By Ernest Udoh- Robert
The urban jungle and the creeks may one day become unbearable for ExxonMobil to survive, let alone thrive, and they may decide to quit the scene. What will happen? Life goes on, but there would be deep implications, with life-changing consequences on every side! Some will wish to halt my thought. “How can you allow your mind breed on such acrimonious thought?” Others who see things from the cosmic constellation may even begin midnight meditation to push back such vibrations from finding expressions. And for the demon-conscious Christians, it would be time for casting and binding.
For other religions, whose speciality is premised on beads, it will be time to effectively engage in counting and praying through beads to avert such propensities and insinuations. For the benefit of those who may not know what ExxonMobil does, let’s start from here. ExxonMobil is one of the world’s biggest hydrocarbon companies involved in the exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas, the manufacturing of petroleum products, and the transportation and sale of crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products.
ExxonMobil is a major manufacturer and marketer of hydrocarbon products, especially petrochemicals and also has an interest in electric power generation. In addition, they conduct extensive research programmes in support of global hydrocarbon businesses. With its businesses in several countries of the world, ExxonMobil maintains a high level of business integrity and ethical principles which guide its operations and holds robust commitments to Safety, Security, Health and Environment (SSHE).
In Nigeria, ExxonMobil has three subsidiaries, namely: Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited, Esso Exploration and Production Limited, and Esso Exploration and Production Nigeria (Offshore East) Limited. Before now, there was also Mobil Oil; but that had since been offloaded to another conglomerate, probably due to dwindling fortunes. Of the three active affiliate companies of ExxonMobil in Nigeria, it is Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited that operates in Akwa Ibom; hence the Company’s operational headquarters in Nigeria is the Qua Iboe Terminal (QIT) in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.
If the operational headquarters of Mobil is in Akwa Ibom State, what or which subsidiary headquarters are we demanding to be domiciled in the state? Furthermore, the lead office for all subsidiaries is in Lagos and a liaison office in Abuja. Consequently, all major decisions as it affects ExxonMobil globally is cleared from Texas, where the global headquarters situate, do we now beckon on them to domiciled the global headquarters in Akwa Ibom?
Globally, what’s our contributions or impact on the growth of the company? If we can statistically present our analysis then we can place a demand on relocating the world headquarters here. Unfortunately, ExxonMobil for two consecutive quarters in a roll has declared a loss. What it means is that the total running cost, tax, corporate social responsibilities far outweigh profit, so a loss is declared.
This, however, has not stopped their contributions to Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC and The Education Tax Fund, TETFUND. Other sundries from communities are also inclusive. Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited operates a joint venture with the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The joint venture is called the NNPC/MPN Joint Venture, with the Federal Government owning 60 per cent share, while the remaining 40 per cent is owned by MPN.
Since 1961, when the company was granted Oil Prospecting License (OPL) offshore present, Akwa Ibom State and MPN have made visible contributions to the development of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry. While seeking to make a profit as a business entity, the Company has contributed significantly to the development of the nation and the empowerment of the people.
Ranging from roads, education, health, electricity, human capacity development, the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility contributions to its operational states and communities were even more conspicuous in the past than it is today. That’s largely because, after the creation of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Nigerian Federal Government directed all oil and gas outfits operational in the Niger Delta to directly remit their CRS budgets (3% of their annual operational cost) to the NDDC, for the primary purpose of even and equitable development of the Niger Delta. A probe into how much of the received amounts actually go into the development of the Niger Delta is a subject for another day. It is also worrisome that the Eket – Ibeno road remains largely unfinished after Mobil had given its own N8 billion as contributions in the tripartite funding relationship between NDDC, Mobil and the State Government, why is the road not completed?
It is on record that Mobil alone has contributed over N160 billion to NDDC. Aside sundry other taxes and levies, the Company remits about N7billion annually to Akwa Ibom State Government as ground rents, while it pays tenement rates to Ibeno and Eket LGAs. It is rather sad that oil companies as a policy do not engage in media propaganda or simply tell their own side of the story in the media. For instance, Total Exploration and Production Company is in court with the state government, as a result, all yearly benefits or dealings with the state or the people have been stalled until issues in court are resolved, God knows how long.
Moreover, efforts to make the report this in the media has been futile. With 35% of the company’s overall workforce in Nigeria from Akwa Ibom State, ExxonMobil remains the biggest employer of labour in Akwa Ibom State, outside of Government. From the operations of MPN and other smaller oil and gas operators in the state, Akwa Ibom State today receives the highest oil revenue in Nigeria. These revenues are being efficiently utilized by the present administration for the development of our dear state. But these revenues must not be viewed as a gift from the Nigerian Government to Akwa Ibom State. They are earnings allowable by subsisting laws which the state gets from what is contributed to the national purse through the oil and gas operations in the State. In other words, MPN is a key contributor to our resources, why antagonize them?
But these are not the best of times for the oil and gas business across the globe. One sector that has been most hit by the economic implications of the now ubiquitous COVID 19 pandemic is the oil and gas industry. Oil Companies are retrenching, withholding new projects and recalibrating their stakes to survive the storms. For the first time in decades, most oil companies in Nigeria, for two consecutive quarters, have run on loss balance sheets.
But lots of other sectors are adversely hit too. And so, despite the peculiar challenges of the now, businesses are still expected at this time to be of help to persons in the communities where they operate. Since the outbreak of COVID 19 in Nigeria, Akwa Ibom State Government has invested hugely in health infrastructure and has offered significant supports to better the lives of the people. Well-meaning individuals and corporate organizations have also contributed to these intervention initiatives of Government.
One of the latest contributions from ExxonMobil is the construction of an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for the management of high profile infectious diseases in Akwa Ibom State. The groundbreaking of the project happened a few weeks ago at Immanuel General Hospital Eket, Akwa Ibom State, with Nigeria’s Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva; NNPC’s Group Managing Director, Mele Kyari; Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel (represented by Secretary to State Government, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem); ExxonMobil’s Managing Director, Paul McGrath (represented by Executive Director, Udobong Ntia) amongst others, in attendance. One can only urge the Company to expedite actions to make for the expeditious completion of the project.
The ICU, estimated at an initial cost in excess of N600 million, is part of the Joint Venture’s corporate social responsibility and recent demonstrations in Akwa Ibom State. The oil giant, also within this season of coronavirus pandemic, donated COVID 19 testing kits and samples collection kits worth over N90 million, hospital beds, ambulances and other support vehicles to the Akwa Ibom State Government. Food items were distributed as palliatives to Ibeno, Eket, Esit Eket and Onna LGAs, with one LGA getting in excess of 500 bags of rice, 400 bags of beans, etc.
Various stakeholders have expressed appreciations to the Company for its long history of contributions, especially at this time of critical need. There have also been uncharitable commentaries on the Company. Consistent with global best corporate practice, every vituperation stays unreplied. Why? People are not even aware of the palliatives of 500 bags of rice, and other food items are given, the so-called lack of media engagement policy by Mobil, should be reviewed.
But ExxonMobil is not only doling out these supports in Nigeria. Similar donations happen in America, Canada, Gambia, Angola and several other countries of the world. In the Neuquén province of Argentina, Medical supplies and equipment worth $50,000 were donated to hospitals in that province. ExxonMobil has set up several direct contributions and donations matching programmes in countries like Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and the Netherlands to support local relief organizations such as the Red Cross.
These countries may not be in dire need as we are in Nigeria but they are given donations in spite of their structured social system.
We don’t have a social system and our institutions are weak with various shades of corrupt practices in these institutions. It is clear that Exxon Mobil is willing to carry out their corporate social responsibilities and more if we can engage sanely and strategically without being belligerent. Nigerians sometimes encourage the oil giant to undermine us and some who see how they operate outside our shores and are baffled to see a totally different ball game here. For instance, oil spill reportings have standard procedures in other climes.
Rather than allow these procedures where there is a suspected case, our chiefs and youths demand and insist on compensations. It’s a business now in many Niger Delta communities to see illegal bunkering, they burst crude oil pipelines, syphon and leave it to lick, coupled with the ones that may have a technical fault.
Our environment, therefore, becomes inhabitable for aquatic and human lives, all in the spirit of compensation. We need to unscrew our skewed thinking pattern and cultivate a more positive thought pattern that sits well with global best practices. In Texas or Argentina, ExxonMobil operates without having to contend with most of the issues plaguing its operations in Nigeria. But it has been able to survive through these years because it maintains some time-tested principles and has some Nigerians that work to help navigate these peculiar challenges.
As the highest employer of Labour in Akwa Ibom State outside Government and the primary revenue driver for the state, ExxonMobil is a major fulcrum on which the economic survival of the state rests. Should the Company, for whatever reason, be boxed out of Akwa Ibom, like Shell was boxed out of Warri
in Delta State, the consequences might be disastrous and catastrophic. The financial structure of individuals, families, Local Governments, the State Government and the Nigerian Government may cripple to a near halt.
We should not think they cannot survive without us. They also should not assume we cannot live without them but they’ll be dire consequences for both parties if the business relationship is severed. Life doesn’t cease, it keeps living in spite of our circumstances. But a life lived at whatever level can be better.
The current discordant tunes from us against MPN have not stopped it from extending its contributions to government and communities, even in this most difficult time. We should rather engage with Mobil from a standpoint of informed knowledge; not aggression, mudslinging or media showmanship which does not solve issues. With knowledge, tactfulness and strategic engagements; communities, government and the oil giant will breathe better and fare better and that would mean lots of good to all parties.