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Niger Delta activists fear PIB could trigger instability in host communities

The bill requires oil companies to establish a host community trust fund but puts hosts themselves in the back-seat.

• October 8, 2020
A Niger Delta community
A Niger Delta community used to illustrate the story [Photo Credit: Ijaw Nation Forum]

A pressure group named Niger Delta Congress (NDC) has rejected a part of the new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which requires oil companies to create a trust fund for host communities and contribute 2.5 percent of their annual operating expenditure to this fund.

That will be 2.5 percent of what it annually costs an oil company to operate its facilities in the host communities for which a trust fund has been created.

Speaking with Peoples Gazette on Wednesday, the NDC acting president Saatah Nubari described the proposed amount as “infinitesimal”.

“2.5 percent is not good enough. It is an insult to host communities. Even the previous PIB sent to the National Assembly [in 2018] had a [better] provision…” Mr. Nubari said.

He said the PIB is a distraction from the Niger Delta’s struggle for resource control and environmental justice.

The new PIB requires oil companies to establish a host community development trust or risk losing their license or lease. A company will have the power to set up a board of trustees to govern the trust and manage its fund. This appears to put affected communities in the back-seat.

Mr. Nubari said, “The communities [will] have no power. The oil companies [will] control the entire decision making process, including the selection of board members. It is a call to anarchy. There will be inter-communal clashes as each community will do all it takes to drag attention to its own needs.”

The bill also prescribes a punishment for communities where oil facilities are vandalised.

It says, “Where in any year, an act of vandalism, sabotage or other civil unrest occurs that causes damage to petroleum and designated facilities or disrupts production activities within the host community, the community shall forfeit its entitlement to the extent of the cost of repairs of the damage that resulted from the activity with respect to the provisions of this Act within that financial year.”

That part of the bill could punish ordinary residents of host communities who have no hand in vandalism or civil unrest.

Port Harcourt-based activist Ken Henshaw told Peoples Gazette, “It is criminal and deceitful to expect unarmed community members to protect oil installations.

“A lot of the destruction that happens to oil facilities are not really engineered by community members. Yes, we recognise that there’s oil theft happening in the Niger Delta, but the dynamics of oil theft needs to be understood.

“Gone are the days when oil theft was being perpetuated by communities. Oil theft is now a massive multinational and multifaceted enterprise where criminals from [outside] come and participate. So, to blame the entire gamut of oil theft on host communities which are not armed or paid to protect oil facilities is criminal.”

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