Why Shell Is In Dialogue With Bayelsa
Bayelsa state is shortchanged by the only industry in its land- the oil companies who strip her second most valuable - oil and move to neighbouring States to pay tax. Since 2004 the State started serious engagement with these companies on ways to reverse this unfair trend and their demand is: go create an enabling environment and we shall relocate to Yenagoa. Then came the Yenagoa Masterplan for a city that can be that kind of environment and 12 years on with so much progress these companies are still stalling on their promises.
Some of them would rather disinvest than Stay close to their operational base which makes economic sense. Some have acquired massive landed property plus right of way that renders the state almost camatose economically and they hardly pay any tax on them.
Now imagine that the State has come to recognise the hypocrisy inherent in what could pass as a conspiracy to underdevelop Bayelsa where 40 percent of the nations oil and gas is mined. So the option left is to revisit the constitution to find ways to enforce compliance with state physical and land laws. It became possible when a State has legal luminaries at the helm.
The combination of a lawyer governor,with widely acclaimed legislative capabilities and enforcement background with a legal veteran like the SSG David Serena-Dokubo Spiff is probably the tonic needed to help Bayelsa and indeed the Niger Delta overcome a poverty trap woven somewhere else and executed in these peaceful riverine States. Definitely the biggest beneficiary would be the Federal government long committed to bringing back equity to the Niger Delta but does not seem to know how to go about it.
The Wilinks commission of the 50s only alerted the world on the need for a special economic treatment for the Niger Delta taking cognisance of its terrain. Allowing the oil majors to pay tax to states they are domicile or where they operate could shore up the criminally neglected and fast dwindling resources open for them rather than subject them to periodic bailout.
My proposal on the Niger Delta Masterplan of NDDC had earlier suggested that the oil majors should not pay royalty to the federal Government but directly to land owners. That States should also on receipt of such a percentage of such royalties extend it to individual land owners as a way of bringing about equity,the basis for peace and creativity of the people of Nigeria.
Today, what is worrying Nigeria is imbalance, inequity and injustice which makes the rich unsafe in their wealth and the poor unsafe in his poverty.Both groups cannot create permanently because they remain insecure. The above brings about a spiritual condition of acute poverty whereby even the rich cannot be comfortable in their big houses since man is inherently interdependent on each other.That is why a great poet once said that "every Man's death diminishes me".
So President Buhari appears disposed to bringing a permanent peace by not welding the big stick when Bayelsa State evoked its physical development laws recently on SPDC shell. The State had earlier served notice of its decision to tax the massive acreage held by Shell at Gbaratoru gas district and indeed came up with a N214 billion levy or have its doors shut in the state.
Thinking it was a mere threat the company did nothing until the state made good its threat. As expected Shell ran to its principal the Federal Government. Bayelsa was invited to explain at Abuja and to state its case. A masterpiece emerged from these gurus and as we write the IOCs are gathered in Abuja to seriously dialogue with Bayelsa over its tax demand. For me this is a big step for restoration of permanent peace and prosperity in the region.