Nigeria: As Buhari Engages Big Oil Firms On PIGB, Concerns Are Growing In Niger Delta

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Nigeria: As Buhari Engages Big Oil Firms On PIGB, Concerns Are Growing In Niger Delta

Ahead of the 2019 general elections coming up in a matter of weeks, there are disturbing concerns in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s main oil and gas basin, as the restive circles are considering to return to the creeks to halt continued oil production if Abuja fails to play ball.

Before now, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration was said to be locked in a backstage consultation with oil industry operators in the country on the new Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) which the Legislative arm of the Federal Government passed and communicated to him for his signature.

The outcome of the secret parley is not yet public. But, it will determine whether President Buhari will sign the bill into law. Presidential Villa insiders say there is a political mileage to be gained by the All Progressives Congress (APC), the President’s party if he signs the bill as either a Christmas or a New Year gift to the peoples of the oil region.

Arguably, the PIGB is not enjoying the needed popular support in the region. A total of 24 civil society groups rose from a town hall meeting in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, advocating for an alternative bill (or some leeway) to be explored in checkmating the bill against what they described as its ‘’inconsistent provisions that are largely at variance with social justice’’.

The Port Harcourt meeting which was organised by Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) in collaboration with Kabetkache Women Development and Resource Centre and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) attracted communities and civil society organisations across Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Rivers states.

During the meeting, they examined issues of notable concern over communities and environmental matters as related to the controversial PIGB, insisting that opportunities for communities’ contributions to environmental issues ‘’must’’ be harnessed to adequately provide for environmental justice under the regime of the PIGB and also given the needed urgent attention.

They called on professional associations such as NBA and NUJ to be independently taking up issues to defend the national interest for the common good and to be protected under a reign of justice, fairness and equity –especially as concerns the process of passing the PIGB into law.

‘’The salient matters canvassed under the previous bill, Petroleum Industry Bill (especially community/environmental interests) must be simultaneously taken into consideration to ensure that grievance issues related to the PIGB are concurrently addressed’’, the meeting demanded.

In their communiqué, the meeting resolved that an end to oil production should be considered to bring to a stop the injustices suffered by communities (and the degradation done to the environment) of the Niger Delta over petroleum investments.

‘’Adequate effort should be made to reach our legislative representatives to present our concerns over the PIGB. Wider reach to communities and other stakeholders must also be taken –with extensive awareness/sensitisation created –over vexed issues; and for mass mobilization to ensure expanded  action over petroleum investment governance justice’’, the meeting said.

CONCERNS

The meeting raised a number of concerns, including the following:

 ‘’While the (former) PIB comprehensively addressed all aspects of petroleum sector governance, the PIGB focuses almost exclusively on the creation of new commercial entities to manage national petroleum assets.

‘’The PIGB does not provide for community participation in decision making and development, and on managing environmental degradation –such as providing for an end to gas flaring; nor does it provide for fiscal benefits to affected communities.

‘’There is a lack of independence for regulatory institutions –with their roles muddled up; as there is glaring neglect of host communities’ interest within the mandates of proposed new institutions; and communities’ feeling is still strong that nothing is coming in adequately or favorably to people of the Niger Delta under the prevailing petroleum regime in Nigeria.

‘’The understanding among Nigerians is that the new legislation to govern the oil and gas sector would address issues like environmental protection, transparency and fiscal accountability/responsibility, as well as resource ownership and control. This is so because the industry is currently plagued by massive corruption, and severe environmental management challenges that engender host community discontents

‘’ The provision of excluding Fiscal Responsibility Act  on petroleum industry operation under the proposed bill negates the rationale behind the war against corruption –invariably providing easy leeway for private interests to buy off national assets that are even tied to natural resources of distinct communities and people of various ethnicities.

OBSERVATIONS

They observed that the process of the bill provided a need to review and update the legal regime guiding the petroleum industry since 1968, which then only favored multinational oil/gas corporations, and thrived on the ignorance of both state actors and affected communities; and resulted into oppressive/exploitative practices over the years.

They claimed that investors globally are equally waiting for a fair and equitable governing  law that can protect private interest favorably –which invariably will attract new petroleum development investments.

According to the Port Harcourt meeting, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua administration expressed serious concern about issues related to petroleum governance in Nigeria, and tried to address the matters of communities/environmental sustainability with holistic approach under the comprehensive PIB that due to vested interests failed to be passed into law.

‘’The present bill (PIGB), provides virtually nothing to give encouragement to attempt at trying to  address felt massive corruption within the petroleum industry.

‘’Pressures and sectional interests at the National Assembly, prevented the holistic inclusion of community development concerns, and presently tended to focus only on future private commercial interests –opting to protect profit of oil/gas investment as apparently manifest under the PIGB.

‘’The present passed bill (PIGB) also did not provide for the general interest of Nigerians, but caters for the private and selfish interest of few persons within the political-cum-investment space.

‘’Perpetuation (and legitimisation) of exploitation of communities and despoliation of the environment are glossed over by this new bill –that is by providing for no clear basis for resource governance good practice.

‘’Ministry of Petroleum Incorporated (MPI), as provided for in the proposed bill is inconsistent with the Ministry of Petroleum resources; and especially, the PIGB provides no clear understanding of what it (MPI) entails.

‘’Provision for Nigeria Petroleum Assets Management Company in the bill does not make clear who its shareholders would be –and what is the stake of oil/gas communities; just as some other institutions created under the PI(G)B have no clearly defined roles to enable them achieve the objectives  for which the bill was purportedly considered.

‘’Transparency/accountability cannot be achieved under the PIGB due to the fact that capacity and financial enablement are not there to strengthen regulatory agencies; just in the same vein as the proposed Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission (being empowered to do virtually everything) only tended to kill the democratic principle of transparency and accountability’’, they observed.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In the light of the foregoing, the Port Harcourt meeting accordingly resolved and recommended among others, the following:

‘’Separation of institutional roles within the regulatory regime must be considered to reduce overloading of the Nigeria Petroleum Regulatory Commission with muddled-up duties; that is, to remove role conflict in the discharge of valuable functions –and especially for achieving checks and balances.

‘’Industry standard regulatory roles must also be subjected to well-defined oversight control –for achieving energy security.

‘’The Bill must be made to operate like the Solid Minerals Mining Act 2007 that provides for communities consultation as owners of the land –as fairness/equity must prevail across Nigeria as one indivisible, fair and just country.

‘’The PIGB must be made to support or create opportunities for legal processes to redress grievances against operating companies/ government agencies that are accountable to environmental and social breaches.

‘’ There is need for more intellectual engagement over the process of passing the PI(G)B into law –to expand intervention role for justice to be seen to be done, and for social change to be achieved’’.

Among the signatories are: Damian Gbogbara of Youth And Environment Advocacy Centre, Port Harcourt; Dr E.O. Ehirim of Rivers State University; Enefaa Georgewill of United Action for Democracy (UAD), Rivers State; Cadmus Atake of Health of Mother Earth (HOMEF) Benin, Edo State; Dr Oyibo Charls of Nigeria Environmental Society (N.E.S.); and Omatsone Tosan of National Association of Itsekiri Graduates, Delta State.

Others include Ozegbe Marcus of Foundation for the Conservation of Earth; Philip Kalio of Support Initiative for Sustainable Development; Dr Simon Amaduobogha of Dougam Law firm, Port Harcourt; Medidin Egbo of CEDEN, Port Harcourt; Eyak Nsikan of Mbono Mkparawa Ibibio, Akwaibom Sate; Dr Elias Courson of Center for Resource Governance, Peace & Dev GREGOPED; Dr Anthony Chovwen of Living Earth, Nigeria; and Apuari Sny of Common Ground.

The rest are Franklin Nelson: Community Resource Dev. Foundation; Michael Gbarale: Rainbow Watch & Dev. Centre; Keziah Cliford: Environmental Rights Action, ERA; Emmanuel.S. Jaja: Green Relief Foundation; Sagbodje Bridget: Urhobo Progressive Union; Letam Noble: Youth and Environment Center; Amadi N.D: Adanti Isiokpo; Mwara Goteh Yusuf: Advocacy for Grassroot Development; Omaneyin Collins: Association for Non-Violence Peace Ambassadors, Niger Delta; and Dr Asume Osuoka: Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), Nigeria.

However, there is a likelihood that President Buhari may sign the bill into law before September ending.

The National Assembly is also expected to pass the other three versions of the petroleum industry bills- the Host Community Bill, the Fiscal Bill and the Petroleum Industry Administration Bill- into law within this quarter.

Sources say the possibility of the three bills being endorsed by President Buhari before the end of this year is narrow. But, observers say an Executive bill seeking an amendment to the Deep Offshore Petroleum Act is likely to sail through and signed into law before the end of this 2018.

This post was written by Akanimo Sampson.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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