By Ekemini Simon
Oil Producing Communities in Akwa Ibom State have called on the Akwa Ibom State Government to commence a process of communication and cooperation with the oil producing communities and oil companies toward the implementation of Host Community Development Trust.
The Host Community Development Trust was introduced by the Petroleum Industry Act (2021) to aid in the development of the economic and social infrastructure of communities in the oil and gas producing areas through an annual contribution of 3% of oil and gas companies actual operating expenditure of the preceding financial year.
The call was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of a One-Day town hall meeting held recently in Uyo on the benefit sharing frameworks with oil producing communities in Akwa Ibom State.
The town hall which was organised by Accountability Lab Nigeria in collaboration with Policy Alert drew participants from oil producing communities in Akwa Ibom State, representatives from government agencies and media institutions across the State.
Members from the oil and gas communities observed that despite the fact that the Host Community Development Trust is expected to commence operations 12 months after the PIA became an Act in August 2021, seven months after, there has been no modalities put in place by the government of Akwa Ibom State in preparation for its commencement.
They said lack of political will and poor leadership on the part of the government is a major problem militating against the development of the oil producing communities.
The communities recommended that for the oil and gas host communities not to lose out on the benefits of the Host Community Development Trust, it was imperative for the State government to immediately commence negotiations with the communities and oil and gas companies.
They noted that the need to commence negotiations now is so as to understand on time the communities eligible for the Trust hence help the communities to start putting modalities in place for those who will serve as members of the Board of Trustees, Management Committee and Advisory Committee as provided for in the Act.
The Communities observed that there is inadequate community involvement, ownership and contribution to policies, memoranda and assessments. They said this has hindered the progress in developing the Oil Producing Communities and has resulted in extreme politicization of community stakeholders engagement and a lack of respect for Local Content Laws and other extant laws governing oil and gas exploration and production.
The Communiqué added ” Excess bureaucratic bottlenecks and vague provisions in the PIA (2021) has incapacitated community members in articulating their position in the task of collective community development.
” Artificial financial constraints resulting from the Akwa Ibom State government not utilizing available funds meant strictly for the development of oil producing communities. Some of the funds accruing from the 13% Oil Derivation and the PSC Refunds have been largely misappropriated or not put to proper use.”
To address the gaps, the communities said there is urgent need for the establishment of Community Development Associations adding that existing associations should be strengthened and co-opted into advocacy to improve development efforts in the oil producing communities.
They called for more awareness creation and community engagement in the implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act and Petroleum Sharing Contract.
The Communiqué added “Stakeholders in the sector/community should embrace continuous advocacy, targeted campaigns and use of IEC instruments to sensitize the people on policy and framework of the extractives industry, especially as it concerns the PIA and PSC Refunds.”
Earlier, the Country Director of Accountability Lab, Friday Odeh said his organisation is poised on supporting change-makers at the oil and gas communities in a bid to develop and implement positive ideas for unleashing positive social and economic change especially on the implementation of provisions for the Host Communities in the Petroleum Industry Act.
Odeh said the goal of the town hall meeting is geared towards building a new generation of active citizens and responsible leaders who would champion demands and follow-ups on benefits sharing frameworks within the context of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) and the production sharing contract framework between the government and oil production companies.
He added that through the town hall, oil producing communities, the government and the civil society organisations would be better placed to appreciate the current state of environmental, social and economic degradation of oil producing communities and collectively chart a forward course to accelerated and uniform development of the communities.
The Country Director noted that at the end of the town hall, it is the expectation of the Accountability Lab that participants will be equipped with tools and improved capacities for productive and non-confrontational engagement with oil companies and government representatives, with a view to attracting and ensuring needs-based development to their communities.
On his part, the Director Monitoring and Evaluation in the Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Economic Development and Ibom Deep Seaport, Mr. Otobong Sambo thanked Accountability Lab and Policy Alert for being concerned over the development of the oil producing communities.
He assured that government will take serious the recommendations from the town hall meeting and would also be ready to collaborate with the two organisations for development issues in the oil and gas producing communities.
Meanwhile, in-depth analysis of the situation in the oil producing communities were presented during learning sessions that were facilitated by expert facilitators from Policy Alert.
Presentations included Host Communities, 13% Derivation and Accountability for Oil-Derived Receipts – facilitated by Mr. Mfon Gabriel (Designation at Policy Alert), Getting Communities Ready for PIA Implementation – What You Need to Know About HCDT – facilitated by Mr. Tijah Bolton-Akpan, Executive Director at Policy Alert and PSC Refunds: Windfall or Millstone for Benefiting States? – facilitated by Mr. Faith Paulinus (Designation at Policy Alert).
Participants were divided into 6 groups during the breakout session to deliberate on issues germane to the growth and development of the oil producing communities including achievements, challenges and suggestions for growth.