Nigerian Rev Fr Obi advises religious leaders on oil governance

SHIFA MWESIGYE

Nigerian cleric Rev Fr. Edward Obi has advised Uganda to focus on starting small industries along the oil sector value chain create jobs for Ugandans.

He says that from the experience of Nigeria, there will be no jobs for Ugandans in the oil sector as is expected because the industry is very technical and requires a few highly skilled people.

The industrial baseline survey conducted by CNOOC, Total Uganda and Tullow Oil Plc projects that the sector very limited jobs with a range of 11,000. Fr Obi says that these many jobs are a only a dream and not reality.

Ugandans can start small industries around the oil refinery in Buseruka subcounty to make plastics like chairs, jerry cans, household items, water pipes from oil by-products.

Farmers can supply the sector with food and other tradable goods.

These industries will employ far more people than the jobs expected from government and private oil companies, there contributing to distribution of employment and income generation in and around the oil region

“I was in Hoima and I took a boda boda and saw a bustling little town with many young people. They are waiting for oil jobs but they will not get employment, they will be disappointed, they will be disgruntled and many will turn to social ills. Oil companies have only one interest in mind, to make money for their share holders. Do not easily fall for their lies. They tell you they are environmentally conscious and will help the poor but there will be capital flight, they will make money and take it away to their parent countries or other countries where their oil companies are registered. This may deny Uganda opportunity to tax these incomes thus cheating Uganda,” Obi said.

Speaking to religious leaders on the role of faith communities in the development of the oil sector in Uganda, Obi said that with the discovery of oil in Uganda, there is no such safe distance from the wreckage that can come with the petrol dollar.

Oil is not simply politics, it is extracted from the ground and people live on this land. They get livelihood from the land, their water is contaminated by the oil. Oil affects justice, food and lives of these people. Obi says that once people’s lives are affected by the oil, religious leaders need to be involved in issues that directly touch livelihoods.

“You saw what was happening in Nigeria and you felt sorry for us but in fact Uganda is not far away from what is happening in Nigeria. In oil there is no safe distance you are in the wreckage. You are in the wreckage yourselves,” Obi told religious leaders at the 3rd Consultative Assembly organized by Interreligious Council of Uganda.

Obi is a Catholic Priest of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. As well as being the Executive Director of Gas Alert for Sustainable Initiative (GASIN), he is also Executive Secretary of the Niger Delta Catholic Bishops’ Forum (NDCBF). In this latter role he steers the Bishops’ advocacy for good governance, safe environments, and secure livelihoods. In addition, Fr. Obi is National Coordinator of a 25-member strong coalition of Environmental NGOs known as the National Coalition on Gas flaring and Oil spills in the Niger Delta

Obi said that if Uganda can adopt Norway’s mechanism of managing oil revenues, then the country will be well on its way to prosperity especially for the poor people. Norway had the good sense right from the beginning to develop and depend upon its national oil company Statoil to act as a public-benefit company. Statoil’s interest is that of protecting the interests of the Norwegian people primarily, and then its shareholders after that.

“Norway believes they don’t need money from oil to inject in the economy. All profits are sterilized in investments and assets outside Norway which are yielding income for when there will be no oil. Politicians have no access to the oil money in Norway because they are sterilized, that is the way to treat natural resource incomes. In your country, come up with a policy that says 75% of the incomes should be sterilized and 25% injected into Uganda’s National Development Plan,” Obi said.

He says that if Uganda doesn’t head to the example of Norway, then it is well on its way to self destruction and can turn into the next Middle East or Niger Delta.

“The Middle East is in turmoil not because of disagreements between one nation and another but at the centre is the oil and who controls the oil. Oil naturally breeds tension when people begin to compete on who controls the oil and it becomes a source of vision rather than unity. This is the first thing that every faith community must know and grapple with,” Obi told the religious leaders.

Obi asked religious leaders to position themselves and ask for good governance and accountability of the oil revenues.

“If you encourage political leaders on good governance you will be on the path of success. If it is happening in Norway, why not here in Uganda? In Nigeria we have had a long history of militarization. The innervation of civil society is looked upon as something strange. In Uganda as IRCU you stand a better chance to undertake intervention in Oil for the good of the people,” Obi advised.