By Ruth Tene Natsa, Abuja
A group on the platform of the Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence (NDAC) has observed that the provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act , PIA (2021), especially as it relates to the Niger Delta region, does not neccessarily address the concerns of the region.
The Convergence further observed that several communities in the Niger Delta are faced with massive floods that are a direct result of climate change. They stated that since 2012, these communities are sometimes drowned yearly in over 2 meters of flood water, causing them to lose their livelihoods, and exposing them to health challenges, forced displacements, and untold hardship. Unfortunately, governments at all levels have failed to take any reasonable action to address this challenge.
In a communique signed by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Oilwatch Africa and We The People on behalf of participants and made available to EarthNews Nigeria, it stated that the NDAC made its observation at its 2nd Convergence in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Tuesday, April 25th, 2023;
The Convergence which called for an immediate audit of the Niger Delta Region alleged that several provisions in the Act actually exacerbate the region’s challenges. In particular, the Convergence notes the provisions that pass the buck of responsibility for protecting oil facilities to Niger Delta communities who must now become guards of oil company properties or they lose the paltry benefits promised in the Act.
The NDAC also observed that while Nigeria has intensified the exploration and export of liquefied natural gas, the hazardous and poisonous practice of gas flaring continues unabated and without any clear position on when it will end. The NDAC notes with sadness that the target for ending gas flaring has consistently been moved at least 8 times in the past. At the moment, all deadlines to end the practice have been abandoned, while oil companies continue to impact the health and livelihoods of the Niger Delta people through flaring.
The Convergence equally observed that despite the accrual of significant financial resources to the region, including through the 13% derivation principle, the ecological funds, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, the Niger Delta Development Commission, etc., a combination of factors including corruption, elite capture, control by the Presidency and other forms of mismanagement have ensured that the region remains largely underdeveloped and mainly lacking in infrastructure and amenities.
The convergence further discussed the state of the region after over 65 years of oil and gas exploration, and what the Niger Delta peoples must do to immediately regain their dignity and rebuild the devastated region.
It observed the disturbing trend of abandoned projects in the region by national and sub-national entities, alleging that while this trend has been fueled by corruption and brazen mismanagement, the group noted an escalating development where the craze for massive (and mostly white elephant) legacy projects by political officials have led to an unprecedented spate of abandoned projects in the Niger Delta.
According to them, “The NDDC alone has over 13,000 abandoned projects in the region, noting that not only do abandoned projects deny the people much-needed infrastructural benefits, it also represents an unproductive ‘lockdown’ of the people’s commonwealth.
Participants at the event
In its observation, the NDAC noted that major multinational oil companies that have operated in the Niger Delta region for the past 6 decades are driving a divestment programme that has seen the companies clandestinely sell off their onshore and shallow water assets in the region while claiming that they are doing so due to the ‘hostile operational environment and associated huge operational cost” they are exposed to in the Niger Delta region
The convergence alleged that this position was not only misleading but false. Adding that”. Even more worrisome is the fact that the current divestment process is shrouded in secrecy and being conducted without the knowledge or participation of the so-called ‘host communities’ whose traditional territories these companies have occupied for more than six decades.
“These companies are not only divesting; they are also abandoning derelict facilities and decades of problematic relationships developed with oil-bearing communities.
“The startling reality is that the Niger Delta has become an ecological wasteland, considerably ravaged by the heedless pollution associated with multi-national oil companies activities. The Convergence notes that the contamination of soil, air, and water has resulted in the poisoning of the inhabitants of the region, which has resulted in an alarming increase in illnesses and a drop in life expectancy considerably below the national average. Oil companies are divesting in a bid to flee the climate justice imperative of their reckless actions in the last 65 years.’ The convergence noted
Following the observations, the Convergence in its resolutions held that an immediate review of the PIA by the National Assembly to Provide a definite deadline for gas flaring by oil companies and eliminate powers to permit flaring, Review gas flare fines to reflect the same amount as the commercial value of natural gas in the international market, while transferring flare fines to host communities and also eliminate the section of the PIA that places the responsibility to protect oil installations on host communities.
The NDAC further agreed that the Niger Delta must take action, including nonviolent direct action, as well as utilizing all available legal instruments to demand justice.
They also resolved an immediate and comprehensive audit of the entire Niger Delta region to cover the environment, livelihoods, health, social and economic impacts of crude oil and gas extraction, and should be immediately followed by the decommissioning of decrepit facilities, remediation of impacted places, restoration of the human and ecological damages causes by extraction activities, and reparations for the irreversible and extensive damages caused by oil extraction.
It further called on the federal government to immediately produces a framework and guide for how oil companies disengage from areas where they have operated, while urging the government to compel divesting IOCs to fulfill all outstanding Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) and Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMoUs) obligations to communities and their environment before handing over assets to DOCs among other issues resolves reached.
Participants at the event were drawn from frontline civil society organisations, socio-cultural groups, academics, traditional rulers, and individuals drawn from the Niger Delta states of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers assembled in the city of Port Harcourt for the 2nd Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence (NDAC) for the purpose of setting a pan Niger Delta socio-ecological agenda for the new political leadership at the national and sub-national levels that would be sworn-in on May 29, 2023.
The Convergence, was chaired by His Royal Majesty, Suanu Baridam, and had a Keynote titled Looking Back and Thinking Forward: Imperatives of a New Niger Delta Agenda delivered by Professor Sofiri Peterside of the University of Port Harcourt, a panel discussion of experts, and several interventions by notable persons and interest groups in the region. The gathering thoroughly examined the critical issues facing the region, as well as the opportunities, and strategies for addressing them.