Host communities should become parties to joint venture agreements between the federal government and oil companies. This view was expressed by one of the participants at Spaces for Change (S4C) Consultative Meeting on the PIB held in Port Harcourt yesterday, Monday, February 25, 2013.
The meeting aimed to generate critical reflection and input from a wide spectrum of citizens and professionals, the civil society, industry experts on provisions of the Petroleum Industry Bill relating to the environment and community participation in the oil and gas industry.
That comment provoked intensive debate among participants comprising mainly of development experts, civil society representatives, the media and leaders of oil producing communities. More intense debate ensued on S4C's online portals on Facebook and Twitter arguing for and against the proposal for oil producing communities to take part in executing joint venture agreements. This is how a foremost environmentalist and community advocate, Ledum Mittee reacted to this proposal:
"It is imperative not only that host communities be party to the agreement to take their land for oil/gas exploitation, but they must have informed consent and participation.
As I have said repeatedly, the current situation is not different from Berlin agreements where European countries sat down with only map knowledge of African territories to share African territories. If we condemn those acts as cruel, then we must equally, if not with more force, reject the situation where a few stay in Abuja and share peoples' ancestral lands, back gardens and farmlands in the name of oil blocs at their backs.The late Abiola put the point succinctly , albeit in another context, that you cannot shave a person' s hair in his absence.
On a more pragmatic note , especially as it relates to the PIB , I have come to the view that to conduce to justice, the PIB should just cut and paste the provisions of the law relating to community participation in the Soil Minerals , i.e Section 117 of the Mines and Minerals Act 2007 making it mandatory for companies to enter into development agreements with host communities. ( Note the matters covered by the said S117 approximate to most all the sore points of community angst). Not only does this conduce to justice as host communities to extractive resources, whether solid or oil and gas should not be subjected to discriminatory treatments, but also eliminates the creation of another bureaucracy for patronage syndication, that has been our bane.
Perhaps we need to also add here that the 2007 Act also has provisions for an environmental protection and restoration fund which could be adapted into the PIB.
The current trend is now for contracts transparency, which requires that all JVs and other such agreements be published. The community needs to be ware when stuffs like water supplies are deducted not only as cost of production as well as tax rebates.
Why should communities have a front ( whether hyprep or any other " well guided [ BY WHOM?] initiatives", whatever is meant by that) or third parties between them and contracts over their resources? How do they sue on breaches of contracts that they are not parties to? The more telling point, not addressed by the suggestion on introduction of third parties derives from the hallowed legal principle: "to treat equals unequally is injustice !" Why should solid minerals hosts be treated differently from oil and gas hosts?