SPACES FOR CHANGE | S4C hosted a luncheon on Friday, August 27, in honor of veteran journalist, Joel Nwokeoma, on his birthday to recognize his outstanding contributions to social justice and the work of the civil society in Nigeria. Basking in the euphoria of refreshment, fun and repose, senior media practitioners and top editors of major news outlets in Nigeria who attended the event took turns to recount their personal experiences of Joel’s leadership skills, adaptability, and dedication to courageous journalism. They also seized the opportunity to deliberate on the findings of S4C’s latest research report, titled, “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’’. Joel Nwokeoma hails from Assa in Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area (LGA) of Imo State, where the ANOH Gas Development project is located.
Using the ANOH Gas Development Project as a case study, the Ford Foundation-supported research report examined the effectiveness of the community engagement practices, the land acquisition deals and the negotiation of natural resource benefits between extractive companies and their host communities. The $700 million project operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited (SPDC) and Seplat Petroleum Development Company (SEPLAT) has been described as one of Nigeria’s major infrastructure development initiatives designed to reverse the country’s energy poverty and close the demand-supply gap in the domestic gas market.
As experiences from other resource-rich locales demonstrate, large-scale extractive investments of this nature often fail to translate into long-term sustainable development for host communities, if not properly managed. In the case of the ANOH gas development project, the research findings captured some of the good practices by SPDC and SEPLAT such as the adoption of stakeholder engagement and community development culture. It also noted some challenges like the information and power asymmetry between companies and communities, which lowers the ability of local representatives to negotiate better deals for their communities. Not only that, community members lack technical knowledge of industry operations and the associated environmental impacts.
This deficiency in knowledge is often reflected in the negotiation processes where communities sign on to Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMOUs) unilaterally drafted by oil companies without seeking expert counsel to either interrogate the drafts or to ensure they adequately capture their needs, interests and priorities. Consequently, most of the development projects implemented by oil companies under the auspices of GMOUs barely reflect the needs of the different communities with the result that numerous community infrastructure development projects—such as cottage clinics, town halls, market stalls—constructed by oil companies have fallen into ruins despite the good intentions behind their creation.
Reacting to the report findings, the media practitioners again, took turns to appreciate the thorough research conducted by S4C. The editors also emphasized the need for organisations like S4C to collaborate with the media to intensify and amplify the demand for accountability from governments and companies over extractive operations, revenue and expenditure. One of the editors urged S4C to beams its search light on Enyigba community in Ebonyi State and other south-eastern communities plagued with similar challenges arising from extractive activities in the region. The luncheon ended with the collective resolve by editors to heighten empowerment and civic engagement on issues affecting the activities of extractive companies and their management of natural resources in poor communities across the country.