Alone, in collaboration with the Bayelsa NGO Forum (BANGOF), is organising the Nigeria Resource Justice Conference in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, today, Friday, July 29, 2022, as part of activities to promote citizens’ and communities’ participation in actions that defend human rights and livelihoods in the sites of petroleum extraction in the Niger Delta basin. The conference will focus on the opportunities and challenges of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021 for addressing communities’ environmental, health and livelihood concerns.

Oil and gas extraction sites in the Niger Delta are among the world’s most polluted areas, as confirmed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). For decades, Communities in the sites of extraction have suffered impoverishment and other adverse economic and health consequences. While the companies’ environmental records are worsening, other activities, including artisanal refineries and state security operations, exacerbate pollution and increase the spectre of violent conflicts.

In the absence of proper coordination between federal, state and oil companies, community development initiatives have often failed to ameliorate the adverse impacts of the petroleum industry. Instead, oil companies and federal agencies have tended to promote divisions and conflicts within and between communities.

Opportunities and Challenges of the PIA 2021

Following years of agitation for a new legal regime for the Nigerian petroleum industry, the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) was enacted in 2021. The PIA 2021 has wrought far-reaching changes in the governance, and regulatory architecture of the oil industry as the government of Nigeria seeks to boost the profitability and revenue potentials of the industry. Beyond improving government revenue, the Niger Resource Justice Conference 2022 will examine how the PIA could advance environmental protection and remediation agendas or not.

Concerning the host communities, the PIA stipulates the formalisation of oil companies’ practices related to “the Development of Host Communities”, including establishing trusts for the domiciling of companies’ payment for community development. The companies have already started working towards establishing the trusts and appointing members to management and advisory bodies of the trusts. However, could the sweeping powers provided to companies in setting up the various institutions to be created for the communities further disempower and engender the divisions and conflicts between communities? Is there a role for state and local governments in conflict prevention?

Criminalising Host Communities

The PIA 2021 places the responsibility of policing petroleum infrastructure on the host communities. With petroleum companies often claiming sabotage of their facilities, even when the evidence suggests the contrary, is there a possibility that communities would be denied their entitlements at the whims of companies? How do communities respond to the security burden?

Conference Context and Objectives

The Nigeria Resource Justice Conference, 2022 provides a platform for interaction among community members and leaders, citizens groups, scholars and government agencies to examine the PIA 2021 and identify opportunities for advancing environmental protection, community livelihoods and human rights.