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Millions of barrels of oil pass by, but community has “nothing to show for it”

Azubuike Samson is a student at the Mgbuoda State School in Omegwa village Rumuekpe. This village is situated near the Sambrow river, which fighters used to travel among the communities during several years of armed conflict in the area, so it was vulnerable to attack. This school was destroyed, but villagers repaired the roof. Photo: George Osodi / Panos for Oxfam America.

Legislation requiring information about oil revenues would help fragile community rebuild homes and schools.

He introduces himself as “Honorable Gaius,” a grand name for a rather grand looking man, stout and tall and serious looking despite his colorful white and red outfit. Gaius Sunday Ajuro is a former town councilor; hence the title that precedes his first name.

He lives across the street from State School No. 2, a primary school, where children in faded blue school uniforms file in and out, and approach his home, curious about the visitors there. Across a large field is a much bigger, newer looking school, but it stands empty and unfinished. It’s the only evidence of any sort of government investment in development in Ovelle, Ajuro’s home village, part of the larger community called Rumuekpe

Gaius Sunday Ajuro, a former town councilor, says his community needs more assistance from the government to recover from violent conflict and chronic poverty. Photo: George Osodi / Panos for Oxfam America.

Ajuro says it was a struggle to get the school built while he served on a community development council from 2011 to 2014. “I made sure they put a roof on it,” he says, implying it might have been an optional feature. He reports there are no other state-sponsored projects underway anywhere in Rumuekpe, despite the fact that 100,000 barrels of oil passes through the area every day, and the communities here suffer from oil spills and other problems. “All the oil from Bayelsea comes to Rumuekpe before going to Bonny Island,” he says, referring to a neighboring state and the major seaport for the region.  “But we have nothing to show for it.”

Divine Ekem, 17, with her grandmother, greet visitors outside their newly reconstructed home in Rumuekpe. Photo: George Osodi / Panos for Oxfam America.

Schools in poor condition

Violence in Rumuekpe damaged nearly all the homes and schools. Even before this period of conflict, which people here refer to as “the crisis,” the schools were in poor condition. “We have to carry our own chairs to school,” says Divine Ekem, now 17, describing the primary schools in Rumuekpe.

“There are no qualified teachers, no lockers, no security.” A quick visit to the Mgbuoda State School in Omegwa village shows Ekem is not exaggerating: While the villagers have replaced the roof, there are no desks or chairs, only rough boards balanced on rocks. The blackboard is on an easel in the front of the room, and trash litters the dirt floor.

Thankgod Chigodzi in his school classroom at the Mgbuoda State School in Omegwa village, Rumuekpe. The building lacks chairs and desks; students sit on makeshift benches. Photo: George Osodi / Panos for Oxfam America.

Ekem now attends a secondary school in another community; there isn’t one anywhere in Rumuekpe. “We need development here, if we had more money we could improve the schools,” she says.

Communities here are accustomed to demanding help from oil companies, but companies mostly refer citizens to the local and federal government. Ajuro says it’s hard to get the government to take action. “We have asked several times, they have not come to our assistance. They say it is because of the crisis, but there’s no crisis now.”

Visitors to his home on this day tell Ajuro about legislation in the US and other countries requiring oil companies to disclose payments to government, and they ask him what he would do with the information: “The federal government is supposed to give us 13 percent of oil revenues to host communities, but we don’t see it. If we can know how much oil companies pay the government, we can hold government accountable.”

Help communities in the Niger Delta and other oil-producing areas to get the money they need to build schools and roads.

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