The Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and environmental and climate justice groups have urged the federal government to ensure that communities are included in the discussions on International Oil Companies (IOCs) divestment from oil fields in the Niger Delta.
They also want Shell and other companies operating in the Niger Delta to implement the full terms of Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU) agreed with communities.
At a virtual meeting on “Unmasking the motives behind IOC divestments in Nigeria’s Niger Delta” convened by ERA, the groups frowned at the growing incidence of divestments that leave community people in the dark.
Professor Sofiri Joab-Peterside, a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, linked the divestments to a neoliberal agenda perpetrated by the oil industry which exposes the capitulation of governments to the dictates of the IOCs that market forces should be left to dictate what they must do.
Peterside pointed out that the primary factor underpinning the divestment of the IOCs is the cost of operating in the Niger Delta which has continued to rise because of the modus operandi of the companies which has only brought pollution, livelihood loss, exclusion to the local communities and litigation to address the situation. Because of this, the don said the oil companies are now trying to escape accountability to the people.
He revealed that, curiously, the IOCs divestments are not from their offshore fields that largely escape scrutiny from government and the locals but only in their onshore fields that are now under scrutiny after decades of cat and mouse games they perpetrate.
According to him, communities must be educated and made aware that options, legal and otherwise are available for them to hold the IOCs to account for their misdeeds.
Speaking in the same vein, Emem Okon, Executive Director of KebetKache Women Development Centre Port Harcourt, who was represented by Henry Eferebo, said communities are facing marginalisation, intimidation and exclusion in the ongoing divestment processes and are largely in the dark on the status of discussions on sale of oil fields and other IOC assets.
“Communities are concerned that the companies want to sell off their equity in oil and gas operations and are not involving them in any way. They fear that these companies will get away or sell to domestic firms who will deny responsibility for the ecological harms on ground,” he said.
Eferebo revealed that one of the leading oil companies in Nigeria has divested from two Oil Mining Leases (OMLs) without involving the communities or explaining how its liabilities will be addressed. The case is in currently in court. A similar case in another community is also in court.
“In one case, the IOC sold its equity to a local company, but the same company is acquiring new oil fields in the same community. There is so much confusion in the process,” Eferebo noted, adding that civil society and communities must strategise to confront them.
Earlier, ERA Executive Director, Chima Williams, explained that the organisation is promoting the discussion and engagements on divestment to expose the deceit of the IOCs in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, and strengthening CSO advocacy on the Leave Oil in the Soil campaign.
Williams noted that ERA also wants to create a strong voice against the opening of new oil wells in the Niger Delta and scrutiny of Domestic Oil Companies (DOC) to guarantee they will not continue practices of IOCs and those that increase greenhouse gas.