Clearing Niger Delta’s Augean Stable

 Clearing Niger Delta’s Augean Stable

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

To buttress the imperatives of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practice to the nation, Barrister Babatunde Raji Fashola,(SAN), Former Governor of Lagos State and now the Minister for Housing and Works while commissioning the Ajose Adeogun Street, a road executed by Zenith Bank limited, in September, 2008, remarked as follows:

“We recognize that the engine of growth and development for any developing nation today lies in the ability to strategically cultivate and harness private as well as public sector effort, thereby opening up vistas of opportunities for the public-private partnerships that will contribute not only to the millennium development goals but also the nation’s overall development.

Indeed, the multifaceted challenges facing nations globally (Nigeria, in particular) give a fillip to the theory that the economy of developing the nation should by no means be left in the hands of the government alone. It has been opined development professionals that these challenges and burden of running the economy. Providing infrastructures have become too enormous for the government to bear.

Other areas of ‘interests’ includes tackling youth’s unemployment/restiveness, insecurity,  environmental pollution and degradation,poor funding of education, hyper inflection and economic recession. These challenges without a doubt signal the compelling need for the nation to look at the direction of our corporate citizens for assistance. This exercise however, is by no means new to us as a people or strange to our nation .Some organizations both local and internationals operating in Nigeria have been involved at one time or the other .Their list and areas of intervention cut across different spheres.

Unfortunately, even as this fact is highlighted, when we take a look at the Niger Delta region, what we have is the exact opposite.

For over five decades, when crude oil was discovered in commercial quantities in the region, instead of envisaged corporate social responsibility (CSR) practice expected of the operators, a fierce war has been raging between ethnic and social forces in the region. It is a province stripped of equity, justice; peace and development.Here; no one upholds the argument that without equity and justice, there will be no peace. It is a location where successive administrations and International Oil Companies (IOCs), operating in the region  covertly demonstrated the ‘conviction’ that so far the eggs are secured, the condition of the goose that laid the eggs becomes secondary.

At the bottom of this assertion is government’s constant expression of more interest in promoting petroleum exploration/production without giving symbolic attention to the environmental protection process or any substantial action to identify the Niger region as a troubled spot, that must be regarded as a special area for purposes of development.

Nevertheless, there appears in recent times a strong evidence to think that the much preached 2030 sustainable agenda- a United Nation initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)- with a collection of 17 global goals formulated  among other aims to promote and carter for people, peace, planet, and poverty-and essentially has partnership, collaboration, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various groups at its centre, is beginning to receive attention of the IOCs operating in the area.

From its accounts, Chevron Nigeria Limited declared recently in Effurun near Warri, Delta state, during the 10th Annual General Meeting of the Egbema and Gbaramatu Communities Development Foundation (EGCDF), that it has contributed over N7 billion, under NNPC/Chevron Joint Venture, to the group (EGCDF) since its creation in 2005.

The revelation aside bringing to mind the role Corporate Social Responsibility was formulated to accomplish, which includes but not limited to; creating a connected or ‘wired’relationship between the corporate organization and the host community; Portrays the doer as a good corporate citizen, increase its corporate visibility and reputation in the estimation of the right thinking citizens while acting as efficient means of achieving a cost effective institutional advertisement, the news about  Chevron social investment in the region came at about the same time when most of the International Oil Companies (IOCs), operating in the region more often consider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and call for public-private partnership in the area as a dangerous fiction created as an excuse to impose an unfair burden upon the wealthy and powerful while others are in a dagger drawn animosity with their host communities.

For clarity, this piece is not by any means out to disparage organizations failing in their corporate social responsibility but to appreciate corporate citizens supporting their host communities, rekindle the fire of CSR in lukewarm organizations and more than anything else underline the urgency of having the Petroleum Industry Bill passed and signed to law. As it is capped with provisions, programmes that are development-based/focussed as well as tackle other developmental challenges within the region.

Going by what industry watchers are saying, the Bill if passed to law will engineer development of host communities in ways that entails all-encompassing improvement, brings a process that builds on itself and involves both individuals and social change. Attracts growth and structural change, with some measures of distributive equity, modernization in social and cultural attitudes, foster a degree of transformation and stability, bring an improvement in health and education and an increase in quality of lives and employment of the people.

This claim is more pronounced in sections on community relations provisions such as Section 241 which among other provisions  mandates that Settlors (a holder of an interest in a petroleum prospecting licence or petroleum mining lease or a holder of an interest in a licence for midstream petroleum operations, whose area of operations is located in or appurtenant to any community or communities) shall incorporate a trust for the benefit of the host communities for which the settlor is responsible (“host community development trust”). The constitution of each host community development trust, the bill added, shall provide that the applicable host community development trust fund be used exclusively for the implementation of the applicable host community development plan.

There is also another ingrained way of how the Bill will assist in clearing the Augean Stable in Niger Delta. This has to do with the Prohibition of Gas Flaring in section 104.  Going by its provisions, the Bill in a bid to fulfill its obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and similar Conventions, demands strict adherence to a gas flaring plan. A licensee or lessee, it explained, producing natural gas is expected to, within 12 months of the effective date; submit a natural gas flare elimination and monetisation plan to the Commission, which shall be prepared in accordance with regulations made by the Commission under this Act. A Licensee or Lessee who fails to adhere to the provision shall pay a penalty prescribed pursuant to the Flare Gas (Prevention of Waste and Pollution) Regulations.

With these and other provisions, there is no doubt that if the Federal Government is interested in serving and saving the people of the Niger Delta region, they are left with no other option than to pass and sign the PIB to law. Since its objectives will foster sustainable prosperity within host communities and provide direct social and economic benefits from petroleum operations to host communities while enhancing peaceful and harmonious co-existence among licensees or lessees and host communities.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; [email protected]. Or  08032725374.

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