Spaces for Change | S4C, in collaboration with the Government of Anambra State and the International Peace and Civic Responsibility Centre (IPCRC), convened a one-day stakeholder dialogue on Strengthening Community Engagement and Stakeholder Relations in Petroleum Resource Management on May 22, 2024. The dialogue united seventy (70) participants from the petroleum sector:  state executives, relevant state ministries and agencies, industry regulators, indigenous oil companies, traditional rulers, security agencies, academia, environmental experts, civil society leaders, women and youth representatives, host communities and the media. The dialogue was specifically organized to address pertinent issues causing rising tensions between host communities and indigenous oil companies arising from the extraction of petroleum resources in Anambra State.

At the core of the conference lay a simple yet profound objective—to provide a safe space for communities to ventilate their grievances resulting from mineral oil extraction activities in the state. Traditional rulers and community leaders narrated numerous challenges plaguing their lands: surging environmental degradation, social and economic disruptions, violent communal disputes, rising youth restiveness and the bitter sting of unfulfilled promises expressed in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2011.  Oil companies are obligated to establish the Host Community Development Trusts (HCDTs) to provide direct social and economic benefits from petroleum operations to host communities. Oil companies operating in Anambra State have not yet complied with this legal obligation espoused in the PIA.

Spaces for Change’s presentation, “Transitioning from GMOU to HCDTS: Wins, Challenges, And Further Actions, addressed the range of issues raised by aggrieved local leaders.  The presentation highlighted the legal responsibilities of petroleum companies to their host communities and offered practical recommendations that companies can adopt to fulfill their community development obligations. Additionally, S4C introduced the Community Investor Guidelines (CIG) – a tool designed to empower host communities to negotiate meaningfully with investors. The CIG clarifies the environmental rights of communities, investors’ obligations, and the numerous compliance requirements set out in an array of national legal frameworks that protect the rights of communities affected by extractive and major developmental projects. Practical examples and best practices drawn from S4C’s legal empowerment and technical support to oil-rich communities in other states helped to showcase positive outcomes of benefit-sharing negotiations and effective community engagement in petroleum resource management.

The interactive sessions that followed the technical presentations provided an opportunity for attendees to provide feedback, ask questions, and engage in no-holds-barred discussions. Host Community representatives asked specific questions regarding the health impacts of petroleum extraction activities, compensation for compulsorily-acquired lands, and community involvement in the activities of petroleum corporations. Government officials acknowledged the need for stronger regulations that enhance revenue transparency and the proper identification of oil wells that are causing environmental damage.  Oil companies discussed their community engagement strategies, environmental programs, and the steps they were taking toward establishing the HCDTs.  In response to the litany of concerns raised by communities, oil companies expressed their commitment toward addressing the impacts of their business operations on human rights of local people and collaborating with stakeholders to find sustainable solutions. More specifically, they indicated their willingness to work with S4C, and other partners, to address these concerns, through constructive dialogues, technical assistance and remediation initiatives to mitigate the impacts of oil extraction activities in Anambra State. Civil society organizations (CSOs) emphasized the importance of transparency and independent monitoring of the commitments and solutions agreed upon by stakeholders at the dialogue.

The session concluded with the creation of a multi-stakeholder platform for continuing the dialogue and collaboration. Industry regulators like the Nigeria Midstream and Downstream Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Anambra State Ministry of Petroleum and Energy Resources, Anambra State Ministry of Environment, etc. took turns to commend Spaces for Change for its unrelenting and empowering advocacy reaching marginalised populations at the grassroots and amplifying the voices of people on the margins. With the continued collaboration of all stakeholders, there is hope for a future where the voices of the communities are heard, their rights are protected, and their environment is preserved. The stakeholders’ dialogue was supported by the Ford Foundation and forms part of a broader strategy for ensuring the equitable distribution of natural resource benefits in line with the provisions of the PIA.

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