Before some of my more jaded country people roll their eyes in derision at yet another “big paper” designed to be ignored by its originator (Government) please take time out to consider that in a democracy change must be delivered through instruments. It is to this policy or implementation framework to which we can hold the Government accountable for delivering or not delivering on its word. The late Gani Fawehimi used Nigerian law as his instrument for highlighting and fighting corruption, injustice and criminality within many administrations to great effect. Laws, policies and their implementation frameworks will not be adhered to, adapted or be successful if the very people whose lives they affect do not participate in creating them, monitoring implementation or even link them to the quality of the lives they live.
Those who clamour for change and want it delivered through instant decree type actions or authoritarian pronouncements are dragging us back to the military era we fought so hard to move away from.
Let’s talk about the Local Content Bill. The Oil and Gas Industry generates approximately 90% of Nigeria’s total national income. This multibillion dollar industry has thrived alongside rising unemployment rates, poverty and escalating discontent in the regions in which oil is extracted. Approximately $8 billion (yes $8 BILLION) annually is spent on Oil and Gas industry servicing operations alone. Very little of this money is earned by Nigerians or remains in this country despite the 2003 Local Content (LC) policy, aimed at increasing indigenous participation in the industry, reducing capital flight and growing the economy. Recently the Local Content Bill was passed and hopefully greater local participation will soon be evident if and ONLY IF the citizenry is aware of it and monitors its implementation. Though this article is really about the Petroleum Industry Bill I had to speak briefly about this as it is linked.
Everyone agrees that the way the industry is run must change. Some are interested in what they see as the more fundamental issues of “true federalism” to address injustice and I fully appreciate this concern. However my favourite proverb is “a bird in hand is the only bird” (let those in the bush concern themselves with the birds there) so I just want to focus on an opportunity before us now, the Petroleum Industry Bill.
The Petroleum Industry in Nigeria is run with 50 year old laws, characterized by impenetrable regulation, duplicated functions and taxes, and entrenched “non disclosure” clauses aiding corruption through a lack of transparency. Any industry that has such a huge impact on national earnings, security of the Nation (and the Niger Delta) and the environment deserves to be overhauled and reworked to fit a modern nation aspiring to do right by its people who currently derive little from it. But its people must engage in the process of gestation. The current situation where Oil companies and the Nigerian Government decide if, when and how to give communities their due can end once laws are in place. Unfortunately forests are being missed for mere trees. Actually in this case, leaves seem to be occupying our time.
I must digress. In 2005 I enlisted the very smart and fabulous Nneka Obiamalu to help the YES Country network analyze and simplify the National Employment Policy and disseminate it online. When we asked for a copy of the policy the Ministry of Labour people were stunned and very cooperative. In a country where every other NGO deals directly or indirectly with addressing poverty we were the first to ever ask for it!
Every interest group needs to get a copy of the Petroleum Industry Bill, analyze it from their view point and LOBBY to ensure their issues/interests are adequately captured and addressed. The Niger Delta leadership must seize this opportunity at a moment when they have great leverage. Our representatives at the house will be more effective with active contribution and engagement by their constituencies.
I was intrigued when the South- South Governors threw a wrench in the Amnesty process in July, citing amongst other things lack of inclusion of the oil producing region in the Bill, only to find out later that the Bill they must have seen was the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) memoranda prepared for submission to the house. After being acquainted with the real Bill fears where calmed. But lately the Senate Committee Chairman on Petroleum has been trading words with NNPC over circulating “fake copies” of the Bill which apparently refers to the same memoranda mistaken for the Bill. At a point NNPC was in a word slinging match with itself.
True or false, fake or real; it is unthinkable that this sort of alleged abracadabra can occur with what should be the most publicized, scrutinized and debated legislation in our recent history as a Nation. Are we serious?
Reading papers, the views most visible (underneath the smokescreens) concerning the Bill are that of oil majors in Nigeria, who feel their profits, will be reduced and have deep pockets and access to sophisticated lobbyists. It is obvious that at a pivotal moment when renewed oil bids are underway and the global economy is still fragile, powerful interests working to maintain status quo and a reliable cash cow are unhindered by our contributions.
After a recent public hearing of the bill, Femi Falana, activist, lawyer and President of the West African Bar Association noted “The chief executives of all the oil companies were personally and physically represented because they know the implications of this bill if it is eventually passed into law,” Mr Falana said. “One would therefore have expected all other stakeholders to come around and argue their case so that, at the end of the day, what will come out will reflect their interests.” www.234next.com
This scares me. Except for a few civil society coalitions focused on legislative processes, and the Labour unions, the positions of leaders engaged in the Niger Delta question or even issues such as environmental degradation, manufacturing, power generation, gender, employment, corruption or resource control are unclear.
I think 30 years military rule have deadened us to the possibility of participating in democratic processes. Do we need a publicity campaign to get us engaged in processes that address issues we expend great energy on countless platforms complaining about? Quests for change are reduced to nothing but sound bites that have little meaning when action fails to meet an opportunity for change.
How to get involved
- READ ABOUT IT. ASK QUESTIONS. DISCUSS IT. ITS NOT A TOPIC FOR THE EXPERTS. ITS A TOPIC FOR YOU!
· Request for a copy of the bill or find a breakdown from a source you trust
· Engage others with the same interests as you in analyzing it and creating a position from your view point. E.g. NGO coalitions, community groups, ethnic nationality based associations, professional groups
· Remember to look beyond promises and also scrutinize how the promises are supposed to be delivered.
· Submit your memoranda to the House of Assembly
· Drum up support and awareness about your position in the media. This is an example of one done by the CIVIL SOCIETY WORKING ON EXTRACTIVE REVENUE TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY & GOOD GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA http://tinyurl.com/ybhf6zg
Remember that this bill will have great impact on many issues; you do not have to work in an oil company, be an oil and gas contractor or even come from the Niger Delta to need to take it seriously.
If you are from the Niger Delta you have no choice but to get involved in the formulation of this bill.
If you are a Niger Delta leader (at any level, age and in any field) and have not reviewed this Bill, consulted your followership or prepared an INFORMED position please seize the moment.