By Collins Ughalaa KSC
On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, Governor Hope Uzodinma addressed Imo people via a state-wide radio broadcast. He said: “Our New Imo State will enshrine a new culture of Shared Prosperity in which the common wealth of the people is made available for the good of all”. The Governor had on Wednesday, January 15, 2021, during his inaugural speech at the Heroes Square, Owerri, where he was sworn-in as Governor, assured Imo people that his “government shall be a faithful covenant between the people and the government” and that he “shall execute, with utmost diligence and fidelity, the five cardinal programmes of [his] administration anchored on the 3R of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery, to ensure prosperity for everyone”.
It is heartwarming that despite the odds stacked against him, Governor Hope Uzodimma has kept faith with his promise. We are all witnesses to the rebirth in the infrastructure sector. But beyond infrastructure, the Shared Prosperity initiative is very much on course. One area that demonstrates this fact is what the Governor is doing in the oil and gas sector. Imo State is among the oil producing states in the country, with three oil producing local governments, namely: Ohaji/Egbema, Oguta and Oru East LGAs. Despite the abundance of oil and gas, Imo State did not fare well as the State was recorded as one of the lowest oil producing states in the country. This, no doubt, negatively affected the revenue stream of the State and what the government could do for the people.
Many people could say that perhaps Imo State was blessed with lesser quantity of oil or that lesser amount of oil wells were discovered and mined in the State. That was not the case. The problem was that for a long time Imo State has had boundary issues with neighbouring Rivers State. The boundary issues left some oil wells hitherto belonging to Imo State in the hands of Rivers State. Previous governments in Imo had made little or no efforts to resolve the problem and recover the oil wells. The Udenwa administration had set up a committee to resolve the impasse. The Committee members, for pecuniary reasons, failed to deliver on the job. Reports claimed they were bought over by the government in Rivers at the time and they comprised. This was the case until Governor Hope Uzodimma took the bull by the horn.
Deternined to recover the oil wells, the Governor approached the National Boundary Commission (NBC) and the Office of the Surveyor General of the Federation to conduct physical definition and demarcation of the boundaries between Imo and Rivers. The daunting task began in November 2020 and ended in February 2021. When the exercise was over, the boundaries between Imo and Rivers were properly defined, cutting across a distance of about 123 kilometers, running from Akri in Oguta LGA, to Ohaji-Egbeme LGA, and to Owerri West and Ngor-Okpala LGAs. With the boundary demarcation exercise over, Imo State was able to recover about 43 oil wells that were hitherto ceded to Rivers State.
Speaking on this feat, the Coordinator for Petroleum and Gas Matters to the Governor, Rt. Hon. Goodluck Nanah Opiah, told Punch newspaper in Owerri that 22 oil wells were recovered from the Mgbede Field in Egbema, Ohaji/Egbema LGA, and 21 oil wells from the Akri Field in Oguta LGA, pointing out that the development places the State as the 4th largest oil producing State in the Country. The report also quoted Opiah to have said that the recovered 43 oil wells would improve the revenue generation of the State, adding that the recovery of the oil wells signified the preparedness of Governor Hope Uzodimma to correct the ills of the past and place the State on a high pedestal.
“We have not been treated fairly over the years in spite of our enormous contributions to the national economy as one of the oil producing states in the country. But thanks to God that since the emergence of Senator Hope Uzodimma as the Governor of Imo State, efforts have been made to recover some of the oil wells from neighbouring states. The oil wells were hitherto ceded to Rivers State. The ugly situation affected the revenue base of the State as we were recorded as one of the lowest oil producing States in the Country. But with the recovery of the 43 oil wells, the story has changed, as we have become the 4th largest oil producing State in the Country. This will go a long way in shoring up our share of revenue from the Federal Allocation. We are already the biggest gas producing State in the country and there is no reason we cannot be economically strong with the sound leadership provided by the Governor”, said the report.
Imo State has began to play major roles in the oil and gas sector since Uzodimma became Governor. Apart from the recovered 43 oil wells, the Governor has resuscitated the murribond Imo Petroleum Development Company (IPDC) Ltd, which was incorporated in 1999 by the Udenwa administration but was left on the paper until the Ikedi Ohakim administration tried to use it in partnership with the Oak Company to float the Oak Refinery in Ohaji/Egbema LGA. The effort did not yield desired fruits because of Ohakim’s ouster in 2011. The Rochas Okorocha administration refused to look towards the direction of the company because Okorocha had used it as a campaign gimmick, claiming falsely that the Oak Refinery project was a hoax. But Governor Hope Uzodimma picked up the company and increased its share capital base to N500M. In a recent interview with Daily Sun, Opiah was reported to have said that “Hope Uzodimma made the company available for use when the NNPC through the DPR advertised marginal fields for Nigerians and other investors to apply”. He added that as a result Imo State acquired the Ihioma Marginal Field. “We have the final award letter from the DPR and we are ready to pay the final bonus which is about the last commitment on the part of the Government before we can go into operation. So, Imo Petroleum Development Company is the property of the State and it is ready to go into full operations”.
Recently, Imo has witnessed upsurge in investment in the oil and gas sector. Waltersmith Petroman Nigeria Ltd, one of the leading oil companies operating in the State, has established the first ever modular refinery and is building an industrial park which it said would be a free trade zone and a dry dock. Speaking during the closing ceremony for the company’s Technical Skills Acquisition Programme (TSAP) in Owerri, the Chief Executive Officer of Waltersmith, Mr. Chikezie Nwosu, said the Industrial Park would attract petrochemical, pharmaceutical, research and other light manufacturing companies that feed off the hydrocarbon value chain in the area. “The industrial park is being developed with the support of the United Nation Industrial Development Organisation and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa as part of Nigeria’s country program with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. It is not just an industrial park, but an industrial park with a difference”, he said.
Seplat, Shell and other oil companies in the State are making huge investments in the oil and gas sector as well. With the discovery and development of gas by Shell and Seplat in Ohaji/Egbema, especially with Seplat’s ANON Gas development project, Imo State has become the largest gas producer in the country. Similarly, the State Government is making frantic efforts to ensure that oil producing companies help to develop their hist communities. This was why the government said it would mo longer tolerate a situation where oil producing companies refuse to enter into a workable Memorandum of Understanding with their host communities. “It is sad to note that some oil companies operating in the State are yet to live up to their corporate Social Responsibility. Some of them don’t have workable Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with their host communities and are doing nothing about it. The State Government will no longer tolerate these breaches. All oil producing companies operating in the State are reminded that the Government takes the breaches seriously and they should take urgent steps to remedy them. Those who do not have operational offices in the State yet should also ensure that they quickly address it”, Opiah said, while delivering a keynote addresshe at the closing ceremony of Waltersmith’s Technical Skills Acquisition Programme (TSAP), on Saturday, July 10.
With global attention shifting from Petroleum to Gas, and Imo State being the largest producer of gas in the country, the dividends of the ongoing huge investments in this key sector will lead to great economic boom in Imo State. This is thanks to Governor Hope Uzodimma’s magic wand.