ERA Unravels Deceit Behind IOCs Divestment In Niger Delta At Roundtable In Port Harcourt

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has unraveled the deceit behind the International Oil Companies divestment in the Niger Delta – a region they have environmentally degraded for the past seven decades.

At a roundtable in Port Harcourt on Monday, April 25, ERA/FoEN examined the socioeconomic, environmental and legal implications of the IOCs divestment from already polluted sites in the region.

ERA/FoEN Executive Director Chima Williams drew the attention of participants to Court victories that impacted communities have successfully secured against the IOCs in their home countries and argued that this has made it no longer favourable for them to operate in their normal business as usual manner.

The participants who were drawn from the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the Media, raise concerns about the secrecy shrouded nature of the IOCs divestment from onshore operations while they embrace operations in the deep water offshore.

In a paper presentation, Centre for Advanced Social Science Director and University of Port Harcourt Professor of Sociology, Sofiri Joab-Peterside, highlighted the socioeconomic implications of the divestment.

According to Prof. Joab-Peterside, there are One Hundred and Thirteen (113) Oil Mining Licenses (OML) in Nigeria split evenly between onshore and offshore (57:56), out of which of all 26 sold in the last 21 years, more than ¾ (77%) were located onshore.

This trend, he said, would have negative impact on investment and production in the oil and gas sector and by extension, the revenue accruable to the Nigerian Federation and spending in the oil bearing communities.

He also raised fears that it is likely the Domestic Oil Companies (DOCs) may not have the capacity to raise the required finance to back their operations.

“In fact, many of the DOCs are already bearing financial burden for servicing existing oil fields and adding new projects would have a number of operational impacts such as reduced allocations for Federal and State Government budgets; services and projects,” he added.

Prof. Joab-Peterside identified other implications that flows from divestment to include less resources for management of environmental impacts emanating from oil production processes, maintenance and decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure, as well as increased risk of socio-political conflicts.

The erudite UNIPORT Professor of Sociology declared that in fact, divestment means running away from subsisting social responsibilities of IOCs.

“This results in IOCs abandonment of complex problematic relationships developed with oil bearing communities who perceived them as Quasi-State, since the Nigerian State have failed in many respects to develop these communities,” the professor added.

He opined that although it could be argued that DOCs know the communities better, it is an indisputable fact that DOCs like the IOCs, are already experiencing protests and accusations notwithstanding the fact that they started operations only recently.

The CASS Director predicted that unlike the IOCs, it may take some time for the DCOs to develop a comprehensive security architecture to protect their assets and personnel globally and to adjust to different operational risks.

He feared that unlike the IOCs with international stakeholders’ sensitive to unprofessional conducts, the DOCs may be willing to support securitization of operations emanating from increased pollution, possibilities of reduction in contracts, employment as well as patronage flows.

“More important,” Prof. Joan Peterside added, “is the urgent need for divestment to incorporate prevailing environmental issues such as:

What happens to the legacy of oil pollution that is yet to be properly cleaned up?

How might environmental practices and impact differ under DOCs?

In other words, should legal liability for historic/generational liability still remain with IOCs?

Could IOCs transfer historical liabilities through framing divestment agreement?

What about the possibility of diminishing international spotlight and pressure for retroactive clean-up on the region?

“I state with no fear of contradiction that the environmental practices of DOCs could be worse. Facts emanating from DOCs operations suggests we could witness worse environmental performance than IOCs unless protective measures are incorporated into divestment agreements with DOCs.”

In conclusion, the university son recommended that since the lives of community people/residents would be affected by IOCs divestment, a critical stakeholders’ engagement which entails a process by which the concerned community organizations, leaders, groups, and individuals (often labelled stakeholders) come together to discuss, agree upon, and support in practice a
given course of action must be designed and implemented.

“Through that process stakeholders will collectively develop existing plans and complimentary agreements, and set up one or more organizations to address ongoing IOCs divestment processes and take actions required to address intended and unintended consequences of divestment,” Prof. Joab-Peterside explained.