Policy Alert, a civil society organization working to promote economic and environmental justice in Nigeria, has faulted the guidelines for the oil and gas marginal field bid rounds being used by the Department for Petroleum Resources (DPR) for its ongoing pre-qualification exercise.
Speaking during a meeting with representatives of oil and gas host communities in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, Wednesday, the civil society group’s Programme Lead for Extractives and Open Data, Iniobong Usen, expressed concern on the continued relegation of community rights to the background in Nigeria’s oil and gas business, adding that the current marginal bid rounds was a missed opportunity to prioritize the development of host communities as a precondition for awarding oil and gas exploration and production licenses.
He said: “In a feeble attempt to address the development of host-communities, the DPR Guidelines for the ongoing marginal field bid rounds state that “consideration shall be given for host community/state participation, as well as commitment to social project and/or proposal aimed at the socio-economic development of the populace”. This language is rather minimalist and non-committal, provides too much latitude to potential awardees, and would end up encouraging them to pay lip service to the rights of communities.
“Owing to the unrestrained underdevelopment and degradation of host and impacted communities, it is our view that the DPR should have put in place a more stringent prerequisite regarding the development of host communities which legally mandates oil and gas companies to create and implement development agreements with host communities. Given that the bid round is happening within a challenging post COVID-19 economic context, with downward oil price trends, reduction in global consumption, and other market factors, leaving community development considerations to the discretion of awardees as the DPR Guidelines have done at a time like this poses a serious risk as such social and community considerations may be pushed to the backseat by the successful bidders. With government policy looking in the direction of reduced production costs, it is important to forestall any situation that could result in social tensions with host communities and invariably spike production costs.”
Usen added: “Furthermore the DPR guidelines states that license holders shall be responsible for community development activities as well as managing interfaces and relationships with host communities. The Federal government of Nigeria cannot completely absolve itself of its responsibility to develop host communities of oil and gas producing assets in Nigeria. While awardees should be obligated to engage with their host communities, what the Community Development/Relationship requirement in the DPR guidelines does is to transfer the obligation of government to develop host communities to oil and gas companies. The Nigerian government collects taxes, royalties, fees, and production entitlements from oil and gas companies; hence, it cannot abdicate its role as the principal duty bearer with regard to host communities.”
He concluded: “It will be necessary for the DPR to adopt higher standards in the community engagement requirements for the ongoing pre-qualification of companies. This would promote host community participation, commitment to social development, protection of the local environment and conflict mitigation. If the Nigerian government really intends to promote investments and maximize revenue from the oil and gas sector, it needs to provide a peaceful and secure environment for investors to do business. To make matters worse, the current uncertainty around the Petroleum Industry Bills, especially its host and impacted communities component, remains a huge disservice to the communities. A peaceful and secure business environment can only be attained if the communities and ecosystems hosting Nigeria’s oil and gas assets are respected and accorded a fair share of benefits from their natural resources”