On the 1st of September, 2023, We the People hosted a webinar with communities, experts and CSOs to dissect the Petroleum Industry Act; an Act often hailed as a model for driving benefits to oil producing communities. The Nigeria Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) was enacted in August 2021 with the objective of creating a more conducive environment for leveraging the developmental advantages of the hydrocarbon industry and addressing longstanding issues faced by communities affected by oil and gas extraction activities. The enactment of the Act also brought to a close about 20-years of effort to establish a framework for reforming Nigeria’s oil and gas industry. Industry experts describe the PIA as one of the most audacious efforts to overhaul the petroleum sector in Nigeria by providing the needed legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the smooth operation of the sector.
However, since its enactment, the Act has come under heavy criticisms for lacking provisions for ecological protection; with critics arguing that it inadequately addresses the concerns of oil-producing communities, potentially sidelining them in critical decision-making processes. Community welfare and participation, ambiguous provisions and over centralization of power were some of the pressing concerns raised by community members, stakeholders, and civil society organisations at the webinar.
In his presentation, the Executive Director of We the People, Ken Henshaw, questioned the true beneficiaries of the Act, positing that it was enacted more in favor of the oil companies than the communities that host them. Ken Henshaw highlighted the deliberate exclusion of host community members in pivotal decision-making processes; citing the potential for the Act to foster conflicts between host communities and oil companies. He pointed out Sections 16 of the Regulation and 242 of the Act conferring overreaching powers to the oil companies to establish and manage the Board of the Host Communities Development Trust. These sections grant oil companies extensive powers, including selection process of trustees, deciding procedures for meetings and finances, and to unilaterally decide remuneration, discipline and removal of a trustee, amongst others. He warned that sidelining the host communities from having a substantial say in matters directly affecting them, could breed conflict, fostering an environment of distrust and potential disputes. He concluded by bringing to fore the critical question of whether the Act truly serves as a tool for equitable distribution of resources and environmental protection, or if it is merely a legal instrument that further entrenches the interests of oil companies at the expense of local communities.
In his remark, renowned environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey, raised concerns over the global context of extractivism, with a particular focus on its repercussions in the Niger Delta. A critical point raised in discussion was the prioritization of oil companies’ wealth over the welfare of communities where they operate. The environmentalist argued that these corporations often prioritize their profit margins and over the well-being of oil producing communities and the environment.
During his presentation, Barr. Courage Nsirimovu of the People’s Advocate, raised a red flag over the provisions of section 257 of the Act, which is perhaps, the most absurd provision in the Act. The lawyer and environmentalist argued that while Section 257 of the PIA introduces punitive measures, ostensibly aimed at curbing oil theft and vandalism, it essentially criminalizes oil-producing communities. Furthermore, the failure of the Act to differentiate between the actions of a few individuals and the community at large paints oil-producing communities with a broad brush of criminality; thereby setting a dangerous precedent where entire communities could potentially be criminalized for the suspected the actions of a few.
The webinar ended with a resounding call for the government to revisit and review the Act to better prioritize the welfare of oil-producing communities. We the People and partners announced their decision to challenge sections of the PIA in court if legislative action is not taken to expunge the contentious sections of the Act. They revealed that moves are underway to file a court case aimed at expunging absurd and criminal provisions in the Act.