Immediate past Vice President of the World Bank (African Region), Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, has urged that adequate provisions be made in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to address critical issues in the downstream sector of the Nigerian oil and gas industry.
Ezekwesili’s appeal came as the Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Hon. Dakuku Peterside, has stressed the need for an all-inclusive petroleum legislation that would not only enhance revenue generation for Nigeria, but also preserves the environment of oil bearing communities in the country.
The duo spoke at the public presentation of two books: “Niger Delta Environmental Roundtable-A Book of Readings” and “African Women Can Lead” published by the Development and Leadership Institute (DLI), a non-governmental organisation based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Specifically, Ezekwesili said the review had become necessary because the bill as presently conceived has not made adequate provisions to address some of the critical issues in the downstream sector.
Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Solid Minerals and one of the architects of the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI), drew a nexus between the current state of the petroleum sector and the socio- economic challenges in Nigeria.
She explained that much of the challenges in the country could be linked to ” oil curse”, which has alienated the people from their natural resource endowment, while making a few rich and majority of the citizens remaining poor.
According to her, though the political elite were often more concerned about the upstream sector of the oil and gas industry, the downstream sector held a greater potential to impact positively on the lives of the citizenry because of its capacity to address issues such as energy availability, citizens access to power and the spiral effect of these on the economy.
“As long as the citizens do not yet feel the impact of their natural resource endowment, to that extent would they be too fragile as participants in the process of determining the benefits due them. Unwittingly, that exclusion from benefiting from their natural resources has created the basis for the citizens to participate in the process of degradation of the environment.
Here you are with a non-renewable resource that has not benefited the citizens and which exploitation has created a problem for the citizens by virtue of government regulatory failure and market failure. Both failures have denied the citizens the positive impact of a natural resource in their environment,” Ezekwesili said.
She added: “In order to make up for their losses, the citizens have decided to find the benefits of oil themselves and in the process have become participants in the criminal acts of pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, oil spill and degradation of their environment.”
She applauded DLI for the extensive work done in the course of producing the two publications and urged Nigerians to avail themselves of the knowledge deposited in the books.
On his part, Peterside decried the impact of oil exploration and exploitation in the Niger Delta, saying while crude oil has sustained the Nigerian economy for several decades; it had grave consequences on the environment and people of the Niger Delta.
According to Peterside, Nigeria had not paid enough attention to the environment where it derives the bulk of the revenue that sustains the economy. The nation, he said, had rather abandoned the Niger Delta to continuous environmental degradation with its accompanying adverse impacts on the people.
“The nation of America stood still because of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The president of the country, Barak Obama visited the site of the spill and British Petroleum (BP), the company accused of being responsible for the spill, deployed several of its directors to the spill site and kept them there for thirty days. That is the level of seriousness attached to the issue of environment in a country like the United States. But that is not exactly so in our country.
The DLI is trying to raise concerns about the environment to that level. We seek to raise the consciousness of our government and people to the issue of the environment and climate change.
As you already know, we didn’t create the environment; we inherited it and we have a duty to pass it on to the generations to come,” he said.
“There is need for the government to pay particular attention to the issue of the environment so that we don’t wake up one day and we can’t find oil and we can find an environment that supports life and livelihood of the people,” he added.
According to him, the setting up of several commissions on the Niger Delta by the government in the past was mere “window dressing,” stating that none of these bodies have shown commitment to preserving the Niger Delta environment.
The Niger Delta, Peterside noted, had gradually become an endangered region following the long years of oil exploration without a concerted effort to protect the environment from unrestrained degradation.