Bekeme Olowola: Diversity and Inclusion Critical in PIA Governance

The critical importance of diversity and inclusion in the governance of the Nigeria Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) was brought to the fore in this interaction with Bekeme Olowola, Chief Executive of CSR-in-Action, and Convener of Sustainability in the Extractive Industries (SITEI) Conference. Olowola posits that embracing diversity enhances governance effectiveness and fosters resilience and social cohesion in Nigeria’s petroleum industry. She opined that advocacy for diversity and inclusion in the governance of the Nigeria Petroleum Industry Act aligns with the imperative of promoting equitable and sustainable development in the nation’s energy landscape.

    Olowola is a highly accomplished professional and academic with an interdisciplinary focus on international business, leadership, networking and sustainability, who has been recognised for her contributions to development, including being awarded ‘Women Role Model in Mining and Geosciences’ by the Institute of Mining and Geosciences, ‘Sustainability Professional of the Year 2019’ and one of ‘50 Most Inspiring Nigerian Women’ by Business Day Women Hub. Bayo Akinloye brings you excerpts:

What policies has the new government introduced, and what are their implications for sustainability within the extractive industries?

Two key policies stand out: the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) and the National Gas Expansion Programme (NGEP). The PIA was a long-awaited legislation that was finally enacted in 2021, overhauling the oil and gas sector’s legal and regulatory frameworks. Its aim is two-pronged: attracting investment and ensuring communities benefit from resource extraction. While praised for boosting transparency and efficiency, some aspects, like host community share allocation and environmental standards, require further scrutiny.

Also, the FG launched NGEP in 2020 to focus on unlocking Nigeria’s vast gas potential. By promoting domestic gas use in power generation, transportation, and other sectors, it aims to create jobs, lower emissions, and enhance energy security. The NGEP’s strategic value for economic diversification is widely recognised.

CSR-in-Action launched the PIA Research Report during the recently concluded SITEI Conference. Can you provide further insights into the report?

The PIA research endeavours to furnish crucial perspectives on its advancement, possibilities, and hurdles in execution, with a particular focus on its impact on women, a pivotal stakeholder demographic. The researchers, including leading professors and academics in Nigeria and the US, proffer suggestions on how this act can serve as a catalyst for uniform, fair, and resilient progress.

Since it was signed into law in 2021, the PIA has been a significant document addressing challenges in Nigeria’s oil sector. It aims to spread the benefits more evenly and overcome regulatory bottlenecks, and sensible institutions in the space are scrambling to comply with the directives in all of its five chapters. While there is no provision addressing women specifically, their issues are covered under the First Commission, which emphasises environmental aspects. The research assesses the extent of PIA implementation within communities, awareness levels for the Act, the government’s support of the process, and the intentional inclusion of the community in general, and women in particular, in decision-making.

How significant is the information presented in the PIA research report for individuals, organisations, and Nigeria’s development?

This research report holds significant value for a variety of stakeholders. As a first-of-its-kind study, it establishes a vital baseline for future evaluations of the PIA’s impact on governance. By highlighting the current situation, it empowers individuals and organisations to make informed decisions and hold relevant parties accountable.

For organisations operating within the extractive industries, the report provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of their engagement with host communities. This knowledge allows them to identify areas for improvement and ensure that their practices align with the principles of the PIA. Individuals in these communities, particularly women, are now equipped with a greater understanding of the act and its potential benefits for their lives. This newfound awareness empowers them to advocate for their rights and ensure their voices are heard.

While the PIA’s current wording lacks explicit provisions for gender inclusion, the research report underscores the importance of addressing this gap. By raising awareness of this issue and its potential impact on the success of the act, the report catalyses further dialogue and policy development. Ultimately, a truly inclusive implementation of the PIA is critical for unlocking the full potential of the extractive industry and fostering sustainable development across Nigeria.

Considering the research findings, what specific actions would you propose to enhance women’s inclusion in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector?

Firstly, raising awareness of the existing systematic exclusion of diverse groups of community persons is imperative for instigating change. This awareness is crucial for any transformative initiative. The petroleum industry plays a pivotal role in Nigeria’s socio-economic development, affecting the livelihoods of millions of people across the country. An inclusive governance approach ensures that the voices and interests of all stakeholders, including local communities, especially women, youth, and minority groups, are considered in policy formulation and implementation.

This not only promotes social justice but also mitigates the risk of marginalisation and conflict in resource-rich regions.

Education also plays a pivotal role; there is a need to encourage women and girls to venture into STEM fields to acquire technical expertise. The legislature should still consider updating the PIA to explicitly incorporate gender considerations. Moreover, older and professional women in these communities should actively advocate for inclusion in community affairs. Offering the girl child more opportunities for growth and development and fostering skills such as management, communication, and negotiation is crucial, ensuring they are well-equipped for participation in significant decision-making forums.

How has SITEI evolved since its inception in 2012?

SITEI started as a one-off workshop that brought together stakeholders from various sectors to discuss issues related to sustainability in the extractive industries (oil, gas and mining), following a short conversation with the then deputy high commissioner of Canada at the 17th Nigeria Economic Summit in Abuja. Over the years, SITEI has evolved into a major annual conference in the extractive sector, offering a platform for influential stakeholders, captains of industries, and community representatives to gather, share insights, and join forces in crafting strategies for the preservation of both a thriving environment and a sustainable industry.

It has also birthed other transformational projects and tools, such as SITEI-Woman, our Earth Women Documentary, ‘Things Dey Happen’ radio play (in Hausa and English), the Community and Human Rights (CAHR) Awards Africa, and the Community Engagement Standards (CES); all available for public consumption.

By prioritising diversity and inclusion in the governance of the Nigeria Petroleum Industry Act, policymakers can ensure that the industry operates in a manner that is transparent, accountable, and responsive to the needs of all stakeholders. This, in turn, contributes to the long-term stability, resilience, and prosperity of Nigeria’s petroleum sector and the broader economy.

What is SITEI’s current status in terms of its vision and mission?

SITEI is still committed to its vision of being the leading platform for promoting good environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices in the petroleum, gas and mining industries in Nigeria. Its mission is to facilitate dialogue, collaboration, and innovation among key groups to address the critical challenges and opportunities facing the extractive sector.

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