The Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), has called on the 8th National Assembly to commence immediately the consideration of the Petroleum Industry Bill to check the excesses of oil companies and the harmful effects of their operations on residents in the affected parts of the country.
Dr. Godwin Ojo, Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, who made the call on Thursday at a press briefing organized at the ERA/FoEN office in Lagos, said the briefing was organized to re-awaken the consciousness of Nigerians and particularly the lawmakers on the need to commence consideration of the bill.
At the briefing, the civil group also presented its report on the Agip’s Azuzuama tragedy, which occurred on July 19, 2015, killing 14 persons, while others were burnt along the oil company’s Tebidabe-Cough Creek pipeline.
Ojo said the basis of kick-starting yet another process in the 8th National Assembly to ensure that the PIB is passed into law is hinged on the promises of Presdient Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to tackle the myriad problems besetting the Nigerian environment, especially the Niger Delta.
“Clearly, the administration has shown good example with the $10 million take-off grant for the clean-up of Ogoniland as recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report 2011, hence our conviction and hope that the PIB will also get equal attention as Executive Bill.
“The renewed call for the passage of the PIB is hinged, too, on the present administration’s change agenda and sustainable development,” he said.
As parts of ERA/FoEN’s demands to make the PIB more people oriented, the Executive Director listed powers of the minister; metering systems at the points of extraction; environmental protection; health, safety and environment; community participation as well as environmental justice, remediation and the Joint Investigation Visit process as major areas of focus.
Concerned about the need for the National Assembly to wade into action in passing the industry bill, Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director, ERA/FoEN, who decried the slow pace of legislation process in Nigeria, said that if a bill is not passed into law by the National Assembly at a particular dispensation, the process would be suspended and commence another consideration process at the emergence of a new National Assembly.
“The process involved in approving a bill usually takes a very long time. Since we have been on the fight this long and we have not prevailed despite our efforts, we won’t relent. And we are hoping also that the current National Assembly when considering the bill, would include all the requirements that we have indicated,” Oluwafemi said.
The last 7th Session of the National Assembly debates on the PIB were said to be politicized by some lawmakers at the National Assembly, who not only compromised but openly challenged pro-people provisions in the bill.
It was learned, some of them became the mouthpiece of Shell and other oil companies that threatened to pull out of Nigeria’s oil and gas operations if the PIB was passed.
In his statement, Ojo said they did not only betray the wishes of the people but succumb to cheap blackmail of the oil companies that the PIB would render the oil and gas industry unviable.
“We view their last spirited effort in the professed passage of the Bill by a few members of the House of Representatives as a mockery of legislative process. The actions were not only hypocritical and cosmetic but also face-saving hence it was roundly condemned by Nigerians.
“The bottlenecks strewn on the way of the PIB and the failure through self-censorship of the last Assembly to make the bill become law clearly showed that there were behind the scene powers at play to keep our people down,” he added.
The PIB was conceived as a conflict resolution bill to address the years of human rights violations, reckless environmental degradation and destruction of rural livelihoods of fishing and farming.
The bill was also meant to curtail frequent oil spill and an end to gas flaring, which started since 1956 when oil was discovered in the Niger-Delta region.
It was also conceived to enhance transparency and accountability in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry operations and put in place reforms to address the impunity of the oil companies.
The PIB was also meant to ensure local participation in the allocation and use of oil proceeds for rural development.
By Patrick Aigbokhan