• Tony Igele

Oil Boom As Edo Becomes Economic Hub Of The Nation

When during his electioneering campaigns, Mr Godwin Obaseki, Executive Governor of Edo state said his administration would make the state the economic hub of the nation, many probably saw it as another political gimmick to win the electorates and their votes, ditto his promise of creating 200,000 jobs.

However, no sooner than the administration took off did the realization dawn that the man in the saddle of leadership is not the run-of-the-mill kind of politician whose main preoccupation is often to mesmerize and hold the governed spellbound with outlandish promises while draining their mandate for pecuniary benefits. This man is determined, from the onset, to make good his promises, of course, without the intention to impress, but just doing the right thing, a tall order in the nation’s present political maze.

Again, for so many expectant Edo people who have over the years accepted the traditional and highly touted sentiment that Edo state is a civil service state, 200,000 jobs will find so many of their jobless children and wards in the civil service, at least, that would assure them of their pensions on retirement and gratuity when they died. For the less ambitious too, that would be just enough to get by on. However, for a governor determined to change orientations and mindsets, and a man now properly identified as an economic free thinker ingrained in the free market economy, that shouldn’t be the norm anymore, that primordial status quo shouldn’t remain.

With the discerning eyes of an economist, he saw the crystal horizon where investors haggled for space where lens had hitherto only seen a civil service state, and he noted the good times are here. Indeed, Edo people are in for the good times. As soon as he assumed office, he hit the ground running, calling on investors to come in and invest while he continually worked to create the enabling environment, working out and constructing new road networks, maintaining infrastructure, deliberating on the power sector imbroglio and entering partnerships for a 24-hour power supply, beefing up security and creating the needed framework for lasting socio-economic policies to thrive.

The Government House on Osadebey Avenue became a roundtable of sorts, not for politicians to scramble for contracts they would barely perform, but for key investors to make their good intents for the state known, even while teaming up in the aggressive economic diplomacy being entrenched and in the overall commitment to national values.

An indication that the continuous advocacy for investor-driven economy and calls to enhance national competitiveness were making positive headway , even the realization of the urgent need to take away the overbearing emphasis on, but build a merit-based civil service, was outcome of a recent Open Forum on Environmental Impact Assessment of the Proposed Eghudu Modular Refinery and Processing Plant held on Thursday, April 27, in Benin City organized by the Eghudu Refinery Limited, a company owned by a U.S-based businessman, Engr. Charles Ihaza.

Engr Ihaza has acquired about 453.9 hectares of land to establish a modular refinery and processing plant in Eghudu area of Ovia North East Local Government in Edo state, a project which would cost over two billion dollars with production capacity of 80,000 barrels of refined petroleum products daily.

Sharing basic similarities with the governor whose interest is the pursuit of nation building, Engr Ihaza is driven by the passion to ensure that the land of his birth is not left behind in the fast pace of development going on across the globe, particularly in human capital development and economic overhaul.

During the epoch-making event, which for many, signaled a breath of fresh air for Edo state, Engr Ihaza, in a voice laden with emotion, told a gathering of hundreds of members of host communities, palace chiefs, civil society groups and expatriates , ”The world is moving at a fast pace in terms of nation building, economic growth and human capital development. I cannot afford to have my state left behind.” This remark drew a positive ecstasy from participants during the interface.

The event was the unveiling of the project intent, the first phase of a series of interface between the company and the host communities and the unveiling of the critical and information-laden Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA.

Communities which participated in this first phase included Egbeta community, Eghudu, Oduna, Igboro, Niboro, Igo Development Forum, Ikpako, members of Ekenwan Community and a host of others. The Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Chief S.U. Igbe, representing the Benin Monarch, led other palace chiefs in attendance.

Welcoming participants to the forum, Engr. Charles Ihaza stated that he left for the United States in the early 80s and has over 110 Engineers currently working with him over there. He noted that as a result of his interest in the needs of his people and concern in the environment, he decided to come home and invest. He however bemoaned the plight of Nigeria before the international community due to the socio-economic situation of the country. “Investors are not easy to come by in terms of plea to come and invest in Nigeria. We have a problematic integrity rating before the international community. It was respect for my personal integrity and antecedents that helped investors to look again at Nigeria.” He noted that Phase 1 of the project is to be situated in Eghudu, in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo state here in Nigeria which would be the modular refinery and processing plant while Phase 2 is already ongoing in Italy.”

Engr. Ihaza stated that Nigeria is over one hundred years behind in terms of oil processing and production and that the proposed project is the first eurofied project in Africa. He reeled out the benefits the project would bring to the host communities to include direct employment and labour, functional international market, standard elementary and high school, well equipped hospitals and clinics , functional libraries to aid research, among others. He assured the people of strict adherence to high standards and regulations in oil production and processing, even as he sought their cooperation in ensuring the success of the project, which he noted, was his company’s corporate social responsibility to the people, assuring that the benefits would far outweigh the demerits, if there would be any. “Our Engineers would do what they are told, not what the westerners want us to hear.” He stated.

On the duration of the project, he said, “This project will last 80years after we are gone, and it is starting now. We are asking for waivers from the Federal Ministry of Environment. We are looking at 80,000 barrels per day. There will be direct and sub-employment. We are here to help ourselves and our future.”

Mr Joshua Taiwo, spokesman for the Minister of Environment, Alhaji Ibrahim Jubril, said that the project was for the community and that it would impact positively on the socio-economic wellbeing of the residents.

Also making a remark, the Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Chief Sam U. Igbe stated that His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare ll, the Ogidigan, and the entire Benin Kingdom welcome the laudable initiative and hopes for its prompt and smooth commencement. Presenting the EIA blue-print, Mr Larry Edosomwan, Consultant with Vakosen Ltd, the company responsible for the assessment, stated that the Environmental Impact Assessment is a statutory requirement for petroleum exploration and production(E&P) development projects, and that the open forum was the first stage of the Environmental Assessment. He noted that the exercise would include, but not limited to the assessment of the impact of the project on the environment, the community, humans, water, air, aside the promised job creation. “The government has promised 200,000 jobs to the people, it is pertinent to note that the refinery will get over half of that.”

On the impact of a project this enormous on the environment, Prof Edosomwan said that clearing of minimal aspects of the bush would be done to ensure that medicinal plants are protected and the environment is not exposed to climate hazards. “There will be maintenance of biodiversity, sustenance of natural resources to minimize environmental disasters, protection and improvement of human and environmental health. ” He reiterated the positive effects to include opportunity for public participation and assured that there will be fewer conflicts.

He also stated that all the activities within the project mandate are articulated within the framework of extant laws, policies and regulations, citing Act Cap E12 LFN2014 and that the Federal Ministry of Environment is empowered to ensure that these regulations are not violated in any way, and that the environmental parameters are properly articulated, including Ecology, aquatic, including fisheries, nutrients, forests, wildlife, species diversity, endangered species, etc, physio-chemical, including groundwater, land, erosion, backwater, bank stability, drainage and soil character, groundwater, including regional hydrology, water table, water pollution, atmosphere, air pollution, dust and noise pollution, surface including regional hydrology, silt load, water, etc. He also assured that the air around the facilities will be constantly monitored.

Edosomwan pointed that human interest, which includes the welfare of the people in the host communities, will be of paramount consideration. “Records of health centres in the areas will be checked to ascertain prevailing health situations in those areas, vis-à-vis to know the prevailing diseases in the environment and advance means towards disease control. Considerations will be vital in the assessment of t he aesthetic beauty of the area – landscape, recreation, socio-economic situations, land loss, crop, flood control, aquaculture, navigation, transport, settlements, etc.’’ he stated that there will be a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, between the company and host communities on waste management. “All the waste generated by the company will be treated for industrial use.”

High point of the event was the expression of gratitude and concerns by members of the communities and responses by the facilitators.

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