THE NATION-—Setonji David, is a lawmaker representing Badagry Constituency II, in Lagos State, where crude oil and gas deposit was discovered in commercial quantity. In this interview with Oziegbe Okoeki he speaks on the prospects and challenges of oil and gas exploration in this clime. Excerpts:
You are the representative of Badagry where oil has been discovered and exploration has started. How do you feel about this development?
It is a very good development, I am happy about it. But I must confess that I received the news with mixed feelings. mixed feelings in the sense that oil is good, it is positive, but when I look at what has been happening in Niger Delta, it does not make me happy because I don’t want my area to go through that kind of pain. Oil was discovered in Niger Delta several years ago and it has not brought the kind of development that would have been expected. So that is why I have that kind of mixed feelings. But by and large, we are happy and my prayer is that we just have to learn from the mistakes of the past and expect that this time around we do things correctly.
Lagos is noted for being proactive and forward looking, one would expect that having seen and learnt from the situation in the Niger Delta, that it would take steps to forestall a reoccurrence of past mistakes. Are you aware of any moves by the state government to put measures in place to check what is giving you mixed feelings now?
Lagos has always been a pacesetter, which is why we christen the state ‘Centre of Excellence’ and that is the more reason I’m positive to some extent believing that the state government will do what is right. For instance, the state House of Assembly has been quite proactive. In anticipation of this problems we are about to set up a committee that will look into those issues to ensure that the environmental degradation that was and still predominant in that part of this, I mean the Niger Delta does not replicate itself here. And what we are saying is that, oil is good but we must take some measures. For instance, I’m from Badagry, representing Badagry Constituency 2; I have not come across an environmental impact assessment, EIA. The sort that would have revealed the challenges and how they are going to mitigate the challenges and all those things, we have not seen it. And those things are suppose to come before prospecting of oil. So, we have not seen that. But we believe that is why the state government, I know will do the needful to ensure that things are done properly because we don’t want it to get to a situation whereby the youths will become restive in the future when their environment is being degraded. I also want you to know that our occupation predominantly in Badagry axis is farming and fishing and that is why we don’t want our water to be polluted. So I believe the state government will do what is right to ensure that we don’t experience any hazardous pollution or challenges in the future, because Lagos has always been a pacesetter and I believe we are going to do it right; that people will become very friendly with the state at the end of the day.
Do you just want to leave it at the level of Lagos will do the right thing, don’t you think that you should make an official representation to the government on the fears you just raised?
I just told you that the House has set up a committee. In fact, the Committee on Energy has been saddled with that responsibility. So a stakeholders meeting will be held and the stakeholders, including the communities and every other person will be invited and those things will be resolved. I believe very strongly in that and like I said earlier, the House is a responsive House and the state government has always been responsive too. So our hope lies in that, that the state government and state House of Assembly will do the needful and they have already set the machinery in place. So all the communities that are affected, the vested interests, their views will be taken on board. So machineries are already in motion for such a thing.
If I understand you very well, it’s like you don’t want to go beyond what the Assembly is doing already. But what I’m saying is that in your capacity as the representative from the area, don’t you think a memo from you to the state government will add more weight to whatever the House is doing now?
Yes, we are working on something, we are already in touch with our people and we are discussing with them, be rest assured at the appropriate time our fears and the issues we are feeling concerned about will be brought up. We are not resting on our oars until things are done rightly so that we won’t experience those things that I have mentioned earlier.
What is the reaction of Badagry people to this development?
Like I said earlier our people are happy but I must confess to you we are also apprehensive. You know Badagry is a tourism zone and you know essentially tourism and oil are not very compatible if it is not properly managed. Because oil is synonymous with pollution, and tourism needs a very favourable environment for people to come over and sleep and enjoy themselves and look at the tourist attraction and things like that. So they are two opposing things but we will reconcile them to ensure that we don’t compromise the area of tourism and at the same time we take advantage of the oil. What is important, unlike what is happening at the federal level is that whatever you make in all these things you must plough back to the environment where you are making it. That is the most important thing. You must let the people feel what you are making out of their community and you must let them be part of it. That is why there is so much agitation in the Niger Delta where they have oil and the bulk of the resources are used somewhere else. I believe that is not how it is done in other parts of the world. That is the only fear our people nurse. As long as the state government ensures that there is development and the present governor has demonstrated that immensely because he has come to Badagry even to hold Exco meeting and they were there for days, which is the first in the annals of the history of Lagos. And he has identified several projects the government wants to execute there. So we have hope in this administration and we believe it is going to deliver a lot of goodies to the people of Badagry.
How do you think the exploration of oil will impact on the employment situation in Badagry?
Those are the issues. There are hundreds of thousands of unemployed youths in Badagry now, well-educated people. So if this kind of thing will generate employment for people, if we had taken advantage of our tourism potential, I’m sure there are several areas where our people will be employed. In other parts of the world, tourism is the highest employer of labour, but we have not taken advantage of that in Nigeria, so if we can do that coupled with oil that has been discovered emphasis must be made on employing the people of Badagry. The fears people are nursing is that you don’t bring people from outside Badagry except for specialised jobs that our people don’t have the skills. So employment generation is key, that will nip in the bud the issue of restiveness on the part of the youths and also it should bring development, both physical, infrastructural etc.
How far have you gone organising your people to ensure they present a common front at the stakeholders’ meeting?
We are working towards that. That is why we are here, to ensure they don’t work at cross purposes. We want to ensure that things are done normally so that they won’t cause any form of havoc or crisis or anything like that and we are trying to avoid that. Our people are very understanding, we are working together and we are also aggregating their views to ensure that they all speak with one voice, so that there won’t be disharmony. What we are after is peace and tranquility in our environment with employment and provision of those social amenities for our people. That is the essence of governance and that is what we are working towards. That is what they want and that is what they are clamouring for. Badagry is a very peaceful environment and our people love peace. We don’t really have all those kind of inimical protests or agitation from Badagry. All we want is for our people to be employed, our environment to be treated properly, not to degrade the environment or pollute our waters to the extent that fishing and farming will become a problem. Those things should be taken into consideration and that is the essence of what we are discussing. That at the end of the whole thing, while they are prospecting oil our environment is not compromised and our people are also enjoying themselves; so that we don’t raise any group of people that will start any form of agitation. We must learn a lot from what has been happening in Niger Delta, it is a lesson for every one of us and we must handle it with care. We must not treat people with disdain. That is the problem the Federal Government is facing in the Niger Delta.
Is Badagry ready for the increase in the influx of strangers as exploration of oil will surely attract them?
We’re more than prepared. I told you that Badagry is the tourist nerve centre of Lagos state without sounding immodest. There are several beaches in Badagry and several islands as well. So we are a tourism centre with so many monuments. But it is incumbent on the government to provide the infrastructure, that is only how you can develop tourism and investors will come in. But I must confess that the present government is trying. However, I want to appeal that the 10-lane express from Orile should be taken down to Badagry instead of stopping at Okoko, because that is the gateway to Nigeria.
With all these development, how do you see Badagry in 10 years time?
I believe strongly that Badagry is going to be the future of Lagos state. With the completion of the expressway all movements will be towards Badagry and the place will be something else. I mean, I can’t wait to see that time. And I believe Badagry is going to be extremely good, an area that everybody wants to live. That is what I believe is going to happen.