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PIB: A bill too many


National Assembly

“I believe that if the EIA Act is
religiously administered …
the PIB would hardly be necessary…”
The Guardian, April, 11, 2016

The general perception that most of our elected officials are painfully wanting in diligence, respecting their constitutional responsibilities may well be the reality, most regrettably so.

A section of the leadership of the First Estate of the extant Realm winked me that hint most recently.

I was rudely taken aback to read on the electronic media that at a recent one-day Host Communities (HostCom) colloquium, organized by a so-called Order Paper Advocacy Initiative group in Abuja, co-chaired by the House of Representatives’ (HoP) chairman of Ad-hoc Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Alhassan Doguwa, and the Chief Whip of the HoP, a spokesperson of one of the communities urged the National Assembly to speedily pass the pending Petroleum Host and Impacted Communities Development Bill (PHICDB) and other related pending bills under the contentious Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

In the spokesperson’s knowledge, according to the news report, “in order to inspire a sense of shared ownership and prosperity… there was an urgent need to fill the existing lacuna in law which has left host and impacted communities short-changed over the years…” Having regard to Nigeria’s extant laws, that was a poignantly ignorant statement to make in public, let alone in the presence of ranking lawmakers.

And the fact that the lawmakers, there present, blissfully took in the ignorant statement, lock, key and barrel, speaks eloquently of the diligence of our elected officials.

A mere cursory study is all that is required to know that seven years before the birth of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the Federal Government promulgated an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) decree, which was later legislated into an EIA Act No. 86. Section 2 specifically, and other subsections of the Act, categorically recognize host and all other impacted communities as bona fide stakeholders in project developments.

By enacting the EIA Act, the Federal Government had only followed the lead of the World Bank, which consequent on its commissioned studies on both the long-term socio-economic and environmental consequences of project developments across the globe, concluded that for the purposes of sustainable development, host and other impacted communities are thenceforth to be factored into the total cost of project implementation as stakeholders.

Project developments are therefore to be preceded by an EIA report/certification.

It is crucial to state that the operative phrase in the EIA Act is: sustainable development.

Since development projects invariably degrade socio-economics and the environment to varying degrees, the EIA Act demands that project developers plough part of their huge proceeds back into the exploited environment for enduring socio-economic equilibrium.

Thusly, the host and other impacted communities own a percentage of the project, ab initio – the particular percentage for any project is expected to be collectively derived through the various stakeholders and project-proponents engagements in the course of preparing the EIA report on the project.

During this process the project-proponents are required to fully educate the host and other impacted communities, in the presence of other stakeholders, related government agencies and industry regulators, of the hazards and merits of the proposed project, and the proposed measures to mitigate the identified hazards.

Consequently, all the stakeholders are expected to reach a consensus that the net effect of the proposed project would be positive on existing Baseline socio-economic and environmental data; otherwise an EIA certification would not be issued on the proposed project.

The implication of an EIA denial is that a project cannot go forward; but as is common knowledge that has not been the case in Nigeria, where laws are observed more in the breach with impunity; and, in most instances, with the active connivance of regulatory agencies, one is compelled to add.

What’s more tragic is to observe that cases abound where EIA certifications are issued without the statutorily required Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between project-promoters and the communities.

These rampant major omissions are the principal cause of all the troubles between the International Oil Companies (IOCs) and the Niger Delta communities.

Self-same crises-ridden omissions had inspired my April, 11, 2016 article, “Petroleum-assets vandalism and the EIA law”, of which relevant section is worth restating here:

“Furthermore, all the anxiety and clamour for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) would also not have been necessary, for the simple reason that the PIB, properly interpreted is another version of the EIA Act.

Still wondering why industry-operators are complaining of multiple duplications in the PIB?

I fully agree with them. The National Assembly should exhaustively study the extant EIA Act prior to passing the PIB.

I believe that if the EIA Act is religiously administered with adequately empowered ministries of environment (federal and states), the PIB would hardly be necessary.

I have hinted at adequately funded ministries of environment with a keen sense of responsibility, for I’m less-than-comfortable with the current practice where these ministries wholly depend on project-promoters or funds to carry out their supervisory functions.”

Truth is, had successive leaderships of the National Assembly, all the more so the chairman of the 8th NASS who incidentally chaired the Senate Committee on Environment in the 7th NASS, diligently digested the 33-page EIA Act document, as amended, Nigeria wouldn’t be wasting huge resources and time discussing some superfluous Petroleum Industry Bill.

Whilst we are yet on the subject of diligent execution of legislative functions, it is necessary to wonder aloud about the 10-odd point ultimatum, magisterially issued to the head of the executive arm government few weeks ago.

One imagines that the ultimatum excited a lot interest in the citizenry because of the weighty matters it raised.

In case our cocooned legislators have not noticed, alarming interior insecurity, extreme poverty – Nigeria was officially declared the world’s poorest nation only recently, destabilizing youth unemployment, mindless looting of the national treasury, etc are all still on the rise.

Distinguished legislators, your plate is overflowing with many a pressing issue, not excluding the acquisition of teeth for the legislature, but the PIB is certainly not one of them. I so submit.

Nkemdiche is an engineering consultant, wrote from Abuja

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