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AN EVALUATION OF THE IMPACT OF PUBLIC RELATIONS STRAREGIES OF SHELL PETROLUM DEVELOPMENT COMPANY OF NIGERIA (SPDC)ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELELCTED OIL PRODUCING COMMUNITIES

NIGER DELTA AREA (A STUDY OF AFIESERE AND OBODOETI COMMUNITIES)

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1       BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

Since 1956 when oil was first discovered in commercial quantities in Oloibiri in the present Bayelsa state, the relationship between the multinational oil companies and the host communities where they operate has been far from cordial. There has been a gradual deterioration from uneasy tolerance to the present spate of youth militancy and clamour for resource control largely premised on the abject poverty in the host communities and the widespread degradation of the environment. There has equally been a large amount of buck passing and horse-trading between the Federal and State Government over responsibility for the present state of affairs.

However, the host communities caught in the throes of biting economic deprivation and rampaging ecological degradation are resorting to unmitigated violence and intimidation to press home their demands for rapid development of their communities, and economic empowerment. The Federal Government insists that the revenue allocation of 13% of oil revenue to the oil producing states is adequate to implement community development projects in the affected areas. The oil producing states far from being content with any patronizing derivation formula are insisting on total resource control.

The Federal Government recently, in 2000, set up the Niger Delta Development Commission  charged primarily with the responsibility of using the sums received from the allocation of the Federation account for tackling ecological problems arising from the exploration of Oil Minerals in the Niger Delta area. Interestingly, Section 14(2)(b) of the NDDC Act provides amongst other things that 3 per cent of the total annual budget of any oil producing company operating on shore and off shore, in the Niger Delta area, including gas-processing companies shall be paid and credited to the fund.

In addition to the enormous funds available to the Commission, the oil companies maintain that special budgetary allocations are made internally for community development projects in the oil producing areas in the Niger Delta. Recently, the Niger Delta Development Commission announced that it would be undertaking 641projects estimated to cost over N35 billion in the oil producing communities.

The pertinent question to ask at this juncture is: if the above laudable statistics are anything to go by why is the Niger Delta area witnessing increasing restiveness and community agitations? Are the multi national oil companies apart from earmarking budgetary allocations for community development armed with an effective dispute resolution mechanism? What are the ways to ensure prompt and effective resolution of disputes that threatens to stall the operations of the oil companies and how best disputes are forestalled.

This research work will endeavor to examine the dynamics of the relationship between the multi national oil companies and their host communities, and also proffer ways for resolving disputes that might arise between oil companies and their host communities.

From time immemorial, Public Relations have been in existence, and there has been a universally agreed history of the concept. This is ironical, although some people believe that throughout civilization there have been men and women who were skilled in the art of Public Relations. Some will quote the Queen Elizabeth I as initiator of Public Relations, but others will readily recognize William Wilberforce and his work in the abolishment of slave trade which we term “Public Relations”. The craft guilds of the Middle Ages had men who carried out functions which we today regard as public relations. The guild does influenced public opinions and other things.

Public Relations (PR) is a field concerned with maintaining a public image for businesses, non-profit organizations or high-profit people, such as celebrities and politicians.

An earlier definition of public relations, by the first world Assembly of Public Relations Associations held in Mexico City in August 1978, was

the art and social science of analyzing rends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the Public interest.

 

Others define it as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its public, Grunig & Hunt (1984). Public Relations provides an organization or individual

 

exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that provide a third party endorsement and do not direct payment. Seitel (2007:10). According to Oyibo (2006:14), Public Relation is used to build rapport with employees, customers, investors, voters or the general public. Almost any organization that has a stake in how it is portrayed in the public arena employs some level of public relations.

Public Relations (PR) as a concern for image building and as a specialized vocation began in Nigeria in 1944 when the colonial administration established the public relations department as there were no ministries at the time Virginia (1998:175). But with the turn of events, however; knowledge of PR as a worthwhile career revolutionalised fast in Nigeria.

However, in all, public relations cannot be said to be in existence in name (Igbem, 1997 in Onochie, 2000:121).

One of the successes of the twenty-first century is that public relations had come to be recognized and accepted as a useful tool of management and a vital communication link in any organized society. What PR does here is to open up all possible channels for communication.

The effect of Public Relations strategies on the people’s development could be seen from the various roles of Public Relations as had been stated by many scholars, though with varied views on what Constitutes the range of public relations activities and what terms to use for them.

The main issue in contention in the Niger Delta is massive exploitation of oil and gas by transnational oil companies, in connivance with the Nigerian state with little or no regard for the development of the people and the environment of the Niger Delta. The communities where oil is produced are characterised by squalor, neglect, abject poverty and absence of basic amenities such as clean water, hospitals, good roads, schools, etc. The people of the Niger Delta are aggrieved that proceeds of the oil business are not being used to develop the people on whose land and in whose backyard the oil is produced, and who suffer degradation caused by oil exploration and production activities. That has been the main contention over the years. This was the cause for which Ken Saro Wiwa lived and died, but oil-related struggle in the Niger Delta pre-dates Ken Saro Wiwa. As far back as 1964, Isaac Adaka Boro, an undergraduate from the Ijaw tribe in the Niger Delta led an abortive secession bid that sought for the creation of the Niger Delta Republic outside the framework of the Nigerian federation. He was consequently convicted, but later pardoned. He died fighting on the Nigerian side for the unity of Nigeria during the Nigerian civil war (Obi, 2006; Enemaku, 2005,etc)

A main concern now is that the voices of communities in the Niger Delta are becoming overshadowed by the voices of militants who do not necessarily represent the ordinary people or the communities. For the avoidance of doubt, the militants fighting in the Niger Delta were not set up by the communities. They are able-bodied youths who according to the government, are unemployed but have been recruited by illegal oil bunkerers to participate in the struggle against the Nigerian state (Sunday Independent on-line, 12th March, 2006). There are several of such groups, but in recent time, the most vocal have been the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF) and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

While the Nigerian government and the militants slug it out, women, children, the aged and other vulnerable groups in the community are imperilled. When soldiers attack the communities, they kill and maim whomever they encounter as seen in the case of Odi a few years ago where a whole village was levelled because some soldiers had been killed there a few days earlier (Obi, 2006)

Unfortunately, the international community is part and parcel of the problems of the Niger Delta. (Rowell, Marriott and Stockman,2005;Obi, 2006, etc )The United States and Britain are believed to be the principal beneficiaries of massive oil exploitation in the Niger Delta since the late 1950s, yet they have failed to ensure social justice, equity , fairness and development for the farmers, fishermen and peasants from whose land and backyard oil is exploited. The environment has become so degraded that the people’s means of livelihood have been denied. The death of Ken Saro Wiwa, till date, is seen as a failure of the international community to respond to the distress calls of an endangered community ( Rowell, Marriott and Stockman, 2005) What is happening in the Niger Delta cannot happen in Europe or any  other part of the world and the international community would keep mute or sit on the fence. But it concerns minorities who are largely disempowered. It is this frustration that is pushing the people to take up arms against the government, the transnational oil corporations and the foreign oil workers operating in the Niger Delta.

 

As far back as the late 1940s when three regions, namely North, East, and West were created out of Nigeria, the minority ethnic groups had expressed fears that the three largest ethnic groups, namely the Hausa-Fulani in the North; the Igbo in the East and the Yoruba in the south West would dominate the over 250 other minority  ethnic groups in the country. The protest of the minorities got so serious that the British colonial authorities set up the Willinks Commission to investigate the basis of the fears of the minorities  and recommend ways of addressing them . The commission in its report confirmed those fears, but apparently, apart from constitutional guarantees nothing practical was done by the British colonial authorities to address those fears (Obi,2001)

For the Niger Delta, it was recommended that a development board be established  to address its peculiar developmental  needs. Accordingly, the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) was established in 1961, but it did not create the desired impact.  It was succeeded in 1976 by the Niger Delta River Basin Development Authority (NDRBDA), which, in 1992, gave way to the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), which also gave way to the current Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2000 (Obi, 2006:15). In spite of  the establishment of all these boards and commissions, the Niger Delta has remained highly underdeveloped and frustrated. In addition to these bodies, government agencies such as the National Committee on Inter–Governmental Relations (NCIR), the defunct National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), as well as defunct National Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (NHRVIC) made efforts to listen to the plight of the people of the Niger Delta. They made various far-reaching recommendations, which raised the hopes of the people of the Niger Delta. But concrete measures to permanently address the feeling of marginalisation and dispossession in the Niger Delta are yet to be seen.

In 1992, the defunct Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources rose stoutly to defend the policies of the Nigerian government concerning the Niger Delta. According to the ministry, “ Contrary to what people are made to believe, not every facet of oil exploration is mired in squalor and neglect; a larger measure of oil wealth and benefits go back into oil-producing areas. Indeed, while there is currently no law in our statute books that compels participants in the oil industry to carry out any form of community assistance, the Community Relations Policy of the industry emphasises that oil companies must be sensitive to local customs and the development aspirations of the oil-producing communities in the areas of health, education, agriculture, provision of infrastructure and encouragement of self-reliance” (NNPC, 1992: 4)

People from Niger Delta and key watchers of developments in the area would consider the above statement as being among those kinds of statements that reflect government’s insensitivity to the demands and plight of the people of the Niger Delta. Coming from an important government ministry, it is clear that this kind of thinking, has pushed the  Niger Delta crises to where it is today.

However, more recently, both the former Nigerian Minister of Finance Mrs Ngozi Oknjo-Iweala and the president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo have accepted that Nigeria has continuously failed in her obligation to the Niger Delta, and that serious mistakes were made in the approach to the Niger Delta question. (The Guardian on-line, Thursday, April 6,2006, etc) It is these so- called “failure” and “serious errors”, spanning over five decades that are making the people to be angry. And this is why the youths have taken up arms against the Nigerian state and the multi-national oil corporations operating in the area.

This research work will therefore, evaluate the adoption of Public Relations strategies by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), with a view to mirroring its relationship with the oil-bearing communities in the Niger Delta Areas.

 

1.2       STATEMENT OF PROBLEM

Although Nigeria is the largest African oil exporter and the fifth among the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), over 70% of its population lives in poverty. The petroleum sector currently makes up about 40% of the GDP, and about 95 percent of exports. With over 35 million barrels in oil reserves and producing about 2.5 million barrels per day, the Niger Delta region in southern Nigeria is a major crude oil exporter to both the US and Western Europe. But despite the apparent abundance of such a coveted and lucrative resource, the economic situation in Nigeria is appallingly non-correlative.

 

Public Relations, pervades all aspects of our socio-economic and political life. It is so important that it is unfortunate that relatively little is known about its true nature as it is practiced by oil producing companies, particularly SPDC. The meaning is not yet clearly understood, not only by the general public but also, in many cases, the oil producing communities

The importance of public relations is no more an issue for debate, as all economic, social, religious and political institutions like Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), need public human relationship to enable them make meaningful and responsible decisions, as it relates to maintaining good relations with the host communities, geared towards building trust and mutual understanding. But the extent to which the company invests in public relations activities is still unclear.

With the high level of ill-feelings and hostilities in the Niger Delta region, it becomes questionable if Public Relations strategies are deployed adequately by the oil producing companies, particularly SPDC..

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), just like any other oil producing companies in Nigeria is faced with situations bordering on public relations activities. However, they do not have a clear-cut definition of Public Relations functions at the company, hence, the assignment of Public Relation roles to anybody that can do anything. But the extent to which Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), adopt Public Relations strategies in promoting goodwill among the community people, as well as contributing to the development of these oil-producing communities, necessitated this study in the first place.

 

1.3       OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

The broad objective of this research work is to examine the deployment of Public Relations strategies by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in engendering the development of the oil producing communities in the Niger Delta. Specifically, the research objectives are to.

  • To check if Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), do invest in Public Relations activities.
  • To evaluate the attitude of the people in the oil producing communities towards SPDC.
  • To examine the extent to which Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), has used Public Relations strategies in influencing the attitude of the host community people positively, towards the accomplishment of predetermined goals and objectives.
  • To assess the role of psychological contract in promoting a “fit” in building a corporate image for a company.
  • To evaluate perception vis-à-vis attitude, as it relates to managing the corporate image of the company.
  • To propose Public Relations strategies that can positively influence attitude and behavior of people in the Niger Delta, geared towards developing these oil producing communities, while promoting the corporate image Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

 

1.4       RESEARCH QUESTION

The researcher formed the following research questions to be well guided.

  1. Does Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), operate a functional Public Relations department?
  2. What is the attitude of the people in the oil-producing communities towards Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC)?
  3. To what extent has Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), used Public Relation strategies in influencing attitudes of the community people, towards maintaining her corporate image?
  4. Does one’s perception of the company’s activities affect attitudes?
  5. How has Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) contributed to the development of the oil-bearing communities in the Niger Delta states?

 

1.5             RESEARCH HYPOTHESES

Testable hypotheses have been formulated hereunder. The essence is to statistically check the relationship or variance between frequencies to be observed and expected.

 

Hypothesis 1

Ho:            Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) does not operate a                        functional Public Relations department.

Hi:             Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) does operate a                              functional Public Relations department.

 

Hypothesis 2

Ho:            People in Obodeti and Afiesere communities do not have good attitude                  towards SPDC.

Hi:             People in Obodeti and Afiesere communities have very good attitude                     towards SPDC.

 

Hypothesis 3

Ho:  SPDC has not effectively used Public Relations strategies in influencing   the attitudes of Obodeti and Afiesere community people to promote her   corporate image.

Hi:   SPDC has effectively used Public Relations strategies in influencing the    attitudes of Obodeti and Afiesere community people to promote her   corporate image.

 

Hypothesis 4

Ho:   Development projects of SPDC have not affected the attitude of the   people positively.

Hi: Development projects of SPDC have affected the attitude of the people    positively.

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