By Constance Meju
Imposition of projects on communities against their desire and away from their needs has been identified as a root cause of conflicts in the Niger Delta.
Participants at a four-day training on “The Right to Say No” organized by a foremost community women advocate group Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in Port Harcourt, made the observation while examining the role of varied stakeholders on development in the oil and gas region.
They noted that while government does not care to understand the true needs of communities before siting projects there, oil and gas companies place profit above all else and willfully entices some influencers dividing community unity for resistance to projects they do not consider beneficial or safe for their wellbeing.
They stressed that the application of divide and rule tactics by the oil and gas companies and further resort to military presence through federal government backing has caused much problems in the communities, setting some on fire.
The oil community leaders drawn from the core Niger Delta states-Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, CrossRiver, Edo and Delta-condemned the damning role played by some political and traditional leaders who place self-interest above community interest and make it easy for the companies to buy them over and short-change their communities.
The participants stated that communities deserve to be treated better through engagement and mutual respect and working to ensure they understand their needs before projects are sited in their domain. They said communities have every right to resist any attempt to establish projects that will not be beneficial to them or that can be hazardous to their wellbeing, no matter the level of intimidation from government or oil companies.
The participants also alleged that government and oil companies have created disharmony in their domain, hijacking the youth leadership and some community leadership to ensure things go their way at the detriment of the greater majority.
Community women were advised to rise up and join the honest men in the communities and challenge societal evil rather than sit to watch things go wrong.
“Women should begin to take responsibility, not leave room for non-performers, or self-interest groups,” a high chief from Bayelsa, Chief Christopher Ogbeleke advised, while Eze Nwula Ubio in Ahoada East, Chief Napoleon Ordu advised that discipline be highlighted, as, “where there is no discipline , nothing can go right”.
On their part, female participants called for greater involvement of women in the community decision making and the gradual dismantling of patriarchal barriers that have kept women down politically, socially and economically, so they can help revamp Nigeria and the region.