Traditional leaders, youth and women leaders play important role as spokepersons in the Niger Delta region generally, especially in oil producing communities. Their voices are important in the discussions and advocacy on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), hence the need to meet with them and apprise them with the key issues and provisions of the Bill that could potentially impact on their wellbeing and livelihoods. For this reason, Spaces for Change (S4C) and members of the PIB Advocacy Working Group convened series of community sensitization workshops, group discussions and policy dialogues with the target groups across oil producing communities within the 6 major states in the Niger Delta: Edo (Delta State); Port Harcourt (Rivers state), Warri (Delta state), Yenagoa (Bayelsa state), and Calabar (Cross River state).
Decades of poorly-regulated oil exploration and production in the oil-rich Delta have resulted in oppressive levels of poverty and environmental devastation. Armed with its recently-released PIB Resource Handbook, S4C and the PIB Working Group further undertook assessment missions to oil producing communities across the Niger Delta in order to gain an updated knowledge of the situation in those areas, and help shore up awareness of the PIB provisions on the environment and community participation in the oil and gas industry. Obtaining feedback from these constituencies is considered key to the empowering communities to actively participate in the ongoing oil sector reforms, especially in the formulation of policies and programs that dictate the rules for social and economic interaction in the Nigerian oil and gas sector.
The series of community meetings brought together a broad range of local stakeholders, including community leaders, fishing associations, youth groups, provincial government officials, and local civil society organizations. Participation in the policy legislative process entails different roles and responsibilities at different levels and requires creation of spaces and possibilities for people to be actively involved, both in the framing of the policies and in the actual processes of implementation. Direct involvement in the legislative process makes it easier for communities to anticipate and prepare for the economic and environmental impacts of potential investments after the Bill is passed into law.
Evidence of enthusiasm and deep interest in the issues discussed are seen in the flood of questions asked during the plenary session in Ijaw, Ekik, pidgin and English languages. As with many local communities S4C had visited such as Ogoni in Rivers State, concerns were raised about the administrative structure of the HCF, the out-of-date oil compensation regime and access to effective remedies for oil pollution. The team took testimonies from different individuals and interest groups deeply aggrieved by the extreme levels of environmental devastation in the region, with spiraling effects on public health, drinking and food sources. The least desirable was a continuation of the present, where government takes a top-down approach to issues affecting oil producing areas, and communities’ land and environmental rights remain unclear or ignored.
Below are photos of the community engagement on the PIB held in Ikot Nakanda in Akpabuyo Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State on Saturday, July 6,2013.