James Kwen, Abuja
The chances of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to address problems in the oil sector, especially those which have to do with host communities, have got slimmer as host communities and some Civil Societies (CSO) have rejected the Bill for not accommodating their interests.
The PIB makes provisions for Host Communities Development in order to foster sustainable prosperity within host communities to ensure there is direct social and the economic benefits from petroleum operations to the communities.
Section 235 also provides for the incorporation of the Host Communities Development Trust which shall finance and execute projects for the benefit and sustainable development of host communities, undertake infrastructural development within the scope of funds available to the board of trustees.
However, arising from day two of the public hearing organised by the House of Representatives on Thursday, the host communities through some CSOs speaking for them argued that since the Committee in charge did not give them the opportunity to present their memoranda, they were not part of the Bill.
During the presentation, Chairman of the House Ad-hoc Committee on PIB, Mohammed Monguno, directed that the host communities, having submitted their memoranda earlier, should just adopt them without further deliberation.
This, the host communities said, denied them the opportunity to make their concerns known to the public while those of the oil companies and government officials that drafted the Bill were taken, describing the action as injustice.
Ken Henshaw, a representative of one of the host communities/CSOs, ‘We the People’, stated that what took place was not public hearing, saying the Bill failed to address the problems of areas where oil is produced and the legislature refused to hear from them.
“We don’t consider this a public hearing. Public hearing is a forum where every stakeholder expresses what they feel about the Bill being discussed. In this case, host communities and Civil Society Organizations from the Niger Delta Region were not allowed to speak and we consider this an abnormality and we simply state that this not a public hearing because there are serious issues in the PIB that we think need to be discussed,” Henshaw said.
“One, the governance structure of the PIB gives too much emphasis to the oil companies and very little role is given to the oil producing communities themselves. Even in the definition of host communities, the PIB is silent and it seems to simply say that oil companies have got the right to decide who a host community is. This is a recipe for crisis. There is no structure for peaceful resolution and we came here to state clearly that there is need for us to have a forum created by law that allows people who feel aggrieved to air those grievances that were not mentioned,” he said.
Inibehe Effiong of the Niger Delta Dialogue, a think tank of the Pan Niger Delta Elders Forum (PANDEF), said what the Committee did was a tragic injustice and a slap on the people of the region.
“So we feel that this is a further demonstration of the contemptible manner that the Nigerian State has regarded the people of the region. This is unaccounted and we will continue to demand that if this so-called host fund that they want to provide for is going to translate into anything, there has to be a significant conversation with the people of the region,” Effiong said.
“As I speak today, we left this public hearing without an understanding of what host communities are. As far as I am concerned, this public hearing may be defeated as far as the host communities are concerned.
“We took time to x-ray the provisions of the Bill and as far as I’m concerned, when the Group Managing Director of NNPC spoke, he made a comment that he was the Chairman of the Technical Committee that came out with this Bill. So this is a Bill that was drafted by the executive arm of government, handed over to the lawmakers to pass without necessarily taking into consideration the input of the people,” he noted.
At a press conference, Social Action and Key Civil Society Organisations in the Niger Delta Region expressed concern that the National Assembly has not allowed a fair and adequate opportunity for vulnerable stakeholders to have a say in the legislative processes towards passing the PIB, saying the Bill cannot work.
Speaking through Prince Edegbuo, the groups said the proposal for a host communities development fund does not support the participation of the communities in decision making as the governance structures proposed for the host communities fund deliberately deny any meaningful level of community participation while overtly promoting oil companies’ control and prominence.
“Oil companies described as ‘Settlors’ in the Bill are empowered to set up the Board of Trustees of the Trusts and conduct needs assessment and produce development plans on behalf of host communities. We believe that the level of emphasis on oil companies could fuel oil industry divide-and-rule tactics and stoke communal conflicts.
“It is also important to note that environmental pollution concerns are almost entirely ignored as the Executive Bill focuses more on production and commercial viability of the industry. The PIB 2020 disempowers federal and state environmental agencies from the monitoring and enforcement of environmental regulations in the petroleum industry.
“There is no clear provision for addressing environmental pollution and sanctioning polluters. The Bill fails to introduce any new measures to encourage the elimination of routine gas flaring,” the groups said.
In their earlier presentations, some government officials expressed reservations over issues associated with revenue generation going by the PIB.
Meanwhile, tension broke out at the public hearing when the disagreement amongst members of the host communities who were claiming the right to make presentations led to physical combat.
The fight started when the Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas (HOSTCOM) was called to the podium to make a presentation. There was disagreement amongst the members, leading to exchange of blows until security operatives intervened.
While those who involved in the fight hid their identity and angrily left the hall, one Gouha Ukhorumah representing the Offshore Gbaramatu and Coastal Host Communities in Warri South Local Government Area of Delta State, said the quarrel was basically between two factions of the group that call themselves host communities without a specific kingdom or local government as area of coverage.
At the presentation, some oil companies including Shell and Chevron adopted the position of the Oil Producing Trade Section (OPTS) which held that the PIB cannot encourage competition and investment in the oil sector.
Chairman of the House Ad-hoc Committee on PIB, Monguno assured that his panel would visit the oil producing areas to get more of their views.