A U.S.-based environment activist, Tom Mbeke-Ekanem, has urged the Akwa Ibom State government to consider filing a case in court to compel Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited to move its headquarters from Lagos to Akwa Ibom where the company produces oil.
Mr. Mbeke-Ekanem, a Nigerian citizen from Akwa Ibom, is the founder of Ibom Peoples Congress, IPC, an organisation which has been campaigning for a clean environment and economic prosperity in the Niger Delta region of the country.
It was the pressure from Mr. Mbeke-Ekanem’s IPC that prompted the international headquarters of ExxonMobil in Texas, U.S, some 12 years ago to explain why its company in Nigeria can’t relocate its head office from Lagos.
“Mobil has three businesses in Nigeria which are managed by one Lead Country Manager. It is essential that the headquarters of each of those businesses be consolidated in one office where support services can be shared,” the company had said in a letter addressed to Mr. Mbeke-Ekanem.
“Lagos offers each of those businesses a convenient and well-suited hub from which all three businesses can be efficiently conducted and coordinated by that manager.”
There have been renewed agitations lately in the Niger Delta for the oil companies to relocate their headquarters to the region. The agitations received a boost in March when Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, then serving as acting president, directed the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu, “to engage” with the IOCs “on the way forward” over the calls for their relocation.
“The vice president remarks are the sun we’ve been waiting for,” Mr. Mbeke-Ekanem told PREMIUM TIMES. “The (Akwa Ibom) state government should (therefore) make hay while the sun shines.”
Mr. Mbeke-Ekanem suggested that the state government should begin talks immediately with relevant federal agencies, as well as put up an “enticing package” like tax breaks for Mobil.
The government shouldn’t foreclose the option of going to court, he said.
“You would notice that in our letter of March 10, 2005 that called for ExxonMobil to relocate from Lagos to Akwa Ibom, we mentioned the fact that in October 2004, the leadership of the Nigerian National Assembly, made up of Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, Speaker of the House of Representatives; Sir Austin Opara, Deputy Speaker; Hon. Abdul Ningi, House Majority Leader; and Hon. Abike Dabiri, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity – had urged all multinational oil companies operating in the Niger Delta Region to relocate their headquarters to the states of their operation.
“In making the call, the Speaker at the time, Alhaji Masari noted that Shell, the largest oil company in Nigeria, and Agip had already taken the initiative by relocating their headquarters to their areas of operation in Port Harcourt, while Elf Oil Company has moved to Warri.
“That was the call from the legislature which ExxonMobil ignored. This time, Nigerian Executive has spoken. The third voice being the judiciary would mean a calamity to ExxonMobil.
“At this moment, the federal government is on our side, that is, the side of Akwa Ibom state. I do not think ExxonMobil will want to have this matter decided by the court because the verdict will certainly not be in their favour,” said Mr. Mbeke-Ekanem.
He said Mr. Osinbajo’s remarks represents the voice of the Nigerian government which owns 60 per cent of the shares in the joint venture with Mobil. Mobil, he said, doesn’t have the power to decide not to move since it is the minority shareholder.
“If they continue to drag their feet, we have no other option than to take the matter to the court where we are sure to prevail.
“The oil is ours. Conditions and guidelines of exploitation have been laid down. If ExxonMobil cannot abide by these guidelines, they have the right not to exploit oil in Akwa Ibom. Hopefully, there will be other companies that will rush in to replace them and fulfill the operating conditions and guidelines,” said Mr. Mbeke-Ekanem who is an author of the book, Beyond the Execution, Understanding the Ethnic and Military Politics in Nigeria.
“I strongly believe there are more cogent reasons for their relocation than they would admit.
“ExxonMobil said that relocation of their headquarters to Akwa Ibom would not have any significant impact on Akwa Ibom. That is not true. First ExxonMobil is aware that headquarters’ relocation is not just the empty buildings. It is about the staff and the economic, socio and macro that go with it.
“A multi-national corporation like ExxonMobil pays its tax to Lagos State government. The staffers of ExxonMobil pay their taxes to Lagos State government. There are also the residual effects of buying from the Akwa Ibom markets, and hence the trading impacts. There are many other effects that will be trickling down in areas such as house rental, secondary employments of aides, drivers, guards, etc. The impacts to Akwa Ibom economy will be tremendously huge.”
The Governor of Akwa Ibom, Udom Emmanuel, appears to prefer a diplomatic approach in dealing with Mobil.
“I know what you want to move your headquarters to the state. If you give me commitment of 24 months, I will provide it,” Mr. Emmanuel said to Mobil in Uyo during an oil and gas fair in March.