At a high-level engagement meeting with senior officials of the Imo Ministry of Petroleum Resources held on November 22 in Owerri, Imo State, SPACES FOR CHANGE | S4C shared key findings and recommendations from its latest research report “NATURAL RESOURCE AND BENEFIT-SHARING NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN HOST COMMUNITIES AND EXTRACTIVE COMPANIES: A CASE STUDY OF ASSA NORTH AND OHAJI SOUTH [ANOH] GAS DEVELOPMENT PROJECT”. The report is based on the organization’s research findings in thirteen (13) local communities in Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State, which are hosts to the companies involved in the Assa North Ohaji South (ANOH) gas development project and other major extractive projects. The ANOH gas development project was designed to process future wet gas from the upstream unitized gas fields at OML 53 & OML 21. It is one of the largest greenfield gas condensate development projects out of the seven critical gas projects in Nigeria with the expectation that future gas production from the project would supply the domestic and international markets.
This research, supported by the Ford Foundation, proceeds upon the premise that communities have a right to benefit from the immense wealth derived from natural resource extractions. As experiences from other resource-rich locales have shown, large-scale extractive investments of this nature often fail to translate into long-term sustainable development for the host communities if not managed properly. One major factor aggravating the situation is the power asymmetry characterizing the relationship between extractive companies and host communities, which disempowers the latter from participating meaningfully and benefitting from these investments. This project represents a bold attempt to change the lopsided power dynamics between companies and communities, to ensure that the negotiation of the costs and benefits follow a process that meets the global criteria for community participation, consultation, and free, prior, and informed consent.
Chetachi Louis Udeh, S4C’s Legal Officer (Owerri) led the delegation together with Jecinta Mbamara. The S4C team met with senior management team of the ministry – comprising the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Pat U. Ekennia; Ekwulowu Clifford (HOD Downstream), Nwachukwu Chidi (HOD DPRS), Nwankwo Mattew N. (ACIS), Ogbuji Moses. A. (HOD Admin/Finance), Okerie Bibian (PRO), and Engr. Chidoezie Okereke (HOD Upstream).
Presenting the research report to the ministry, the S4C team explained the objectives of the research, the methodology employed, key findings and recommendations contained in the study. S4C used three indicators to gauge the effectiveness of community consultation in the ANOH project: the land acquisition and compensation arrangements, extractive companies’ consultation and benefit-sharing mechanisms, and the operators’ level of compliance with environmental guidelines. Among other things, the lopsided power relations between host communities and the extractive companies were particularly evident in the negotiation of the GMOUs unilaterally drafted by the companies and handed over to the communities to sign. Communities also complained of being shut out of conversations regarding land acquisition, compensation arrangements, and resettlement plans adopted in the acquisition process. Questionnaire findings, key informant interviews and group discussions showed that communities are neither fully informed of the terms of operating licenses awarded to extractive companies nor nature of extractive activities going on around them. The research x-rayed the low environmental compliance records of extractive companies operating in Ohaji-Egbema LGA, which can wreak havoc on the local environment, destroying farmlands, aquatic life and traditional livelihoods. S4C team emphasized the need for the ministry, as a regulatory agency, to ensure that extractive operations are carried out within a framework that ensures respect for effective community participation and compliance with environmental safety guidelines and regulations.
Among other things, the report recommended greater regulatory oversight from state and federal agencies to ensure the companies’ full adherence to the provisions of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development (NOGICD) law by oil and gas companies; monitor mitigation measures proffered and approved in the environmental and social impact assessments (ESIA) reports for full implementation; and to facilitate communities’ access to these ESIA reports. Responding to S4C’s presentation, the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Mrs. Pat U. Ekennia, applauded the research findings and the recommendations for improving regulatory practices in Imo State. Noting all the observations, concerns and demands presented by S4C on behalf of the communities, she affirmed the ministry’s commitment to collaborate with S4C to both increase comnunity participation in natural resource governance and ensure meaningful engagements between host communities and extractive companies.