it is heart-warming to note that, at last, President Muhammadu Buhari APC-led government has authorised the kick-start of the long-awaited Oloibiri national museum project at the twilight of his administration, it is instructive to reflect on certain things: What is the timeline for the completion of the project; the milestones expected to be achieved monthly or quarterly?  How many years would the project outlay take for it to be completed to serve as a national museum? Should we believe that the outgoing administration would match words appropriately with action or is it just another political ploy?

The reactions from the public to this move by the federal government have not been positive. Critics are wary of the promise which came a few days before the general elections while wondering what the incoming government would do to a project that has not been given a definitive take-off date and completion time frame.

My article entitled ‘Sanctions and the LNG Project’, published in the Tuesday, 16 January 1996 edition of The Guardian, speaks volumes of Nigerian governments’ – past and present – lackadaisical attitude toward project formulation, execution and completion, especially those situated in minority areas, such as the Niger Delta. Nevertheless, the Buhari administration deserves credit for taking the initiative to embark on the Oloibiri national museum and research centre project, especially as previous administrations overlooked it.

It was philosopher Anon who once reminded us that ‘it is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.’ The consequences of further dodging our responsibilities would be too disastrous to contemplate. Let us, therefore, resolve to kickstart, complete and commission for use, this huge, monumental base to create the much-needed oil and gas industrial project as well as boost tourism for foreign exchange for a country whose foreign exchange earnings are at a way deep slope. 

Braeyi Collins Ekiye has been a fixture in the communication and creative arts for about fifty years now. He is a prolific writer, broadcaster, dramatist and journalist. A one-time Editor of the Sunday Tide newspaper, and presently the Editor-in-Chief of EnvironmentWatch, Braeyi Ekiye has also had a distinguished public service career spanning over thirty years, during which he served as Speech Writer to both civilian and military administrations, and lately as Principal Private Secretary to the Vice President of Nigeria, and also as Special Adviser to the President on Parastatals, Statutory Bodies and Inter- Governmental Affairs.

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