Seasoned CSO advocate and current member of the Global Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Faith Nwadishi, in this exclusive interview with e360, says the EITI must ensure continued relevance through right and firm decisions as well as value addition to member countries. She also speaks on ways by which Nigeria can better benefit from its implementation of the EITI principles. Excerpts
After 16 years of NEITI’s audit of the oil and gas sector, would you say the exercise has been worth the while considering the recurring remedial issues?
It’s been both positive and negative. Positive in terms of access to information the way we never had before NEITI. The negative is that it seems the people who are supposed to be listening are not listening. They are not taking the recommendations from NEITI report and turning those around for implementable reforms which can be seen with the 18years journey of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Most of the systems and processes that needs reforming in the petroleum sector are captured as recommendations in the NEITI reports. By now we ought to have made significant progress on all of those areas.
In your view what can be done to holistically address the remediation challenge?
Political will. Though I’m reluctant to say political will because that term needs to be broken down, but there’s a reason NEITI was set. To holistically address remediation challenge a lot of courage is needed, unfortunately that has not happened. So it is important that we see the EITI process in Nigeria as a very important one that can help us reform not just our extractive industry but governance as a whole. Not until we see it as serious I don’t think whoever is supposed to bring to bear the political will to take the recommendations into consideration can, and we will continue going round in circles.
Aside political will, what can NEITI do innovatively to ensure that Nigerians benefit more from the country’s membership of the EITI?
The responsibility of what to do is really not with the NEITI secretariat but with the Multi Stakeholder Group (MSG) otherwise known in Nigeria as the National Stakeholders Working Group (NSWG) which is also the NEITI Board. The MSG in the EITI process are accountable for the implementation of EITI standards in any country. We need to understand that definition and empower the MSG in such a way that they suggest policies, design policies and ensure the implementation of those policies by the secretariat. That’s one major thing that we need to do. Another thing is to get Nigerians to understand that the process is not about a government agency, it’s about the citizens. NEITI is a unique agency, it shouldn’t be treated like other regular federal government agency. A lot of people think it’s a federal government agency because it is situated within the presidency and because the president appoints the members of the board. It is good that government drives that process, but they should drive it through the MGS where citizens are represented by civil society, companies and government. Also, we need to urgently go to the subnational level of EITI implementation. In countries like Ghana, Columbia and the Philippines, they have instituted subnational MSGs. For instance in the Nigerian structure, you have a state like Delta which is an oil producing state or Nassarawa that is a solid minerals state where there are active extractive activities happening. What other countries have done was to set up mini MSGs where you have government representatives, community members and company representatives sitting to look at everything along the EI value chain just as is done at the national level. They do their subnational reporting and input that into what they present at the national level. It is one of those practices that made Philippines the first country to be truly compliant with the EITI because they have been able to take the process from national to the local level. I’m particularly happy with the PIB, when the Petroleum Host and Impacted Community Bill (PHICB) is passed, we can suggest a multi stakeholders group kind of arrangement to begin to engage at the local level and bring out report on issues around restiveness and security etc. This way you can get citizens to buy more into the process because for a country like Nigeria that relies on the oil sector, whatever happens with the oil sector affects all other sectors. We need to find a way to bring more people, both at the federal and local level, together to proffer solutions on how to address these issues.
Nigeria is undergoing a second validation, are you confident that we will attain a ‘satisfactory progress’ rating?
Yes, because we have done enough. On the EITI international Board we have been talking about how to grade countries, we have seen that with the way the EITI Standard is a lot of countries have not been able to meet up with the mandatory requirements. Before now we just had the ‘compliant’ and ‘non-compliant’ countries ratings. But now we have the no progress, inadequate progress, meaningful progress, satisfactory progress and beyond satisfactory progress. That came about because we thought that we should begin to look at how countries are using the EITI report to improve national debate and bring about reforms. There are some countries that have gone outside the EITI limit, we thought that those kind of efforts should be rewarded. There are three major determinants for these ratings which are; civil society participation, government participation and company participation. The CSO participation is a major requirement, we call it the corner stone. If a country doesn’t do well in CSO participation it can be suspended even though it has done well in other requirements. Recently in Berlin when we had the international EITI meeting, we had a redefinition of how to assess countries such that there will be incentives for countries that are making certain progress.
What does suspension from the EITI mean for a country?
The whole idea about suspension for countries in the EITI process is not to shame a country, but countries are beginning to look at it as if it is a shame. Suspension is actually a period for you to go back and do more work. The critics of the EITI around the globe kept pushing the argument as to whether all the countries rated as compliant have perfected their systems. That was the basis of having the conversation about changing whether a country is compliant and to look at countries making meaningful or satisfactory progress. So most likely you are going to have more countries making meaningful progress, which is not a bad thing in the EITI process, and then you go on to make satisfactory progress. The first country that got satisfactory progress rating at the first validation without an extension was Philippines last year. In Africa we have Senegal, and in the recent meeting in Berlin, Colombia also made that category. Unfortunately Nigeria would have been able to make that considering that we have done a lot, but the EITI law in Nigeria, positive and negative also, has been an inhibiting factor for us.
You represent CSOs on the EITI Board, within the context of the EITI Standard are there lessons to share with Nigeria in terms of how other African countries engage CSOs?
In most of the countries, because they don’t have laws, the way CSOs participate in the EITI is more flexible. CSOs elect their representatives on the board. In some countries where you have five members of companies, you also have five members of CSOs. For instance in Ghana, there is a Chair of the EITI board, a member of the CSO is Co-chair, so there’s rotation. That gives it more inclusiveness. In some countries you have CSO as Chair, government as Co-chair. Its’ not like government appointing the Chair like we have in Nigeria. In Senegal there’s a CSO rep for everything position. For instance, during validation CSOs do their own shadow report. It is expected that CSOs continue to be neutral and independent but support the process. CSOs in some other countries have been able to push for subnational kind of reporting and get reports. They have their CSOs assembly on the EITI. Those are the kind of things that happen in other African countries. In Sierra Leone for instance, if there’s an engagement to be done, you see a high level delegation that includes CSOs. It’s not just the Chair or head of secretariat, it is actually the members of the MSG that sends a delegation to engage. For instance, Nigeria is going through the petroleum industry reforms, when that happened in Sierra Leone a committee of the EITI that was set up to engage directly with the parliament was made up of the MSG including CSOs and others.
We have recently seen countries exiting the EITI, do you think the organization is losing relevance?
I wouldn’t say the EITI is losing relevance. But I have personally said we seem to be playing politics with the EITI and I have reasons to say that. At a point in time, personally, I felt we were treating countries differently, I felt countries were not being given the same level playing ground. It took us more than four years to take a decision to suspend Azerbaijan for instance, even when we knew that there were issues, practical examples of intimidation of CSOs, the board had made a decision but we kept postponing it. Imaging four years, which meant that the board had to sit for 12 times, because we had an average of at least three meetings in a year. So for 12 times the board had to meet to discuss one country and when we eventually took a decision to say we are suspending this country, the country said it was leaving the EITI and they left. The second country that left was Niger in Africa. Niger went through validation, they had clear issues with CSOs, right now as I speak to you, about seven of our colleagues are in jail in Niger, they are facing about three year jail term. So the Board decided to suspend Niger and Niger writes to say it would leave if suspended, and they did. Now countries are trying to threaten the EITI saying if you suspend us we are going to leave, but suspension is not a bad thing, it is for countries to do better. The DRC was suspended at a time, and they came back stronger. The United States also left the EITI but they continue to be a supporting country, so it’s like playing double standard on the part of the US. But I think it’s because the EITI is becoming stronger, you know when a system becomes stronger people fight it. The EITI is becoming more relevant and people now see that it is not a place where they can do as they wish, they see that the board is taking stronger decisions. In any case the EITI needs to also be careful because it is the people who sit on the board that make those decisions that will either make the EITI stronger or weaker. If we take certain decisions because we are looking at a particular country through another lens, we will not be able to go far. In summary I can say countries who want to leave the EITI are free to leave, it only goes to show that they are not committed to ensuring transparency in their extractive sector, they just want to go on with business as usual.