Right from the day oil was discovered in Nigeria in 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta after half a century of exploration by Shell-BP, and the nation joined the ranks of oil producers in 1958, the region, due to lack of effective legislative framework that provides strong source of remedy for individuals and communities negatively affected by oil exploration and production in the coastal communities, has witnessed fierce wars between ethnic and social forces in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
As a direct consequence, a long dark shadow has been cast on the efforts of successive administrations to improve the well-being and economic development of the region’s individual, peoples and community.
To solve this development challenge, the outgone 8th Assembly (House of Representatives in 2017 and the Senate in 2018), considered an Executive Bill entitled; Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), made inputs and passed same to law in 2018. But President Muhammadu Buhari refused to sign it to law saying that the new Bill if signed is capped with clauses/provisions that will whittle his power.
But a few months ago, the President Buhari re-presented to the 9th NASS, a similar Bill christened: Petroleum Industry Bill 2020.
The Bill from what analysts are saying is laced with the capacity to usher a new vista of opportunity for stakeholders, including communities, to participate and engage in the scheduled legislative processes, in order to ensure that the persisting regulatory gaps identified are plugged. This is in addition to the fact that its Environmental Remediation Fund is also a laudable feature of the PIB and this particularly responds to the growing clamour by environmentally-degraded communities in the Niger Delta for the clean-up of their polluted lands and water sources.
On its dark side, it is evident that the bill’s major flaw is ‘the non-inclusive arrangements proposed for the administration of the Host Community Development Trust. The planned framework for delivering community development trusts is neither empowering nor beneficial to oil producing communities. It not only relegates host and impacted communities to the role of mere spectators in the management of the trusts, but also overlooks the existing community structures.
From these sad revelations, the GbaramatuVoice is tempted to pose the following questions; Is the Bill not another palliative that cures the effect of an ailment while leaving the root cause to thrive? Or another Greek gift from the Federal Government to the people of the Niger Delta? Are the people of the region aware of this latest Bill by the National Assembly? Are they aware of its provisions? What is the state Government doing to represent the interest of the people from the region? What about the media, the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the socio-cultural organizations from the region? Have they created enough awareness concerning the new Bill? Are they not failing the people of the region by this undeserving silence?
As GbaramatuVoice leaves Mr. President, Timipre Sylva, Ministers of Petroleum and the Minister for State (Petroleum), respectively and other stakeholders mentioned above to ponder on these questions, the Newspaper must quickly add that there is urgent need to make the operational environment of the industry players peaceful by recognizing the Niger Delta as a special area for purposes of development. This demand cannot be described as unfounded as it is historically based, logical and factually supported.
As a background, it is in the news that the Colonial government long before independence, the colonial masters/overlords, identified the Niger Delta as a troubled spot, and recommended to the then Federal Government that the region be regarded as a special area for purposes of development.
And it is the newspaper’s opinion that the Federal Government’s inability to treat the region as such set the stage for and nourished the restiveness in both the region and the petroleum sector. And except Mr. President takes action in this direction via adherence to the above age-long advice, the region may continue to witness hostilities.
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