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Recognize our rights!

A meeting of civil society organizations, lawyers, media and academics, in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, to discuss the future of oil in the Niger Delta and its impact on climate change and sustainability, has issued a strong, militant statement to the federal government. The meeting was chaired by Nnimmo Bassey, the Director of Environmental Rights Action, who described the communiqué as

‘117 organizations signing on to the most militant statement of its sort I’ve yet seen – formidable!’

The communiqué is scathing in its criticism of the present Government, which rather than address the issues raised has in fact exacerbated them in so many ways – culminating in the recent amnesty deal with militants. Rather than tackle the cause of the militancy and criminal activities, such as the huge environmental damage and lack of development, the Government simply made a financial deal with a group of militants in exchange for their silence. This money could have been put towards building health centres, schools and other infrastructure for the communities and begin to erode the reasons behind the militancy in the first place.

Never before have so many people and organizations come together as one to condemn the Nigerian Government’s actions: from the continued deferral and failure to end gas flaring; failure to insist and regulate the oil industry according to international standards; contributing and being part of the land grab by oil companies and the promotion of agri-imperialism; fuelling the corruption in the region which has itself contributed to the violence, and its policy of militarization and abuse instead of development and support.

The Communiqué also criticized the proposed Petroleum Industry Bill [PIB]. In its effects on the people of the Niger Delta, the PIB is one of the most contentious and repressive pieces of legislation. In a recent interview, constitutional lawyer Prof. Itsewaju Sagay pointed out some of the flaws of the PIB….

‘It’s a document that is created with the intention of exploiting the oil and gas of the Niger Delta, whilst not recognizing the existence of the people of the Niger Delta. There is nothing about royalty for the host communities; there is nothing about increasing derivation from 25 to 50 per cent, which was what we negotiated before our independence, which you will find in the 1960 and 1963 Constitutions. There is nothing that recognizes the rights of the communities and states to be involved as stakeholders in the running of the Petroleum Industry, contrary to what is provided for in the Solid Minerals Act, which of course mainly applies to the North.'

Although the communiqué does refer to the impact of militarization and environmental damage on the lives of women, I feel the conference members missed an opportunity to spell out the specific abuses, particularly those committed by Nigerian security forces.

The strongest demands were around the immediate ending of gas flaring and the proposed exploitation of bitumen and the stopping of new oil blocs. The full communiqué can be read here.

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