The urgency of clarifying the definition of Host Community before the Bill is Passed By Sunny Oputa
After a decade of delay in the oven and amputation into parts, with the hope of ensuring easy passage, better understanding and efficiency, the Nigerian Petroleum Industry Bill (PIGB) has come to another very critical section. This juncture could make or mar the bill as par the aspirations of the host communities or the drive to create a win-win bill that would be attractive for more investment in the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of the Nigerian economy. This cynosure of public focus and legislative ambiguity encompasses what is known in the fragmented PIGB as "the Host Community Bill" which the Senate - or the upper House of Nigerian National Assembly is pushing to pass into law this June, if all things play out accordingly.
Critical and vagaries of issues concerning host communities in the operations of oil business by the government, national oil companies and even indigenous companies has been like a "hole in the head", and arrow in the stomach and an albatross to all concern. There have been herculean complaints that much has not been done to placate and compensate communities where oil/gas is produced in Nigeria. Revenues from oil and gas have continued to be major source of revenue for the most populated African country and number one producer. Despite Nigeria been the leading nation in oil production in the continent, with massive revenue generated from the business, socio-economic development in the oil/gas producing communities in particular and the nation as a whole have been considered below average using global statistics for oil producing nations.
Although that government and oil producing companies through corporate social responsibility acts , local content policy have done a lot towards easing the poor socio-economic development or lack of infrastructures in the Niger Delta that significantly harbor most of the oil producing communities, agitations are still agog that what has been done so far are not commensurate enough to soothe the pains of these communities that have been deprived for years and infested with environmental and ecological hazards due to oil/gas operations in their areas
Engr. Simbi Wabote
Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board
These agitations and imbroglios have generated into deep unrest, colossal mutinies, emergence of various interest groups and militants in the Niger Delta leading to disruptions in oil operations, huge loss of revenue, destruction of assets , loss of lives and myriads of problems. Therefore, the imperatives of understanding and the mitigation of security risks and maintaining sustainable community relations in host communities have become germane.
One of the most recommended prognosis and panacea by various stakeholders is that involving host communities in the oil and gas operations and allied services in their communities would help to mollify the communities and catapult economic development. In the same view, are the stipulations that when host communities are involved in determining projects which companies are to render in their communities and are also stakeholders and part owners in the business, they would be prone to protect the assets as a way of dousing security risk at the minimum in those places.
Albeit, these steps as great elixir to ameliorate economic standards in the Niger Delta, the review and articulation towards passing of the Host Community Bill is still shrouded with lot of ambiguities, thereby posing a herculean challenges to international oil companies, legislators and indigenous operators. Currently, international oil companies pay 3% of their contract sum or revenue to Nigeria Content Fund. The upcoming Host Community Bill requires that oil companies will pay another 3% to the host communities where they operate, which some of the international companies see as extra burden which could hamper investment or skyrocket the cost.
While the levies may not be the excruciating part in determining how to deal with the issues of host communities, the critical ambiguity among oil companies, legislators before the bill is passed and oil communities in Nigeria, is the clear definition of what host community means and what boundary defines an area as a host community.
The definition of host community or creating boundary has remained a complex equation. Whether to determine it as where the well head was installed, where the flow station exist, pipeline and other assets passes or areas that exploration was covered , or other places within that axis that has potentials of suffering any environmental risk as a result of oil and gas production remain mind boggling.
A fascinating article in the Health of the Mother Earth Foundation site described host community beyond communities that host wells, pipelines, waste pits and other oil industry appurtenances. The article gave an incisive explanation why the definition must be broadened, showing that there are communities that do not have physical presence of oil operations, but are heavily impacted by those operations through pollutions, spillages and other ecological problems due to oil production very close to their communities.
As worrisome as this could be, some international oil companies have stretched out to also define host communities beyond jurisdiction where the physical presence of oil operations is done or directly or indirectly impacted through pollutions, spillages and other ecological hazards, but based on ethnic groups and boundaries. Therefore a host community could be defined as the Ibo community within that area impacted, same for Ijaw, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Ibibio, Efik, Edo, etc. The importance of clarifying this ambiguity towards creating a better blue print for host community bill if well articulated could also be a good step for reducing security risk and enhancing more dynamic community relations in the oil producing areas of Nigeria