His Royal Majesty, King Bubaraye Dakolo is the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom in Bayelsa State. In this interview, the first-class King, security expert and former military officer talks extensively about his new book The Riddle of the Oil Thief.
The book is an expose of the grand-scale oil theft in the Niger Delta and the resultant insecurity challenges in the oil-rich region. Also proffering solutions, The Riddle of the Oil Thief is a first-hand account of the unpleasant conditions of a people living in a world of many paradoxes. A region where poverty is rife amid stupendous oil deposit. A riverine area that is bereft of portable water, while oil and gas explorations are carried out in the most bizarre circumstances, insecurity has continued to spiral and the host communities are further impoverished.
In the new book, the articulate king talks about possible solutions to the overwhelming challenges, not just in the region, but the country as a whole. All this and many more are exquisitely served in The Riddle of the Oil Thief.
According to the publishers, Purple Shelves publishing LTD, the book launch is scheduled for June in Yenagoa, reports Samuel Osaze…
Question: By writing The Riddle of the Oil Thief, I like to specifically congratulate you for lending a critical voice to the struggles in the Niger Delta and the quest for improving the security situation in Nigeria. May we get to meet your HRM?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: I am the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, His Royal Majesty King Bubaraye Dakolo, Agada IV. The traditional head of the Ijaws of Ekpetiama, in Bayelsa State. I was born in the mid-60s at Otuabagi Ogbia my maternal community. Otuabagi was where the first ever commercially viable crude oil well was drilled in Nigeria in 1956. I am a Nigerian Civil War survivor. In the decades after the War, I was exposed to so much.
From the residential quarters of Nigeria’s pioneer refinery at Alesa Eleme, where I lived with my father and siblings, my inoculation as a privileged observer of the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of oil and gas exploitation in Nigeria took root particularly. For instance, knowing nothing of the dangers posed by oil pipelines to the society especially when exposed, I joined other children in walking the approximately 4km long distance on the NPRC giant pipelines to and from my Ibuluya Dikibo State School, Okrika in Rivers State from 1970 to 1976. From our classrooms, oil pipelines beckoned on us from the front, while the sights and sounds of ocean-going petroleum tankers lifting crude oil from the nearby Refinery Jetty at the Okrika Peninsula called out to us from behind. These constant distractions spun and steered my curiosity about crude petroleum.
As Providence would have it, as if to purposely position me for advanced experiences on the consequences of oil and gas exploitation on the environment and its people, I returned to Otuabagi, the community of my birth in 1976 to commence my secondary education at the abandoned first operational headquarters (HQ) of Shell in Nigeria, at the Oloibiri Oilfield. In that location which stank – and still stinks – with the mess of the early oil and gas industry in Nigeria, I was exposed first-hand to more of the undocumented activities of the petroleum sector players of the time as they still dripped fresh. I concluded my secondary education at Saint Aquinas Secondary School Elele, in 1982.
After my time in Rivers State University, and the University of Port Harcourt, I enlisted and trained as an officer Cadet of the 38th Regular Course of Nigeria’s pioneer military academy, NDA, Kaduna, from 1986, and subsequently studied the subject of security at the post graduate level. But reflecting deeply on the security issues in the Niger Delta – in particular – and Nigeria in general for many years, seeing and living the seven decades of exploitation of oil and the Niger Delta people, and how they fuel insecurity in the country and beyond, seeing the complete absence of the victim’s story out there, the urge to present that information to the world became more than compelling. The understanding that with better understanding people would better appreciate how those undisclosed happenings in the creeks of the delta as the collective shame of humanity and so rise to fix them for the good of all, gave me the zest.
To ensure that the oil industry was fair to those Nigerians from whose ancestral land oil was exploited, between 2004 to 2010, I served as Chairman of CCMCA, Companies and Contractors Monitoring Committee for Ayainbiri; Chairman of Oil and Gas Committee, Ekpetiama; Vice Chairman of the Gbarain/Ekpetiama Oil and Gas Committee; member of the GMOU team representing Ekpetiama, and coordinator of the Nun River Keepers organisation. I witnessed all stages of the siting of the NNPC and Shell, and other Joint Venture Partners’ Gbaran/Ubie multi-billion-dollar project near Gbarantoru in the Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State of Nigeria, from land acquisition, GMOU negotiation and signing, and site preparation through construction, to completion and commissioning. Again, I witnessed and noted the untold story of an industry so committed to remaining the people’s nightmare in Nigeria unfold before me.
I live in the Nun Riverbank community of Gbarantoru in Ekpetiama Kingdom within 500 metres of one of the most intimidating gas flares in the world. The Shell operated NNPC, Shell and other Joint Venture Partner’s onshore multi-billion-dollar CPF/FLB Facility called the Gbaran/Ubie Project, has been gassing us ceaselessly for years too, so oil and gas issues have been part and parcel of my life. They still poke me, choke me, and stare me in the face every day. The said facility siphons gas equivalent of over 60,000 barrels of crude oil daily. That is over one billion naira (N1,000,000,000.00).
Having grown to become a staunch advocate for a cleaner better natural environment, being the ultimate Nun River Keeper, I have long toured many oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta. I can say I have continued to live the avoidable shame of the oil sector in Nigeria – the pervading insecurity it has created.
Question: Given your wealth of experience, what exactly is the inspiration behind writing TROT and for how long did it take you to conclude it?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: I live in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, in the famous creeks, in my ancestral home as the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama. I live the ill effects of decades of oil and gas exploitation on the environment and the people. I live the untold story of seven decades of oil and gas exploitation in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. I realized that the untold story is never been told. It is not out there and needs to be put out there. I believe that when the untold story is told, we shall all see why there has to be justice in the land. We shall then see how we have been made to be what we are not. And how our country’s security is intertwined with injustice to the host communities of the Niger Delta.
Bits and pieces of The Riddle of the Oil Thief were being lived, and written over the years in the cause of my life, as I made my little efforts towards a better world. But after delivering a keynote address on the 15th of January 2020 at the site of the first oil well at Otuabagi, I resolved to provide a reference material that would tell the untold story of seven decades of exploitation of oil and gas and the people of the Niger Delta. That has eventually turned out to be what we have and so titled.
Question: Why do you think intellectual engagement at this level is a viable alternative to fighting the syndicate of oppressors and oil thieves that have milked the Niger Delta region dry?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: My father Chief N.D Dakolo used to say, ‘this little pen of mine is mightier than a thousand steel swords.’ I have since known that intellectual engagement has a way of penetrating deep down, and also reaching far flung places to tear down the cloak of ignorance which unfortunately, some people wear as ornaments of truth. It helps to serve the facts, including the bitter truth, which makes injustice unable to stand the litmus test of time. It reaches the far reaches of both the conscious and unconscious, local and foreign beneficiaries of the injustices committed in the Niger Delta in the cause of exploiting oil and the people, and would trigger palpable attitudinal changes as a result.
Question: I have heard people talk about most oil blocs in the Delta being owned by past and present military men. How true is this perspective?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: There is no smoke without fire they say. I would say it is better to say that most oil blocs are owned by past and present military men as well as past and present civilians. A person is either a past or present, and civilian or military. Unfortunately from my area, like me, the land, our ancestral inheritance, is ours but we just do not own the oil blocs. People from elsewhere, civilians and military, hold the Oil Mining Licences (OMLs) thereby having our Kingdoms, our Niger Delta Kingdoms as their oilfields and they do not care about the people. In this day and age, these facts are out there and are verifiable.
Question: Would you say, if anything, there have been noticeable positives in oil exploratory activities in the region since some of the environmental activists were unjustly hanged by a military junta in 1995?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: Let me say that after the unjust hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in 1995 more civilians and security personnel have died because of oil. What is written in the glossy bulletins of the IOCs as corporate policies and updates, and what their agents, privies, senior managers and managers and engineers do on ground are diametrically opposite. And these reasonably inspired the writing of the Riddle of the Oil Thief today. We all want to see and feel the positives. Not just hear or read about them. Action they say speaks louder than words. The Niger Delta ecosystem is still as polluted as ever and the adverse effects of pollution are as real as ever. And the people are still suffering the effects of double victimization. More of the effects of the exploitation – the health consequences, the carcinogenic effects, the socioeconomic, and the Psychosocial which would surely worsen with time are still here. Without deliberate acts to reverse the effects of oil exploitation on the people and their environment, then classing the acts of the oil industry and their collaborators against the people as crimes against humanity taking the necessary constitutional steps at demanding justice would be inevitable sooner or later.
Question: Would you mind sharing with us some of the proffered solutions to the ongoing oil heist and prevalent insecurity in the region as recommended in TROT?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: Ethical behaviour of the International Oil Corporations and their governments, and ours. Effective law enforcement and justice in the land. Leaders being accountable to the led from the lowest to the highest. All citizens being able to access problem solving education – Nigerian-centred education, education that would breed impartial patriots. Rebuilding the shattered fabrics of family units in particular, and then the communities that make up the country.
Question: As an experienced former military officer, would you say the actions of the Niger Delta militants are justifiable considering the level of oppression being meted to the people of the region?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: By just being just and fair to fellow Nigerians, the Nigerian state could have done without creating the Niger Delta militant, who unfortunately has been a clear victim of oil thievery which the complicit world knows, but the rest of the deliberately misinformed world is yet to know. I believe all open-minded persons who read The Riddle of the Oil Thief would invariably have a paradigm shift and would join in working for a better, safer Nigeria and the world.
Question: How soon do you think sanity can be restored to these troubled oil producing states that have since become hotbeds of abductions and other vices?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: This is very easy. It is as soon as those who are complicit in one form or another see, or are made to see, the folly in being half smart and change, or adapt the principle of ‘live and let’s live’. Justice for the host communities and the people is indeed the sure first step towards a safe and secure Nigeria.
Question: For now, it all seems the agitation for resource control has drastically simmered down given its pre-eminence in the past. At present, we can barely hear anyone talk about it. Why this trend? Is this one of the themes in TROT?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: In a while people will realize that resource control is the way to a safe, secure and prosperous nation. Like the sinusoidal curve, the agitation for resource control has highs and lows, but because unfairness, which ultimately does not serve even the perpetrators of it persists, I know that agitation for resource control would keep metamorphosing, taking one form or another, one slogan or another, triggering one security problem or another in response to the causative factors as long as those factors persist. The way out is justice, fairness and accountability. Let us live and let live.
Question: When and where will TROT be launched and who are your target audience?
King Bubaraye Dakolo: The Riddle of the Oil Thief will be launched first in the heartland of the Niger Delta at Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, and then would later be at other locations across the world based on the prevailing winds.
My audience is every person or group who desires a Nigeria, and an African continent that would maximize its potentials, or desires to understand why it is taking so long for that to happen. The Riddle of the Oil Thief: the untold story of the exploitation of crude oil and the people of the Niger Delta, is meant to let people know that the earlier there is justice in the land the better for everyone. Thank you so much.