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Oil find has not met our expectations -Western chiefs.

It was a Sunday morning. In a small room made with wood and thatched roofing, a group of people known as the Resurrection Power Ministry congregants gathered to have their Sunday ritual, worship their God, but at a street leading to Nana Enu Kwagyan (II), Chief of Essiama's Palace, some young men and women, as well as the elderly, seemed not to be bothered about what day of the week it was.

They had piled up items ranging from different kinds of foodstuffs, cooking utensils, clothes, shoes, accessories for men and women, building materials, and mounted them on tables yelling for passersby to patronise their goods.

To them, the standard of living in the town and its surrounding communities was high, hence, one must labour to make ends meet at any time and day of the week.

They said that though the proverbial saying in Nigeria is that 'a man who lives at the banks of the Niger River cannot wash his hands with spittle,' they have been forced to do so, because they are not seeing the effects of the prospects of the oil discovered in the Region almost a decade ago on the development of their community, as promised them by the late President John Evans Atta Mills in 2009.

It would be recalled that in 2007, a quantum of oil was discovered at the Deepwater South Tano and West Coast Cape Three Points in the Western Region of Ghana.

Just a year after that, the Vice Presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), John Mahama, promised the chiefs and people of the Western Region that his party would use 10% of the revenue that would be accrued from the oil to develop the region.

Mr Mahama, who was on a campaign tour of the region, said it was prudent that the people in the region were compensated duly for the adverse effects of the emerging oil industry.

Against this backdrop, the chiefs, elders, and opinion leaders of Ahanta and Nzema lands also requested for a 10% share of the oil money.

According to the chiefs, their quest for the 10% was to make up for the unfair treatment meted out to the region in the past, in terms of development.

'Although the Western Region contributes a huge chunk of the country's resources, it is yet to enjoy a fair share of the national cake, hence, the need for [the] government to dedicate ten percent of the oil revenue for the region's infrastructural development,' Awulae Attibrukusu (III), the then President of the Western Regional House of Chiefs, said when he and his entourage went to Parliament House to make inputs into the Petroleum Production and Petroleum Revenue Management Bills, which were before House at the time.

Though the National Democratic Congress denied the fact about Mr Mahama promising the Western Region a 10 percent share of the oil revenue, President John Evans Atta Mills, in one of his visits to Sekondi when he assumed the seat of government in 2009, indicated that the developmental package that would be directed to the region, in terms of infrastructure, education, among other things, would be massively more than that 10 percent being demanded by the chiefs.

The President said, that notwithstanding, he was sure that at the end of the day when development projects that would help change the region were quantified, they would be more than the demands of the people.

'I want to assure the chiefs that we will not play with the development of the Western Region, as it is contributing a lot to the development of the country,' he said.

When The Chronicle embarked on a visit to the communities with close proximity to the production site on its project dubbed '10 Years of Oil Discovery: Challenges and Gaps' which seeks to ascertain the level of development that has taken place since the commencement of oil production, the picture painted by the inhabitants was very gloomy.

Interaction with inhabitants of Essiama

Okyeame Isaac Quarm, Linguist of Essiama, a town in the Ellembelle District of the southern part of the region, who spoke on behalf of Nana Enu Kwagyan (II), indicated that their expectations had not been met since commencement of oil production.

Talking first about employment, Okyeame Quarm said that since three major production plants, namely Ghana Gas Limited, Eni Ghana and Quantum Terminal Limited, are close to them, menial jobs such as security and other temporary jobs shouldn't be difficult to access, but that is not the case. He said their young men are not getting such work to do.

'What we want to see is that the oil is being drilled on our land, so our young men should be able to get some menial jobs to do at the plants. They are doing a lot of projects at some of the towns, but at Essiama here, we are not seeing anything. Even with the security, they have given that contract to a security company to do that.'

He also spoke about the effect of the oil extraction activities on fishing activities in the community. Okyeame Quarm said that the sea had taken over a major part of the land and deprived fisherman the ability to work effectively. According to him, if care is not taken, the sea would soon take over the houses and homes of those close to it, and yet, a plea to get a sea defence [wall] had not been heeded.

He said the chief is doing what he can to savage the situation, because he has been holding lots of meetings with the companies, but nothing seems to take place, and appealed to the government to step in. Mr Emmanuel Asmah, a security worker at the Essiama Electricity Company of Ghana, who is a native of the land, also told The Chronicle that the cost of living in the community had gone up.

He attributed it to the increase in population, as result of not only the mining activities in the community, but also the emergence of oil.

He said this had made edible and non-edible things in the community very expensive for those whose level of income is very low. He indicated that a thatched or raffia single room cost not less than GHS50 per month, while cement block buildings cost as high as GHS250.

'We live in a place where things like cassava, tomatoes and the likes shouldn't be expensive, but all these things are now expensive because of the increase in population. [The] Standard of living has really gone up.'

A visit to Sanzule

Sanzule is a farming and fishing community, which is just a few kilometres to the east of Essiama. The town, with a population of a little above 1,500, is ruled by Nana Asafo Boakye (III). Most of the houses have been roofed with either thatch or iron sheets. Their main road can be described as a 3rd class road, while the inner town routes are feeder roads.

This is where ENI Ghana, a multi-million dollar upstream oil producing company, has its processing plant.

The road from Essiama to ENI Ghana, which is at the outskirts of the community, has been asphalted, but that of the community itself has not been constructed.

However, some old men and women are happy with this company, because when it took over their farmlands for the construction of the company offices and plant, it settled them with money and set up businesses of their choice for them.

Mr Kemesie, Safohene of the Sanzule Traditional Area, told The Chronicle that they had heard stories that people's farmlands had been taken over without compensation being paid, but theirs was different.

'There are people who asked for a tricycle, popularly known as 'aboboya' to engage in transport business. Others asked for cold stores where they can engage in the sale of fresh fish and meat, while others were given milling machine upon request. I won't say ENI didn't do anything for us, they really did well, though they could have done more,' he said.

He was, however, not happy that ENI had stopped the supply of bags of rice and other food items to households, which, to him, breaches the agreement it signed with the community.

Despite this good testimony, Mr Patrick Ursher, Secretary of the Sanzule Youth Group and a teacher at Sanzule Basic School, disagreed, he thinks ENI Ghana had not fulfilled its responsibility to the community.

According to him, before ENI settled in the community, it promised to engage the people in a Community Investment Strategy, which would seek to improve education, agriculture and infrastructure developments in there, but none of this has been done.

'Our basic school is in bad shape; our roads and street lights are also nothing to write home about, meanwhile, this company has been operating on our land for almost five years.'

The Chronicle, in an attempt to speak with officials of ENI Ghana was successful, hence, preceded to Atuabo.

A day at Atuabo

Atuabo is also fishing and farming community which is about 400 metres from Sanzule. Unlike Sanzule which are crippled with bad roads, Atuabo's major roads and inner city roads are all asphalted.

These roads, according to the inhabitants, were constructed by Ghana Gas Company, the government's gas processing company, located at the outskirts of the Atuabo township.

But for the road, it could have been likened to an ancient town. Aside a few buildings made of cement blocks, the rest are either thatched or raffia buildings. The school, market and other basic amenities are nothing to talk about.

Mr Augustus Cudjoe, a fisherman, driver and the Organising Secretary for the Atuabo Student Union, told The Chronicle: 'Ever since Ghana Gas established their plant in this community, the only thing they have done for us is the construction of our roads and the registration of every Atuabo resident onto the National Health Insurance Scheme.'

Speaking about employment, Mr Cudjoe said it was very hard for a tertiary student to get access to internship in the company, though there are people who are not from the town, or are Nzemas, yet have gained access to internship there.

'If you are a student and you want to intern there, chances of not getting it is very high, but there are so many people who are not Nzemas but have had access to internship there,' he said.

On education, Mr Cudjoe also said that the only basic school, Atuabo Methodist School, which was established in 1920 and the centre for hosting candidates who undertake the Basic Education Certificate Examination BECE), but it was nearly stripped off the right of hosting students for the BECE because the roofing had been ripped off by a storm, and there was no help from Ghana Gas.

It took the intervention of the little contributions from the inhabitants themselves to put the building in good shape, he said. Mr Augustus said there had been several discussions between the chief and Ghana Gas about the development of the town, but as to what kind of conversation that goes on between the two, he, as well as the town residents, cannot ascertain.
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Publication:Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra, Ghana)
Date:Sep 5, 2019
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