by Saatah Nubari
The Nigerian Senate passed its version of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill on the 26th of May 2017, a day before Children’s Day without any provision whatsoever for the previously documented and well thought out 10% for the Petroleum Host Community Fund (PHCF). It might not carry much significance to the many people who have given the Senate the usual “kudos” and “welldones”, but it is significant to me, because it was a childish move, and very insensitive to the plight of the people of the Niger Delta.
In 2012, the government of then President Goodluck Jonathan presented a draft of the Petroleum Industry Bill. The new bill came with a recommendation and provision of what was to be called the Petroleum Host Community Fund (PHCF). It seemed like a great move; a meagre 10% would be put by oil companies and the government into the host communities to help extenuate the negative effects of oil exploration in the Niger Delta. Said 10% would have gone into better health care, clean pipe borne water and also help develop the very much underdeveloped petroleum host communities in Nigeria. Tamara Owutu will refer to it as a “bribe” for the destruction of the Niger Delta environment, a moral bribe and I agree with him.
As funny as it may sound, the Chairman of the ad hoc committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill, Hon. Ishaka Bawa, argued for a “proper”definition of the “Host Community.” To cut a very long story short, he and majority of his colleagues agreed and succeeded in reducing the fund from the initial proposed 10% to 7.5%. They were not exactly done, and by the time the final whistle was blown, apart from Sokoto and Kebbi states, every other state in Nigeria was automatically a “Host Community.” Just like that, Houdini did not appear, no “jazz”, it just happened.
How a meagre 10% — more than deserved for that matter — for Host Communities delayed the passage of a bill as important as the Petroleum Industry Bill has its answer more in our ethnic divisions than in our socio-economic policy divisions. It was assumed that the Petroleum Industry Bill was too ambiguous, and for it to be effective, it had to be broken down into small manageable pieces: The Governance and Institutional Framework for Oil and Gas Bill, The Fiscal Reform Bill, Licencing Rounds Bill, and Revenue Allocation and Management Bill. Sounds like a very wonderful idea when spoken, and reads even more beautiful when in Times New Roman or Ariel or any other official font. But herein lies my problem with this very cunning and deceptive setup; the “Host Community Fund” provision is most likely to be in the Revenue Allocation and Management Bill, which happens to be the last on the list.
I felt I was the only one who noticed this, but then I came across a release by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), which happens to have the veteran environmental rights activist, Nnimmo Bassey on its advisory board. The release reads “It is expected that the fourth bill may say something about the funds for communities. Perhaps the logic is to serve the “controversial” consideration of oil field communities last with the hope that the hurdle will never be reached within the life of this government or that the controversy would have died of its own accord by such a time.”
Now, the Niger Delta, the state that would be most affected by the Petroleum Industry Bill, has nine Governors and twenty seven senators. I have purposely left the various representatives in the House out, because they are yet to pass the bill. Shocking as it is, not one out of the twenty seven senators from the nine states in the Niger Delta deemed it of any importance to speak up against the trash that is the passed Petroleum Industry Governance Bill.
Before I get back to the representatives of the Niger Delta people, let me first explain to you why the bill that was passed is trash to me; it does not even remotely positively affect the real people at the mercy of the oil companies and their violent enablers, the federal government of Nigeria. The “Governance and Institutional Framework” for the oil industry as it is called, to me, only serves the purpose of making it seamless for more deals to be cut at the expense of the Niger Delta people.
Premium Times’ investigative journalist, Nicholas Ibekwe did a special report on Ogoni and the destruction there. He documented how kids would sleep only to wake up with asthma. He documented how sources of water for whole communities were contaminated to point of having a bitter taste, but since there are no alternatives, the water as polluted as it is, is drunk with a tablespoon-full of “God na your hand i dey”. That is aside the quickly and horridly deteriorating environment of Rivers State, one that has amassed a lot of international reporting.
Now, if I were to ask you what part of the Petroleum Industry Bill you feel should be passed and assented to as a case of national emergency, what part would that be? Would it not be the part of the bill with the “Host Community Fund” to help provide palliative measures for the suffering people of the Niger Delta? Oil was first discovered in 1956, that is over sixty years this year. With life expectancy in Nigeria being 54 years, it is safe to say that a great percentage of Niger Deltans who were born during the period oil was struck in Nigeria, have either died, or are close to death. Over sixty years of continual environmental degradation, and something as intangible–but yet important–as 10% for the host communities is not a part of the first bill to be signed? That is as insensitive as insensitive can get. If there was a world of insensitive actions, the action of the Nigerian Senate on the 26th of May 2017 will most definitely earn it the status of a world power.
The numerous health,environmental and developmental issues affecting the people of the Niger Delta are issues that should be treated with urgency, being that the Niger Delta is unarguably the food basket of this entire country called Nigeria. But instead the people of the Niger Delta are treated with disdain and her issues with levity. The Senator representing me, Senator Magnus Abe, on the other hand has been incommunicado on the bill, but he was quick to defend the billions in allocation for him and his colleagues in the National Assembly.
A very happy Democracy day to the twenty seven Senators and nine governors of the Niger Delta. As they have refused to act in the best interest of the millions of Niger Deltans, they should have it in mind that very soon, they themselves will be acted upon by the very people of the Niger Delta, to whose plight they have been more of accomplices and enablers. A happy democracy day to the people of Ogoni, where I come from, who will in a few weeks time, be celebrating the one year anniversary of the “launch” of a cleanup exercise that is yet to even begin. Last but not the least, a happy Democracy day to the entire people of the Niger Delta whose nostrils and lungs have cleaned up more pollution in the Niger Delta than the federal government and her foreign and local accomplices have done.
It took 10 years to pass the first Petroleum Industry Bill, which is very worrisome. And if this pace is maintained, it will obviously take thirty more years for all three remaining bills–which will most likely have far reaching positive effects on the oil communities and the people in the Niger Delta–to be passed. We might all be dead by then.
- Saatah Nubari is on Twitter @Saatah. He can also be reached by email: Saatahnubari@gmail.com