The Ford Foundation and key advocacy groups have assembled community leaders in oil and gas host communities in Nigeria to carry out evaluation of governance structure as relates to implementation of the Host Community Development Trusts (HCDTs).
Community leaders at the event also expressed their determination to collaborate with relevant authorities and advocacy groups to ensure transparency in the implementation of HCDTs.
Chapter 3 of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) signed in August 2021, created the HCDTs and Under Section 240 of the Act, the benefits of natural resources must now flow back to the communities where they came from.
Speaking at the National Extractives Dialogue (NED) 2023, which gathered stakeholders in the extractive industry from Nigeria and Ghana to collectively evaluate the progress that has been made in establishing Host Community Trusts in all areas where oil and gas extraction takes place, executive director, Spaces for Change | S4C, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, stressed that, the Host Community Development are not just legal constructs but instruments of change, vehicles for hope, and beacons of progress.
According to her, “they represent a fundamental shift in how we view, engage and manage natural resources in Nigeria. They are the keys that unlock the door to equitable benefit-sharing ensuring that prosperity becomes the birthright of every member of our community, and not the privilege of a select few. They serve as a bridge connecting the aspirations of host communities with the operations of extractive industries.”
Ibezim-Ohaeri, therefore, noted that, discussions of the stakeholders over the next two years will delve deep into critical matters related to the implementation of HCDTs such as the governance structure and management, funding mechanisms, equitable benefit-sharing and implementation, community participation, project adaptability, monitoring and evaluation, conflict resolution, participatory needs assessment, long-term investments options for communities and intergenerational roadmaps.
The theme of the NED 2023 titled, ‘Host Community Development Trusts: Catalysts for Equitable Benefit-Sharing and Sustainable Prosperity for All,’ backed by Ford Foundation is not merely words on paper she said but a clarion call for change, a call that resonates with every heart at the forum.
Ibezim-Ohaeri, therefore, advised communities to embrace opportunities offered by Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Act(PIA), in order to achieve sustainable development.
Ibezim-Ohaeri said unlike in the past when communities were denied their entitlements, the legislation has created the opportunity for communities to be rewarded for the various minerals that abound in their areas.
She stated that, under the law of extractive corporations whether indigenous or international, they are now required to contribute 3 per cent of their actual operating expenditure to the Host Community Development Trusts.
The benefits, according to her, “are no longer acts of corporate benevolence, but an entitlement to partake in the design, content and structure of their own development, and most importantly, participate in the governance and administration of petroleum resources through their membership of either the Board of Trustees, the Management Committees or any of the advisory bodies created under the Act.
“To give life to these promises, SPACES FOR CHANGE has consistently monitored policy implementation at the grassroots, generated knowledge products, shared information, and engaged most of the host communities gathered here today to empower, sensitise and channel their concerns to the appropriate target agencies and corporations.”
Similarly, the executive secretary, NEITI, Dr. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji, said the involvement of NEITI is targeted at deepening the implementation of EITI at sub-national levels.
On his own part, the commissioner, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Imo State, Professor Eugene Ukachukwu Opara, said: “Until S4C intervention, Assa North Ohaji (ANOH) host communities signed GMoUs without having external contacts with other organisations and situations that could give them sound legal advice and alternative information that could enrich the quality of negotiations with extractives companies. A negotiation with unequally endowed or unbalanced teams can be exploitative.”
Also speaking at the event, the commission chief executive (CCE), Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), Engr. Gbenga Komolafe, noted that past initiatives, including the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), did not make much impact on communities.
However, the CCE was represented by the Regional coordinator, NUPRC, Owerri, A. M. Uviovo said: “The choice of Projects to embark on will be determined by the community and this means the company will have unlimited access to the facilities. That also means that any expenditure made by the company due to any denial of access, disruption of activities, vandalization and sabotage will be deducted from the 3 per cent Trust fund of that financial year.
“The communities are therefore advised to take ownership of the facilities located in your domain to enable you to obtain the maximum benefit of the provision of the Petroleum Industry Act(PIA), 2021. I urge you to diligently work together to ensure that our communities continue to thrive positively to enable our country to progress and develop economically.”