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Clearing Niger Delta’s augean stable

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Niger Delta

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

TO buttress the imperatives of Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, practice to the nation, 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 recognise 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’ include tackling youth’s unemployment/restiveness, insecurity, environmental pollution and degradation, poor funding of education, hyper inflation 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. Some organisations 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 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 demonstrate the ‘conviction’ that so far the eggs are secured, the condition of the goose that laid the eggs becomes secondary.

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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 Delta 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, is beginning to receive attention of the IOCs operating in the area.

Going by what industry watchers are saying, the Petroleum Industry Bill if passed to law will engineer development of host communities in ways that entails all-encompassing improvement, bring out a process that builds on itself and involves both individuals and social change.

It is also bound to attract growth and structural change, with some measures of distributive equity, modernisation in social and cultural attitudes, as well as foster a degree of transformation and stability, and an improvement in health and education, 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 the 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.

This is because 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.

Utomi, Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos, wrote via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com

Vanguard News Nigeria

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