We are gathered here today to deliberate on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as it affects the interests of host communities of the oil-producing Niger delta region. This is an opportunity for us to make our voices heard and offer contributions towards the passage of one of the most important pieces of legislation in Nigeria’s history.

As we already know perhaps, the PIB is before the National Assembly as an Executive proposal. It contains provisions that impact the lives and living conditions of the people of Niger delta; and indeed all oil-bearing communities in the country. These provisions are an assortment of what Abuja thinks the region deserves in exchange for the transference (or take over) of its resource ownership. I am inclined to the view that not only does the Bill sidestep the ownership question but also tends to outsource government responsibility for robust redress of the debilitating consequences of extraction to corporates. In a sense, we may be dealing with a coterie of corporatist instruments of state capture. But I am also aligned with the argument that a law is better than no law in the ongoing quest for reforms. While the PIB may not be tailored to address the decades-long resource ownership question, it nonetheless presents an opportunity to make incremental gains in the agitation for a better Niger delta region.

This is why OrderPaper is delighted to convene this colloquium so we can brainstorm and put forth a position for the consideration of our legislators on the Bill. In 2018, we had a similar convening of the HostCom Colloquium when it was the Petroleum Host and Impacted Communities Bill component of the disaggregated PIB as it then was. This Colloquium has been designed, as you may notice on the agenda, to give us deep insights into the Bill, offer comparative perspectives on beneficiation practices, and allow us ample opportunity to deploy the understanding gained to place certain demands on the policy actors seized with responsibility of reforms of the petroleum sector. In order to engage a robust conversation, efforts were made to invite representation from a diverse stream of actors and stakeholders some of whom we are glad and grateful have obliged us with their presence. I urge all of us to make the best use of this meeting as we intend to convey an adopted resolution herefrom to the National Assembly.

For us at OrderPaper, this event is a demonstration of the core of our work of not just providing dedicated and cutting-edge reporting of the parliament but also acting as node for interface between citizens and representatives in the national assembly. I use this opportunity to thank FOSTER for facilitating and enabling these kinds of interfaces for us.

I want to thank my good friend and brother, the Rt. Hon. Henry Nwawuba, Deputy Chairman, Committee on Niger Delta of the House of Representatives – one of the finest legislators of our time whose quest for a resolution of the existential Niger delta question is unmistakable and quietly impactful. Permit me the indulgence to announce that we are privileged to have him in the room. I say so under the firm conviction that titles don’t make men; and as one who has invested the last decade of my corporate and personal endeavors in consistent close observance of and working with the National Assembly, I put it to you that Mr. Nwawuba is one of the most influential members of parliament in the extant 9th assembly. He is one resource gateway, albeit humble and unobtrusive, who sits in the most important quadrant of the power matrix of the NASS. With a couple more like him as champions of the Niger delta struggle, we can achieve the change we want.

Let me acknowledge and celebrate the presence of other very important personalities in this room; dignitaries and heroes of the struggle for a better deal for the people of Niger delta, other oil-bear communities across the country and for a Nigeria where peace, justice and fairness reigns. I salute you; yes you looking over your shoulders for the assumed VIP that is you! You who have set aside a couple of other important engagements; you who have braved the odds of long distance travel and covid-19 inconveniences; you from host communities who have borne the brunt of exploration and exploitation of the black gold for decades with little or no benefits but plenty of sorrow tears and blood to show; you who have advocated relentlessly for a better deal for an oppressed and debased people and redemption for a degraded environment and despondent living conditions. You ALL have come at our call just for another chance to rally for a change of narrative presented by the phoenix Petroleum Industry Bill. Your irredentist, irrepressible and inimitable spirit constitute the soul of the Niger delta struggle. Heroes all you are. I celebrate you.

I thank you for coming and wish you fruitful deliberations.

 

Epia, Executive Director, OrderPaper Advocacy Initiative, delivered this welcome remarks at the Host Communities Colloquium on the PIB, November 17, 2020 at Owerri, Imo State

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