Isoko land generally is divided administratively into two local government areas in Delta State: Isoko North and Isoko South, and it forms part of the Delta South Senatorial District.
In lsoko land, oil exploration was traced to have begun in 1958 in Uzere in present day Isoko South Local government area, making Isoko second only to Oloibiri, Bayelsa state in 1956, where on-shore oil was struck in Nigeria. Since then, oil exploration and production has extended beyond Uzere and covers many parts of Isoko.
This did not only attract the attention of Isoko Association of North America (IANA), an umbrella organisation of people of Isoko descent living in North America, but committed to contributing to the economic development, social progress, and cultural vitality of the Isoko people in Delta State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to Chief Obaro Odu, President-General of lANA, the body would like to bring to the attention of the Federal and Delta State Government as well as the relevant oil companies that years of exploration and production activities by oil companies in Isoko land have had devastating impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the Isoko people.
The body lamented that over 62 years after the discovery of oil in their land, Isoko people are experiencing all the adverse impacts associated with oil exploration and production, similar to those highlighted in the United Nations Environment Programme report on Environmental Assessment of Ogoni land released in August 2011.
“The soil in Isoko land is heavily contaminated by petroleum hydrocarbons. Oil pollution has denuded much of its mangrove and rain forest areas, reducing the size of arable land. Fish and other aquatic species have sharply declined as a result of oil-contamination of the creeks and rivers. Air pollution from gas flaring as well as contamination of the ground and surface waters have created severe health problems for people in most communities in Isoko”
He regretted that, compounding the sense of neglect of the Isoko people and lack of equity toward them, no Isoko indigene has ever been granted an Oil Mining Licence (OML), instead, the Isokos have been sidelined and marginalised in allocation of OMLs/OPLs in their land, while persons from other parts of the country have been so privileged.
“The Isoko people do not believe that OMLs/OPLs in their land should be granted exclusively to them, but equity and fairness require that the Isoko people that bear the brunt of oil exploration and production ought to be beneficiaries of allocation of OMLs and OPLs. It bears emphasis that among Isoko people, we do not lack persons who possess the business acumen, managerial competence, technical expertise, entrepreneurial drive, moral integrity and deep understanding of the oil industry, all attributes required to be an active, responsible and successful participant in both the upstream and the downstream sectors of the industry.
Besides, he argued that the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act 2010 (the “Local Content Act”) stipulates 70 per cent use of indigenous labor, materials and resources in all oil and gas projects in country.
While disclosing that the Isoko ethnic nation has eight oil fields that presently contribute 19 per cent of the total of oil production quota in Delta state, he said the ongoing 2020 bidding process for the 57 marginal oil fields in Delta state of Nigeria provides an excellent opportunity for the direct involvement of Isoko people in the oil exploration business.
“We further demand that agencies responsible for the development of the region (NDDC, DESOPADEC and Oil companies) speedily put in place and implement programmes that can contribute to the accelerated economic development of Isoko people.
While emphasising that Isoko people always prefer dialogue in resolving thorny public policy issues and make these demands on the Federal Government in that spirit, IANA posited it is their hope that the Federal Government of Nigeria will give careful but expeditious consideration to the demands of Isoko people in a pragmatic manner that creates peace and harmony in the country as well as accelerated development to the Isoko people.
Against this backdrop, IANA strongly endorses the Isoko Development Union (IDU) demands on the Federal Government of Nigeria, as outlined in its press statement of July 18, 2020 while it summaries its own demands on the Federal Government of Nigeria as follows:
“Firms owned by persons of Isoko origin be allocated OPLs and OMLs. Isoko persons should be granted the right of first refusal in the bidding process for marginal oil fields in Isoko land along with our Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekiri brethren in Delta State. Undertake an environmental clean-up and remediation measures in Isoko. Establishment of modular refineries and corresponding Ecosystem Research Center in Isoko. Increasing crude oil production in the area by exploiting OML 28 fields.Upward Review of the 13 per cent derivation benefit to the Niger Delta region” Odu warned.