Mobilizing Community Participation in Oil Policy Development
Traditional rulers, community representatives, youth and women leaders play important roles as spokespersons and advocates of environmental justice and sustainable development in the Niger Delta region generally, especially in oil producing communities. Helping them to understand how Nigeria‟s latest oil sector reform bill, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), responds to their environmental concerns and socio-economic priorities is a necessary step towards empowering communities and mobilizing the participation of local voices and actors in policy processes that bear direct impact on their wellbeing and livelihood. For this reason, Spaces for Change (S4C) and the PIB Advocacy Working Group (WG) embarked on an advocacy tour of the Niger Delta region, consulting extensively with local leaders and sensitizing communities across 5 major states in the Niger Delta: Edo, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa and Cross River states. 

We are proud to present a synthesis report of the field missions to oil producing communities in the Niger-Delta undertaken by Spaces for Change and the PIB Advocacy Working Group (the advocacy team) during the period of February – July 2013. 

More than five decades of commercial oil extraction in the oil-rich Niger Delta has brought impoverishment, recurrent conflict and massive human rights abuses to the millions of people living in the region. Pollution and environmental damage caused by oil industry activities have resulted in violations of the rights to health and a healthy environment, the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food and water, and the right to livelihood. Armed with its recently-released PIB Resource Handbook, S4C convened series of community sensitization meetings, shoring up awareness of the PIB provisions on the environment and community participation in the oil and gas industry. Released in April 2013, the PIB Resource Handbook is an in-depth research work, containing a detailed analysis of the PIB provisions on community participation and the environment. The meetings brought together a broad range of local stakeholders, including community leaders, fishing associations, youth groups, provincial government officials, and local civil society organizations.

The advocacy team undertook assessment missions to several oil producing communities hosting major oil installations and flow stations – operated by Shell (SPDC), Chevron Nigeria Limited, AGIP, NNPC – in order to gain an updated knowledge of the living and environmental conditions in those areas. They 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. Obtaining feedback from these constituencies is an important strategy for ensuring that the realities lived by local populations are taken into consideration during the formulation of policies and programs that dictate the rules for social and economic interaction in the oil and gas sector. Direct involvement in the legislative process also 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.

Our assessment of the living and environmental human rights situation in these communities is not exhaustive. Across all the communities visited, lack of information, exclusion from oil industry activities and environmental pollution are recurrent refrains. One thing is clear: communities need help especially from civil society and non-governmental interveners in drawing reliable scientific linkages between petroleum operations and their direct effects on the environment, water, food and health of local populations. Empowerment of local actors and citizens is necessary to enable them make informed, timely, and meaningful input and influence decisions on general policies, strategies, and programs at various levels that have environmental impacts. Evidence of enthusiasm and deep interest in the issues discussed are seen in the flood of questions asked during the plenary session in Ijaw, Efik pidgin and English languages. 

Across the local communities visited such as Ogoni (Rivers State), Ekpan, Kenyamgbene, Batam (in Delta State), Benin (Edo State), Yenagoa (Bayelsa), Ikot Nakanda, Akpabuyo (Cross 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 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 ignored.

The Open Society Initiative for West Africa supported the Oil Sector Legislative Engagement and Accountability Project (OSLEAP) under which the missions were carried out.

The full text of the mission report can be downloaded HERE 

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