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Living The Paradox Of Oil-rich Ndian 

By Yerima Kini Nsom

Three vehicles stuck deep in mud rumbling deafeningly. The drivers make frantic efforts to give the vehicles a lease of kinetic energy, but the wheels turn without producing any desired effects. 

Deplorable road situation in Ndian

This is at Mabonji, a small village on the Kumba – Ekondo-Titi road. Just a kilometre away, there is a queue of vehicles. A truck, loaded to the brim with bags of rice, had crashed across the road. Just another kilometre away, the forces of law and order are sangfroid, fidgeting with drivers of indecently loaded illegal transport vehicles and lining their pockets.

They are busy, doing what the National Anti Corruption Commission would like to hear. It is the tell-tale of the painful ordeal people go through when travelling to Ndian Division in the Southwest Region. The Mabonji scene, on Tuesday, October 26, was a jinx to those who claim to be in a hurry to reach wherever they are going to.

The poor roads invite free-for-all cursing of government for not taking care. The Paramount ruler of the Balondos, His Majesty Dr. Ofenda Esoh Itoh, was equally trapped in the mess. He stood, bewildered. His eyes seemed to have been tired of seeing the pushing and pulling of cars trapped in the mud. He packed his car on the other side, meandered and nimbled through the contour of the muddy portion and hopped into a taxi in order to meet up with his appointment in Kumba.

Ndian Division covers a land surface of a circa 2,510 km and a large mangrove forest. It is endowed with the most extensive fresh water, swamps, coastal ridges, fertile land and tropical forest, characterised by great biological diversity. For one thing, Ndian still basks in the past glories of harbouring creeks and streams that provided habitat for the abundance of fish and other marine life, until oil companies came with their chemicals.

Poverty Reigns Supreme

Travelling the over 120 km way from Kumba in Meme Division to Mundemba, the capital of Ndian Division during the rainy season, is a tiresome and risky venture. The story of poor roads is a nightmare of mishaps in every nook and cranny of Ndian Division that is home to an estimated 200 000 people.

In the several villages in Ndian Division The Post visited recently, poverty reigns supreme. Its inhabitants look bartered by a combination of frustration and anger. What obtains here is a showcase of the paradox of underdevelopment in the face of such colossal mineral resources underlying the land. It is the paradox of poverty in a division which providence endowed with the wealth of petroleum oil that has been exploited for over three decades. A majority of the people here yawn out their days in misery, penury and scream for basic necessities.

Darkness, Gloom

By a sheer trick of coincidence, this reporter and a few other colleagues’ sauntered into the palace of the paramount ruler of the Balondos at Ekondo-Titi on Wednesday, October 27, when it was about to rain. Thunder rumbled, lightening flashed and electricity collapsed, given the lee way for darkness to triumph over the town.

"The darkness is indicative of the development problems that Ndian is grappling with," the debonair-looking traditional ruler said as he welcomed his visitors. Chief Esoh is, normally, a soft-spoken and merry gentleman, but when quizzed about the problems of Ndian Division, his voice carried a quiver as he answered the questions. Hear him: "The inhabitants of Ndian are human beings. We deserve to have a road even if oil and other minerals were not being exploited from here."

He asserts that if government tars the roads in Ndian, it would have a positive bearing on the national economy. A tarred road, he intimated, will facilitate the transportation of products from PALMOL and the CDC. He added that Korup Park,  will attract tourists that will boost the national economy. The traditional ruler regretted that Ndian farmers sell their coffee and cocoa to unscrupulous buying agents at give-away prices because of poor roads. This, he said, helps to reduce the official figures that are projected as the volume of production of these cash crops in Ndian.

"We can’t understand why forest areas where timber is exploited receive royalties, while Ndian is not given anything as oil royalties," Chief Esoh Itoh quipped with a sneer. Said he: "Ndian would have also been having royalties from timber exploitation but the whole of Korup forest is reserved. Government should, within the context of decentralisation, feed the coffers of Ndian councils with oil royalties."

In an analogy that expresses how desperate Ndian is, for tarred roads, the traditional ruler said: "When a hungry man is told that food is still being prepared in the kitchen and he actually gets the aroma, God alone Knows how such a person will react if the food does not come. We are waiting for a tarred road because government has promised us time and again and we know that it is government policy to give its citizens good roads".

Corroborating the traditional ruler, the Mayor of Ekondo-Titi Council, James Mesembe, appealed to government to review its policy of oil royalties so as to avert the kind of violence that obtains in the Niger Delta Region in Nigeria. "Companies have been exploring and exploiting oil in Rio del Rey for several decades, but when we ask for social amenities, they would say they paid all royalties to government.

The road from Kumba to Ekondo-Titi is only 60km, but sometimes we sleep on the way because the road is really bad. This nightmare does not reflect the reality of a place where oil is exploited," he said. The mayor regretted that despite the fact that many oil companies have been operating in the area for decades, they lack basic necessities like portable water, electricity, hospitals, schools, among others.

He said the companies in the area include Total, Adax Petroleum, Elf SEREPCA, Kosmos Energy and others. He singled out Adax Petroleum for accepting to construct an orphanage in Ekondo-Titi. The mayor said many of these companies contact them for environmental and social impact assessment of oil exploration in the area, but they are never informed of what happens later.

Pollution

 "Oil exploration here comes with soil and water pollution as well as various gases. We are no longer safe because the oil in our land seems to be a curse rather than a blessing. The ecosystem is affected, our once fertile soils are going barren, yet we don’t have anything. These are the words of Chief Joseph Fete of Boa-Bolondo village in Bamusso Sub-division. Boa-Balondo is a village along the Nigerian borders with an estimated population of 3 500 people.

Here the Nigerian Naira is threatening to floor the Cameroonian FCFA in a show of the legal tender strength. But trade by barter is what moves and shakes the local economy here. "We exchange cassava, plantains for fish with Nigerian Fishermen at the bench," Chief Fete told The Post. Though a border village, Boa- Balondo is at the mercy of fate. It has no police post and it is still the traditional institution, the local Epke society that handles criminal offences like adultery, abortion, murder and theft.

Talking about oil exploration in the area, the chief said there has been the absence of dialogue in the Boa-Balondo oil well, exploited by Kosmos Energy Company. "When they first came, I tried to talk with them but the white men were surrounded by soldiers. And each time we wanted to discuss the issue of royalties with them, they will tell us they have already paid everything to government. We need royalties for our development," he complained.

Chief Fete said the youths of his village were seething with so much anger that he spends his time trying to restrain them from going on the rampage because of oil royalties. He said it was proper for government to avoid any confrontation with the people by giving them good roads, schools electricity and other amenities. The chief also complained that the CDC has taken land of 6 000 hectares in the Boa plain with no compensation to the village.

Ill-feelings equally reign at the Dikome-Balondo village in Bamusso Sub-division. The Chief of the village, James Ngoh, complained that they have nothing to write home about from oil companies like Total, Elf SEREPCA that started operating there since the late 70s. He said SEREPCA recently did seismic research and discovered an oil well in the locality but nothing has trickled down to them.

"We are the ones who poured libation on this oil well, but till today, we don’t know what is happening," the chief complained. Chief Ngoh and some of his collaborators; Zacharia Ateh Owasi and William Nokap, said they need a fair share of the royalties that are being paid exclusively to the state. They complained that oil exploration activities affect their soil and decreases agricultural production which they very much rely on for survival.

He said they want oil royalties to trickle down to them in terms of good roads electricity, schools, hospitals and so on. The people also complained that the oil companies were bringing their workers from other towns, even for unskilled labour, instead of recruiting the many jobless young people roaming the villages.

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