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PIB and Environmental Justice in Host Communities

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Since the much-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) was passed, various reactions have trailed itfrom it being hailed as legislation that will positively transform the Nigerian oil and gas sector, to being condemned for coming too late.

One of the major criticisms is the diminutive percentage of the operating expenditure of upstream companies to be fed into the host community development fund, which has been pegged at 3%, a percentage widely believed to be too little.

According to Joseph Obele, Chairman of the Rivers State Chapter of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), “The PIB has been passed into law leaving the host communities with only 3%…this is indeed unfair to us and is not good news and we are not greeting this move with open arms.”

Additionally, the Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, has said the bill does not reflect the long clamour by the people of the region for equity, fairness, and justice. In a speech he delivered in Abuja, he indicated that the Niger Delta region, which has most of the host communities, would deny international oil companies entry into the region, should the National Assembly fail to reverse the passed Bill.

On the other hand, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari, has indicated that his preference would have been for the Bill to reflect the 2.5% that was in the earlier version, saying that it was sufficient to deliver value to the host communities.

These contentions, alongside the unpleasant history, that the Niger Delta region has experienced, raise the issue of environmental justice. While environmental justice is not a popular topic in the Nigerian oil and gas industry, as many have often associated it with environmental hazards suffered by communities of colour on account of racial inequalities, it is simply a concept that calls into question the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens and is especially important for communities in the Niger Delta that have traditionally lived closest toand in fact been victims ofsources of pollution.

A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report states that there were a total of 6, 817 oil spills between 1976 and 2001 in the Niger Delta alone. Another research revealed that an average of 240,000 barrels of crude oil is spilled in the Niger Delta every year. The Ogoni oil spill too is yet to be remediated 31 years later, and has even been described by the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, as a “scam.”

These spills have polluted water bodies, killing marine life and affecting sources of livelihood for community dwellers. The ingestion and inhalation of flared gas and spilled crude, which has seeped into groundwater, has also resulted in severe health challenges and death. One study showed that nearby oil spills that occur before conception increase neonatal mortality by 38.3 deaths per 1,000 live births.

No better situation than that in the Niger Delta screams “environmental justice.” Yet, it appears environmental justice concerns were not a consideration in the deliberation that produced the PIB. A 3% allocation is no doubt, meagre, yet had the PIB put in place relevant environmental justice provisions and protections, this might not be much of an issue.

With a new law for Nigerian oil and gas about to emerge, there are key environmental justice questions: What are the protections for vulnerable, minority, often underprivileged host communities? Are there safeguards to ensure their interests are well represented and catered to in citing of infrastructure, greenfield development or continued exploration activity in their communities? Are the development, safety and environmental health of these communities a key part of the Bill? Does the Bill at least suggest these structures will be put in place?

The Niger Delta community is all too familiar with getting the short end of the stick in oil and gas exploration; suffering environmental hazards while those responsible are far away. The poor representation of their interests played out in the Senate proceedings that produced the Bill, where the rest of the Senate urged Senator George Sekibo from Rivers State to withdraw his motion calling for a division, when the 3% was proposed. It is a legitimate concern that this disregard has continued upon the passage of the Bill.

While the Bill has now left the National Assembly, there is no saying that there cannot be follow-up regulations, rules or directives from the Department of Petroleum Resources on environmental justice concerns that will adequately address the concerns of the region. It is hoped that this PIB will not brew another round of restiveness in the Niger Delta region engendered by dissatisfaction with the Bill.

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