"Placing the responsibility of protecting oil installations from armed gangs on unarmed communities is simply an unrealistic expectation."
A coalition of civil society groups has criticised the decision of federal lawmakers to include in the newly-passed Petroleum Industry Bill a clause punishing host communities in the events of pipeline vandalisation.
The Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, and Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa stated their position in a joint statement on Wednesday.
After years of stalling, the Senate and House of Representatives, last week, passed the PIB which proposed that host communities be held responsible pipeline vandalisation in their domains.
According to the Bill, "wherein any year, an act of vandalism, sabotage or other civil unrest occurs that causes damage to petroleum and designated facilities or disrupts production activities within the host community, the community shall forfeit its entitlement to the extent of the costs of repairs of the damage that resulted from the activity with respect to the provisions of this Act within that financial year. Provided the interruption is not caused by technical or natural cause".
Although civil society organisations and host communities raised concerns about that section of the bill, it was, nonetheless, passed by the lawmakers.
"As you are probably aware, oil theft is the major reason for puncturing oil pipelines. This illicit activity is carried out mainly by armed cartels(and not poor community people), suspected to be working in close collaboration with oil company officials and the military stationed in those communities to protect oil installations," the groups said in the statement issued during a press conference in Lagos.
"Placing the responsibility of protecting oil installations from armed gangs on unarmed communities is simply an unrealistic expectation. Again, this proposal stems directly from the erroneous view which has been peddled by oil companies that communities are responsible for sabotage on pipelines and oil theft.
"However, these are views that have been debunked by the NNPC and even the United Nations Environment Programme."
"Attempting to criminalise oil-producing communities in this regard is an unfortunate and cunning ploy. If this provision is upheld it could result in consistent denial of benefits which could, in turn, engender regular conflicts. We, therefore, recommend a total deleting of this clause."
The passage of the bill by the National Assembly received commendations as well as condemnations from Nigerians. While the former group argued that it finally drew the curtains on draft legislation that was first introduced into the parliament in 2008 by the then president, the late Umar Yar'Adua; the latter group criticised several sections of the bill.
On Monday, governors in Nigeria's southern states rejected the three percent share for host communities proposed in the bill, choosing to back the five percent share proposed in one of the earlier drafts of the bill.
A former minister and leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Edwin Clark, described the bill as "satanic."
The civil society groups at Wednesday's press conference condemned the section of the bill which gives oil companies power to nominate all members of the Board of Trustees of a petroleum host community development trust with only an obligation to 'consult' host communities.
The trust is a framework for the transfer of development benefits to petroleum host communities.
The groups described it as a clear indication that the PIB intends to continue the historical treatment of host communities as "oil colonies" under the control of profiteering companies.
"It also indicates that the government still holds the erroneous and unfortunate view that communities, where crude oil is extracted from, do not have the capacity to direct their affairs. This is not only untrue; it is also insulting.
"It is our recommendation that in the harmonization of the PIB, the Host Communities Trust be incorporated and governed by members of each host community. We also recommend that contrary to what is in the PIB currently, the oil companies should not be the ones to determine who is a host community."