WEDNESDAY October 5, 2022, is one date the people of Bayelsa State cannot forget in a hurry. Not only should they be grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari, but they also need to applaud the state governor, Senator Douye Diri, over the presidential marching order to return OML 46, otherwise known as Atala Oil Field, to the Bayelsa State government, the original owners who were brazenly deprived of their rightful inheritance when the license for the field was revoked without due process. Indeed of all the 10 marginal fields allocated it was only that of Bayelsa State that was in the supermarket.
The presidential pronouncement to that effect was made when a high-powered delegation met with Mr President to seek Federal Government intervention in critical areas of infrastructural development in the state. The delegation comprised first Military Governor of the old Rivers State and Amanyanabo of Twon-Brass, King Alfred Diete-Spiff, the Ibenanawei of Ekpetiama and Chairman, Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers, King Bubaraye Dakolo, and the immediate past Governor of the State, Senator Henry Seriake Dickson.
The meeting took place at the Presidential Villa in the face of mounting anxiety over newfound stories pertaining to the OML 46, the oil bloc allocated to the Bayelsa State government in 2003 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo when the late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was Governor of the State. The allocation of the oil bloc was intended to assuage the good people of Bayelsa, having been at the epicentre of agitations for a fair deal among oil producing communities in the Niger Delta, following their resounding outcry for resource control and self determination.
Specifically, the Bayelsa Oil Company Limited was incorporated to manage the OML 46. In 2016, shortly after President Buhari took over office, a group of Bayelsans, led by a former Commissioner of Energy, made a desperate attempt to covet and appropriate the state-owned bloc to themselves. A petition was summarily despatched to the House of Representatives Committee on Petroleum which promptly conducted a public hearing on the matter.
Senator Douye Diri, who was then a member of the House Committee on Petroleum in the House of Representatives, put up a courageous defence for Bayelsa State in a bid to save and protect this vital state asset. He was roundly supported by his colleagues in the House Committee. In 2020, shortly after Senator Douye Diri took office as Governor, another attempt was made to seize this invaluable asset of the state-owned oil bloc when its licence was revoked in favour of a new operator, Halkin Exploration and Production Limited.
Along with a few patriotic Bayelsans committed to the development of the state, Governor Diri used other channels to draw the attention of the Senate to consider the matter through petitions to the Senate Committee on Ethics. Privileges and Public Petitions, in order to avert the criminal injustice about to be perpetrated against the people of Bayelsa State by a few selfish individuals. While bickering rented the air questioning his silence, a vintage Diri was working assiduously using his primary constituency (the national) to ensure justice is done to the people of the state.
The Senate conducted a public hearing as to how and why Atala Oil Field, OML 46, was revoked in such a curious and underhand manner without a formal presidential approval, when President Buhari himself is serving as the substantive Minister of Petroleum Resources, and every matter pertaining to oil and gas comes directly under his aegis. What was unveiled at the Senate hearing with respect to the matter on September, 30 2022, remains mind boggling.
Interestingly, the junior Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, hails from Bayelsa, a state he once governed. He was there when his state’s asset was reallocated to Halkin (E &P) a company that was registered in 2019. What was Sylva’s interest, indeed, when he kept the President and Minister of Petroleum Resources out of such a crucial decision to revoke a legitimate licence and a confirmed asset belonging to his own state, if he was acting in the larger interest?
Why was Sylva so much in a hurry to endorse the application to re-award OML 46 to Halkin when the proposal came before him on March 8, 2021 and the same day he granted approval of paragraph six of the letter? Why did he give such express approval, acting with the speed of light, if he was being fair to the land of his birth? These were the questions that came to the attention of the Senate Committee.
The Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, NUPRC, formerly DPR, was tongue-tied when the Senate Committee confronted the Commission, requesting it to provide the authentic presidential approval backing the revocation of Atala Oil Field. The Bayelsa indigenes who attended the Senate public hearing left the venue in evident excitement, believing that justice was finally in sight. One question that continues to beg for answers is who is Dr. Kelechi Afeogbu? Was he sent to go and play such a biased role?
Like the Biblical Daniel come to judgement, the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, in its historic resolution, directed the NUPRC to restore the Atala Marginal Oil Field, OML 46, to its former owners, namely Bayelsa Oil Company Limited, BOCL, Handy Oil Nigeria Limited, HONL, and Century Exploration and Production Limited.
The resolution of the Senate panel was followed by President Muhammadu Buhari’s order to revoke the re-allocation of the oil field to Halkin Exploration and Production Company Limited, Halkin E & P. Mr President gave the marching order when the Governor of Bayelsa State led a high-powered delegation to the State House to brief him on the matter. Known for his global anti-corruption profile, Mr President frowned at such subterranean activities capable of giving his administration a bad name, virtually at the last lap of winding down his government.
For the people of Bayelsa State, it was a big relief and an occasion to celebrate the victory of the forces of light over the agents of darkness. By this singular patriotic act, Governor Douye Diri has proven himself to be a beacon of guidance, a leading light in retrieving and protecting the assets of the state stolen under cover of darkness. He has demonstrated the true Izon man’s spirit of selfless patriotism for which he has since become known, counting from his days of agitation for a fair deal for the Izon nation under the umbrella of the Izon National Congress, where he played a pivotal role.
It is remarkable that Governor Diri has displayed a great sense of equanimity in this heroic exploit, without throwing tantrums, flinging brick-bats at anybody, or making any untoward statement to undermine anyone who might have stood in the way of this laudable dream believing, as he does, in promoting the unity and brotherhood of the Izon nation.
The governor also used the auspicious occasion of his visit to the President to put across an urgent demand for Federal Government intervention in the development of critical infrastructure in Bayelsa, with particular regard to key on-going road construction projects in the three senatorial zones, designed to link up the riverine communities playing host to national assets in the form of crude oil facilities and to exploit the untapped potentials of the blue economy.
As may be expected, the intervention of the Federal Government in this direction will go a long way to alleviate the age-long suffering of the littoral states.