The situation in the Western Region of Ghana can be likened to a mother who has a lot of foodstuffs in her kitchen but her children go hungry everyday. The above description perfectly fits into the unfortunate condition the people of the region find themselves.
The region is a proud producer of more than 50 per cent of the nation’s foreign exchange earnings. Export commodities like gold, cocoa, timber, bauxite, diamond and recently crude oil are from the Western Region but there is nothing to write home about in the region in terms of infrastructure development.
Road network is in deplorable conditions and there is absolutely lack of basic social amenities in the region.
The discovery of oil and its exploitation brought about some fresh hopes to the people of the region, thinking that if the other resources did not bring any tangible benefits to them, new-found oil will do.
Surprisingly the opposite is the situation. The oil exploration has been a curse rather than a blessing to the people. The activities of the oil companies came along with their associate social, economic, environmental and security problems which are the subject matter of this article.
The presence of the oil companies in the region has brought a lot of social – changes in the region. One is the issue of incense vehicular traffic. I have had personal experience when I visited there recently.
It took me close to three hours to drive from Tanokrom to Apremdo, my home town a journey of about three kilometres. The traffic situation in other parts of the region is horrible and it has very serious health implications for the indigenes.
Another problem is the influx of prostitutes into the region. I was shocked to see girls as young as thirteen years indulging in prostitution. It will be dishonest on my part to say that there were no prostitutes before the oil business, far from that.
My argument is that people migrated in large numbers to the region as a result of the oil boom to engage in prostitution. This is evident in the increase in the number of HIV cases in the region and the Ghana AIDS COMMISSION can attest to this
The immigrant population from our sister West African countries into the region is also a factor. Some of these immigrants who have no jobs have teamed up with the local youth to engage in all sorts of social vices which were heitherto not prevalent in the region.
Fishing and farming are the major occupations of the people. Fishing is the main occupation of the people in the costal areas. The exploration activities have affected fishing tremendously.
Fisher folks cannot fish in certain parts of the sea due to restrictions from the security agencies.
They are sometimes arrested for trespassing and their equipment ceased and destroyed. These harassments and many more have made our fisher-folks unable to make ends meet and as a result their standards of living have deteriorated.
The situation is even worse when it comes to farming. Majority of the people are engaged in subsistence farming for living and most of the arable land within the Ahanta and Nzema areas have been sold by the chiefs indiscriminately without any plans for future generation.
Multinational companies have bought land in large acres reserving them for future use whilst the indigenous people are denied access to land for farming.
Regrettably most of the youth are unemployed and their very existence is on farming and the very land that they will depend for their livelihood has also been sold.
How then do we want them to survive? Growing up in the region as a child and living in the region as an adult, armed robbery, car snatching and petty thievery were not as frequent as they were today.
Cultural influence has impacted negatively on the youth of the area. Western region was one of the disciplined regions with very respected people in the country but the situation is very different now
The influx of immigrants and migrants into the region have added to the already large numbers of unemployed youth. Many of the youth in the region were of the hope that they will get some menial jobs from the oil companies but competition from the migrant and emigrants pushed the youth out because most them are unskilled.
Again, the cost of living in the region has shot up beyond the reach of the indigenous people. Property owners are riding on the high demand for accommodation and are increasing prices beyond astronomical level to the disadvantage of the local people.
Local entrepreneurs are been ejected from their offices and shops by their owners and given out to multinational companies to the detriment of Small Scale Enterprises.
In the Ahanta traditional area where I come from, I can say without any doubt that all the land available for farming has been sold out to developers and oil companies.
The chiefs of Ahanta traditional area have failed their people big time and they must be prepared to face their wrath sooner than later.
Oil exploration and environmental pollution and degradation cannot be separated. What environmental safety measures have these companies put in place to really deal with any oil spillage.? Even in the advanced countries we know the out come of the spillage in the gulf of Mexico. How prepared are plans to deal with any spillage.
I am not being an alarmist but I can bet with my last pesewa that there is imminent danger waiting to explode.
I have interacted with the youth and come to appreciate the level of frustration and hopelessness that they find themselves, consequently they are ready to do anything.
The Niger Delta and Boko Harams of this world are not conjured, they emanate out of situations like this.
Western region is relatively a peaceful region and it should be maintained as such. The national security should take up this matter and advise government to address this issue before it get out of hand.
By Kojo Tawiah Mensah