Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), an environmental pressure group dedicated to the promotion of environmentally responsible activities on Tuesday described the renamed proposed Petroleum Industry Bill currently before the National Assembly as wishy-washy.
At a one-day ‘Environmental Parliament’ on the PIB in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, ERA/FoEN’s Executive Director, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, explained that as major stakeholders in the legislative interactive process, the meeting was to aggregate the views of communities before the passage of the bill by the National Assembly.
Ojo argued that though ‘shady provisions’ such as the excessive powers granted to the petroleum minister to nominate board members, the acceptance of gifts by the minister and the president, and the award of oil blocks and contracts by the president had been removed, the bill did not meet the expectations of the oil-bearing communities.
According to the environmentalist, the document which has been renamed the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill delayed in the last National Assembly because the lawmakers succumbed to cheap blackmail by the oil companies which threatened to pull out of Nigeria.
“The bill was to serve as a conflict resolution law to ensure that the multifaceted problems of the industry, inefficiency, corruption and environmental degradation were curtailed.
“It was also to address the years of human rights violations and the clamour for environmental justice by the rural folks who are often the receivers of oil extraction impacts felt in their health, environment and livelihoods sources.
“Oil revenue allocation are often to the exclusion of rural folks and without tangible benefits, yet their rivers and farmlands are contaminated often leading to impoverishment,’’ the Executive Director argued.
He added that because there have been some resistance to the provision for 10 percent for impacted communities was not sufficient to jettison the idea, noting that the removal from the Bill was unacceptable.
“The bill has not opened up the option to scrutinise the lax environmental and operational standards and practices of the oil industry at this stage. Instead, it has mostly built on current existing and faulty laws and practices assumed as the basis of the provisions of the bill.
“By avoiding to deal directly with contentious issues of quantity and volume of oil produced and standard measurements through metering, the bill attempts to kick the can down the road.
“There is the need to expand its provisions to accommodate these issues and many more. The Bill is wishy-washy, and, lacking strong teeth to bite and address the corporate impunity pervading the oil industry,’’ ERA/FoEN noted.
In his intervention, Dr. Simon Amaduobogba, a resource person at the event, said the oil industry has made many attempts to whittle on the bill’s ability to make them accountable.
“The bill is scanty. It has 91 sections divided into five parts. The bill has nothing on what the powers of the President will be, except for the unbundling of NNPC.
“Once the current bill scales through, the lawmakers will jettison the people-centered one that the CSOs has been advocating,’’ he said.
He also criticised the bill for not having any section dealing with environmental protection, noting that the only mention of environmental issues is a mere reference to the powers of the Commission in Section 6(7).
He added that it was important to ensure that the public is given early and effective opportunity to participate in decision- making relating to operations that can potentially have significant effects on the environment.
Head, Legal Department ERA/FoEN, Chima Williams, applauded the curtailment of the powers of the Minister of Petroleum Resources under the new bill, noting that it was remarkably different from the position of the previous bills and the Petroleum Act.
Many participants who spoke at the event, also criticised the bill for being gender insensitive, too profit-driven and not taking the plight of the people in the area into consideration.