Written by Blessed Mudiaga Adjekpagbon
After reading the opinions of stakeholders about the draft of the Petroleum Industry Bill, one could be moved to ask why there is omission of some fundamental issues concerning oil spill, gas flaring and compensation for the host communities suffering from the effects of such hazards.
From the details of the PIB 2020 draft available on the internet, some stakeholders have pointed out some deficiencies in the document. Some of such shortcomings includes lack of clarity on how current provisions in the bill relate to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and several key pieces of existing legislation to avoid weakening or confusing the existing environmental regulatory framework; lack of placing responsibility for environmental regulation under the Ministry of Environment and NOSDRA, to avoid a conflict of interest for the two proposed new regulators who will be responsible for expanding and maximizing returns from the industry; and lack of various positive provisions that could help provide a much more robust framework for environmental regulation, if well developed to incorporate remediation funds and stronger provisions on decommissioning.
Some other omissions in the bills are its failure to support Nigeria’s climate commitments and a transition to clean energy; lack of adequate consideration and creation of trust funds for host communities by oil and gas companies, and strong representation and decision making by host communities; and the draconian nature of the bill’s placement of too much responsibilities on communities to prevent third-party damage to infrastructure, while advocating for the punishment of such communities by reducing their trust fund allocation if damage happens.
It is quite surprising that such deficiencies are still rearing heads in the much hailed PIB after its reading at the National Assembly in Abuja not quite long. Must the host communities continue to bear the pains of the recklessness of multinational companies exploring oil in the region?
A lot of farm lands and fresh water streams in the Niger Delta region have been polluted beyond redemption for decades and no adequate compensation has been given to the people. Even when given, middle men amongst the people acting as community leaders and representatives, have allegedly shortchanged the interest of the people.
This lack of transparency by the so-called representatives of the host communities, is the reason some analysts and observers have been saying that, instead of dealing with the so-called representatives, the oil companies and government should relate directly with the people affected by oil and gas flaring.
Some observers have suggested that the creation of a Clean Energy Development Fund financed by a levy on oil and gas sales can go a long way to having direct impact on the people, through the construction of health and other basic facilities in the communities, which the people can benefit from.
For the PIB to truly have a human face, there is need for the host communities interest to be placed paramount above government and multinational companies operating in the area. Signing the bill into law with such shortcomings will not help to resolve the recurrent conflicts that have become a culture in the volatile oil and gas energy sector. Leaving it with such defects is tantamount to postponing the day of total collapse of oil exploration in the region. A word is enough for the wise.