By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Mr Olusola Ebiseni, Commissioner for Environment in Ondo State and a delegate to the National Conference, says oil was first discovered in Ondo State and not Bayelsa contrary to what is widely believed.
He was completely ruffled by the omission of his name. Others had been called. They had also spoken and another phase of the debate was just a click a way, signaling an end of the debate. A vote for the adoption of suggested amendments and other proposals was anticipated. For more than eight hours or so of the debate, he patiently sat, waiting to be called to no avail. Just then, he shouted,” Point of Order”.
Granted, he explained how he had written his name on the list of those who would be contributing but was omitted.
Humorously, he regaled the leadership and was eventually asked to continue since he was already standing.
The issue at stake was the report of the Committee on Environment. The event was the ongoing 2014 National Conference. The day was Monday, May 26. To every Nigerian, issues of environmental degradation are very touchy. And to the people of Niger-Delta where oil exploration is an every day affair, life, to an extent, has become a night mare as aquatics and the atmospheric space have been imaginably polluted.
So, to him, he is affected on many fronts. He hails from Ondo State, one of the nine oil producing states. He is a lawyer and presently the state Commissioner for Environment. And so, he is a stakeholder.
In his contribution, he showed passion. He displayed regrets. He distilled anger. But none of the things he said attracted attention more than his assertion that oil was first discovered in Araromi, Ondo State in 1908 and not in Oloibiri in present Bayelsa State. At the mention of that, heads turned in his direction. You would think that Chief Shola Ebiseni would blink an eye. But that was not to happen as he stressed “yessss” giving life to his views.
His grouse is that history has been twisted. And so, the campaign for this historical relevance for the Ilaje people of Ondo State who are Yoruba living in the coastal area of the state should be properly placed to say that that territory produces oil and accounts for the status of state as oil producing and the fifth among the nine members of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Ebesini was unequivocal: “It was at Araromi, a fishing coastal community in the western fringe of Ondo State towards its border with the Ijebu Yoruba of Ogun State, that oil was first discovered in 1908 by the German Bitumen Corporation.”
Continuing, he said: “Though this significant pioneer achievement was truncated as a result of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the point being emphasized by the Ondo State people is that it is this discovery that encouraged further activities which led to the Oloibiri experience in 1956.”
This also brings to mind his first outing at the National Conference which smacked a similar occurrence and stood on oil.
During his contribution to the inaugural speech of President Goodluck Jonathan, the three-time Ondo State Commissioner for Environment and a former Chairman of the old Ilaje Ese Odo Local Government Area of the state, who had come to the conference as a delegate on the platform of former local government chairmen from the South-west, while introducing himself, said: “Mr Chairman, fellow distinguished delegates, I am Olusola Ebiseni, a lawyer and politician.
In public service, I have had the privilege of being a three time commissioner in Ondo State. I am in this conference as the Southwest member among the representatives of former chairmen of local government. I was also in the past privileged to have served as the elected chairman of the oil producing good people of former Ilaje Ese Odo Local Government in which territory incidentally oil was first discovered in Nigeria in 1908”.
He went on “I wasn’t saying anything new, there is no disputing the fact that oil was first discovered in Nigeria at Araromi in 1908 and that further exploration was truncated for a long time by the combination of the world wars and world economic recession of the first half of the 20th century.
”I have had opportunity in different national fora to let Nigerians appreciate our place in the history of oil in Nigeria. I made this same point in a meeting in Lagos when the document on the Economic Integration of Western Nigeria was launched in 2012.
The aim was to let the Yoruba realize and be proud of our history as the region that was the harbinger of the good news of this commodity that has made all the difference in our national and world economy.
At the first Stakeholders Conference on the Niger Delta held at Uyo in April last year, I led the Ondo State delegation and also let our compatriots in the other parts of the Niger Delta know that, while we recognize the significance of Oloibiri as the place where oil was later struck in commercial quantity in 1957 as revenue earner, our place at Araromi as the territory where oil was first discovered in 1908 which encouraged further activities leading to Oloibiri 1956 cannot be ignored”.
A release which was made available to Sunday Vanguard on the issue quoted Ebiseni as saying “that the first law regulating oil and gas activities and giving its monopoly to the British colonial administration, which was the Nigerian Oils Minerals Ordinance of 1914 and which was also given fillip to in 1925, could not have been enacted to regulate the later Oloibiri activities of 1956 but the achievement which was already evident and extant at Araromi.”
Delving into the history of oil and the relationship among the various groups of the Niger Delta, Ebiseni said that oil, which is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy since the 1970s, has ironically become a source of environmental concerns for the people of the region that no one should attempt to add salt to the injury by undermining the contribution of any group.
“It was the Araromi 1908 discovery that gave impetus to more aggressive exploration which further germinated into commercial quantity production at Oloibiri in 1956. When other companies apart from Shell were brought in, successfull operations such as Elf in Obagi Oil/Ubata gas fields 1963, AGIP at Ebocha 1965 were achieved”, the confab delegate said.
“In the 1960s, Gulf (the progenitor of Chevron) came west of the Niger Delta ravaging Ijaw and Itsekiri land crisscrossing Forcados, Escravos into Ilaje territory. Chevron, Mobil, Express, AGIP and other oil giants have since taken over the whole of Ilaje land including Araromi, leading to Ondo State being today the 5th among the nine oil producing states of the federation.
The way of God is a mystery in that Araromi, from where oil was first found in 1908 which human memory either forgets or deliberately ignored, is now the seat of multibillion Dollar oil and gas projects known as Olokola or OKLNG”.
By Levinus Nwabughiogu