Leveraging Partnerships for Success in Empowering Oil-Rich Communities

Leveraging Partnerships for Success in Empowering Oil-Rich Communities

Adaora Okoye

In the 1950s, the discovery of crude oil was a turning point for Nigeria. The nation’s largely agrarian economy fell back to the rising demand for fossil fuels. Decades later, Nigeria has grown to be the largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. From the outside looking in, ours is a success story– until you look deeper. 

Oil Spill in Ibeno Atia, Rivers

Nigeria has the highest number of poor people in the world after India. This is a sharp contrast to the sheer amount of revenue that has been raked in via foriegn exchange. The oil and gas sector continues to be the major driver of the Ngerian economy, accounting for over 95 percent of export earnings and accounts for over 50 percent of government revenues.

This raises several questions about governance, public accountability and transparent resource management. Why does an oil-producing country generating huge revenues (over USD 32.6 billion in 2018) have over 86.9 million people living in poverty?

One may argue that those who bear the highest burden of our sojourn in crude oil extraction are the communities where oil is produced. The Niger-Delta region accommodates mining companies whose activities have proven detrimental in most aspects. Residents suffer environmental degradation, pollution of land and rivers that previously served as lifelines for the local economy. Thus, the people remain poor; almost completely excluded from enjoying the wealth obtained. 

Imagine a young man in Delta State that comes from a family of fishermen. Growing up, he learned how to fish from his father and decided to continue in this line of work. But there’s a problem: the rivers he knew have been slowly contaminated by hydrocarbon spillages caused by ineffective regulations and non-standard crude oil refiners. A 2014 study showed that these hydrocarbons are the biggest threat to Niger- Delta inhabitants.  

Local farmers are not spared. Increased soil toxicity has had devastating effects on Saltwater Wetland Ecosystems. Hydrocarbon spillages not only reduce land productivity but also crop yield and the annual income of farmers. With the land and the water poisoned for humans and animals, it is no surprise that some young people in the region turned to militancy as a way to obtain justice. 

Emboldened by its experience in oil-rich grassroots communities, leading Civil Society Organisation, Connected Development (CODE) identified this scenario as a nod to the lack of inclusive and transparent governance in Nigeria. CODE has been actively working with stakeholders to ensure that the everyday citizen, especially those in the hinterlands, knows how to track government allocation and expenditure meant for the development of the region. 

NOSDRA team inspecting oil spill in rural Rivers State. Photo by Ubong, CODE’s State Lead

Understanding the importance of partnerships and leveraging it to regain the trust of citizens in public services, CODE collaborated with government agencies and regulators in the oil and gas sectors like the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and community governance structures,  to foster better engagement between these regulators and Community Development Committees and ensure that local interests are fully represented. 

An instance of  CODE leveraging partnerships for success is during our recent training of Community Development Committee (CDC) members on accountability and transparency in Akwa Ibom  State where we hosted the Department of Petroleum Resources, Academia, OXFAM Team, Facility for Oil Sector Transformation (FOSTER), Oil and Gas Companies and the Ministry of Environment and Petroleum Resources. Participants learnt the process of reporting oil spills; engaging with the appropriate agencies who will then set up a joint investigative team made up of regulators, host community, spill owner and the police. Since the session, CODE has regularly received reports of oil spills from community reporters like in Atia, Akwa Ibom State. 

At the event, NOSDRA also emphasised the impact of third party interference on pipelines in host communities and the economy. Local residents must play a part in discouraging pipeline vandalism. We went on to hold a stakeholder’s parley in the same State that went so well that NOSDRA reached out to appreciate the CODE team for support provided in hope of working together again in future. 

Recording such milestones enables the team to not only strive harder but create effective processes that achieve results. If citizens in oil rich states are equipped with the right tools to enable them to hold the government accountable, this will help check the activities of these extractive companies and call public attention to ongoing issues. All hands must be on deck.

Connected Development is an initiative that is passionate about empowering marginalised communities.

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