21ST SEPTEMBER, 2023
TWO YEARS AFTER THE PETROLEUM INDUSTRY BILL: MATTERS ARISING.
BY RACHEL EBERE IZUOGU-ONAH OF RADIO NIGERIA TREASURE F.M. PORT HARCOURT.
The Petroleum Industry Bill was signed into law on August 16 2023. Two years after the Act, how has it impacted on the Host Communities of International Oil Companies in Nigeria? What are the reasons for introducing the act ? These and more are things I decided to find out in this report.
The Act seeks to provide legal governance, regulatory fiscal framework for the Nigerian Petroleum Industry. The Petroleum Industry Act is meant to redefine the Nigerian Oil and Gas landscape. It spelt out the following: Energy transition and the future of energy, upstream operations, marginal field operations and local content development, midstream operations, downstream operations, deals, mergers and acquisitions, host community relations, sustainability and the environment among others. The one of am particular about in this report however, is the Host Communities relations and how the host communities can benefit more from these International Oil Companies, through the provision of basic amenities and infrastructures, through the 3% contributions by the International oil Companies to the Host Communities Development Trust fund.
Over the years, there has been a lot of agitations from these oil bearing Communities, because of years of neglect and poverty in the land. The PIA aims to address this issue. The Host Communities Development Trust Fund (HCDTF) whose purpose among other things is to foster sustainable prosperity, provide direct social and economic benefits from the Petroleum Industry Act to host Communites, and enhance peaceful and harmonious co-existence between the Host Communities and the International Oil Companies. Two years after being signed into law, what is the plight of the Niger Delta People, who make up the Host Communities? In search of answers to this question, I took a trip to some oil-bearing Communities where I spoke with some Natives, with the intention of finding out what they know about the Petroleum Industry Act and what has changed since the Petroleum Industry Act was introduced
The Communities I visited include Egbema in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Govrernment Area of Rivers State, Eleme in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State, and Bori in Bori Local Government Area of Rivers State.
In Egbema, I spoke to a group of women known as Egbema Women Group, led by Mrs Rosanah Ijendu. I asked them if they have heard about the Petroleum Industry Act. They said they do not know anything about the Act that the name is strange to them. I went further to find out the kind of relationship they have with the oil Companies operating in their Community. They said they are being marginalized by these oil companies because their land is devastated and polluted so much that they cannot carry out fishing and farming activities, which is their main source of income. Their farmlands have been destroyed because of oil spills that occur from time-to-time in the community. They noted that every attempt to dialogue with the oil companies have failed. Their roads are dilapidated so much that movement from one end of the community to another is very difficult.
From my findings here, the P.I.A has not changed anything since its introduction. The most annoying part is that members of the host communities to these International Oil Companies have not been enlightened about the P.I.A.
Another Community I visited were the Ogoni and Eleme Communities, where I spoke to a Youth Leader in the Community, Mr Tombari Dumka-Kote who lamented the poor state of the living condition of the Community people, claiming that nothing has changed since the P.I.A was introduced because the Community is still suffering from neglect from the International oil Companies, despite the introduction of the P.I.A and the people do not know anything about the P.I.A.
Similarly my trip to Eleme Community where I spoke to Mrs Patricia Saro- Ejiji revealed that they are not aware of the P.I.A and two years after the law became operational, nothing has changed in the relationship between the International Oil Companies and their host Communities as nothing is being done to address the needs of the Community like good roads, portable drinking water, electricity and other amenities have not been provided for them by the International Oil Companies.
To Chief Constance Meju from Ogwashiuku in Delta State, Shell and Agip oil companies are operating in her Community. She said the oil companies and the Nigerian Government have not started implementing the Petroleum Industry Act, despite the P.I.A being signed into law for 2 Years now. She said the oil bearing Communities in the Niger Delta are very ignorant of the PIA, noting that there is need for massive sensitization of the Communities. The oil companies like the fact that these host communities are ignorant of their rights as enshrined in the P.I.A.
Chief Meju works with women in some of these oil bearing Communities. In Erema Community for instance, they put a call across to Chief Meju asking her to explain the PIA to them. These are people who should know but they are ignorant. She also mentioned that in Rumuekpe Community, a Community that is hosting many oil companies but is highly underdeveloped. As a result of negligence from the oil companies, the Community Women recently staged a peaceful protest that lasted for some days with a view to drawing the attention of these oil companies to their plight but instead of attending to the requests of these Community Women, Soldiers were brought in to disperse the women. As a result of this attack from the Soldiers, most of these Women sustained various degrees of injuries and some of them are traumatised. And one would ask if it a blessing or a curse to be a host to oil companies.
In Akwa Ibom State there is no portable drinking water in some Communities as a result of oil exploration. 200 Children died recently because of drinking oil polluted water. Many people are down with strange ailments resulting from the degradation of their land as a result of oil exploration.
Another Niger Delta Son I spoke to was Comrade King Obuge from Otari Community in Abua Odua Local Government Area, one of the host Communities to some Oil Companies operating in the Niger Delta, who said that the Petroleum Industry Act does not favour the Communities at all because the communities do not decide what they want as infrastructure for their Communities, rather the oil Companies decide what Project to carry out for the Communities, with the Host Community Development Trust Fund. He said this is an anomaly because the Host Communities should be allowed to choose which project they want. Furthermore, according to King Obuge, the P.I.A. seeks protection of the Oil Industries by the Communities, this means that the security of the Oil Pipelines, their vessels, their storage tanks are to be taken care of by the Communities. In the event where any of these facilities are damaged, the host Community will be held responsible and made to pay some penalties through the Host Community Development Trust Fund. This is not fair on the Communities. To King Obuge, this Petroleum Industry Act should be restructured, to capture the interest of the Host Communities of the various Oil Companies operating in Nigeria. From the look of things, the Nigerian Government is only interested in their own collection from the Oil Companies.
Similarly, Comrade Tamunodierinye Cookey-Gam of Bonny Local government, another oil bearing Community in Rivers State South South Nigeria, with a huge deposit of oil and gas. I sought to know what positive changes have taken place in the Community, Two years after the Petroleum Industry Act. He said there is no significant impact on the host Community. Pointing out that the P.I.A seems to have empowered the International Oil Companies to continue their Oil exploration in the Niger Delta Area without thinking of the welfare of the Host Communities.
From my interactions with members of the host communities, there is need to review the Petroleum Industry Act ,to carry the Host Communities of these Oil Companies along thereby protecting their interest. As it is now, the P.I.A is only taking care of the Nigerian Government, and the Oil Companies, leaving out the Host Communities.
The issue of 3% of Host Communities Development Trust Fund should be more transparent especially to the Host Communities and the Communities should be allowed to determine which project or infrastructure should be cited in their Community, thereby giving them a Voice. By so doing, the aim of introducing the P.I.A will be fulfilled.