For extractive communities in the Niger Delta region, September 14 and 15, 2023, will remain remarkable as they were taken on a deep dive into the nitty gritty of the Host Community Development Trusts (HCDTs) in a confab organized by Spaces for Change (S4C). The conference was designed strategically to empower communities with new knowledge and skills to effectively leverage the provision to improve their lives and livelihoods and sustainably develop. Juliet Ukanwosu who participated at the conference writes
Over the course of the two days on September 14th and 15th, 2023, the city of Owerri, Imo State, South East, Nigeria, welcomed delegates and participants from across Nigeria and Ghana to the 2nd edition of the National Extractives Dialogue tagged NED2023, organized by Spaces for Change (S4C) in partnership with the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI).
For many participants who attended the first edition of the National Extractives Dialogue (NED) in Abuja, the Nation’s Capital, in 2022, this year’s conference provided them the opportunity of seeing firsthand, Owerri for what the city truly represents, contrary to reports of insecurity.
Participants experienced warmth and calmness in a city that was welcoming with special local delicacies such as Ofe Owerri and roasted plantain and Ugba sauce to mention a few.
Deliberations at the conference spanned two days during which S4C and NEITI welcomed 176 stakeholders from Nigeria and Ghana’s petroleum industry. They comprised policymakers, federal and state lawmakers, regulators, state executives, corporations, civil society, academia, media, traditional councils and host communities from the nine oil producing states of Delta, Edo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Abia, Anambra, and Imo States. Also highly represented were members of the Board of Trustees, Advisory and Management Committees of the various Host Community Development Trusts (HCDTs) set up in the oil and gas producing areas.
Together, stakeholders evaluated the performance of the HCDTs established by the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), identified best practices for delivering natural resource benefits to resource-rich communities and addressed key concerns arising from the implementation of the Trusts.
This years NED with the theme: ‘Host Community Development Trusts: Catalysts for equitable benefit sharing and sustainable prosperity for all’, featured various presentations from stakeholders, including five panel sessions.
The opening panel, with the topic; The HCDTs: ‘Aligning stakeholders’ perspective and expectations’, moderated by the Head, Communications and Stakeholders Management, NEITI, Obiageli Onuorah, examined the overreaching objectives of the HCDTs from the perspectives of federal and state governments as well as corporations, civil societies, regulators and host communities. This was aimed at aligning all stakeholder’s preconceptions and views around benefit sharing with the development objectives of the HCDTs.
Also critically discussed on the second panel on day one of the conference was the topic: ‘Equitable Benefit-sharing: Synopsis of State practices’. This session which was moderated by Dr. Michael Uzoigwe, Team Lead, Do No Harm Advisory, was tasked with answering key questions such as what the benefit-sharing principles undergirding the implementation of HCDTs across the Niger Delta region are? What means and methods are the oil bearing states adopting to implement the HCDTs and ensure the delivery of natural resource benefits to the host communities in a fair, equitable, inclusive and prosperous manner.
Furthermore, a session moderated by Tijah Bolton-Apkan, Executive Director, Policy Alert, on day two of the conference discussed the topic: ‘Benefit sharing and community contracting: From legal design to full implementation’.
The session was aimed at equipping host communities with the right knowledge of contractual specifications necessary to ensure that the HCDTs are structured in a way that enables participation of community stakeholders and delivers sustainable and equitable benefits to them.
Also thoroughly discussed on day two was the session ‘Host Community Development Trusts: Planning for today, tomorrow and unborn generation.’ This session which was moderated by Juliet Ukanwosu, Executive Director, Extractive360, had the objective of exploring new thinking on ways to develop HCDTs initiatives that are useful and sustainable to communities against the background that benefit-sharing arrangement tends to be negotiated project-by-project and usually on short-term.
L-R: Executive Director, Spaces for Change, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri; Imo State Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, Prof. Eugene Opara; Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Host Communities, Hon. Abdulkarim Ahmed; Executive Secretary, NEITI, Dr Orji Ogbonnaya Orji; Co-Char, GHEITI MSG, Dr. Steve Manteaw, HRH Eze Emmanuel Assor, Odozi Obodo 11 of Assa Ohaji Egbema LGA during the opening of NED2023 in Owerri
A key highlight of the conference was the town hall session on reality check in host communities implementing the HCDTs. Moderated by Faith Nwadishi, Executive Director, Centre for Transparency Advocacy, the session provided the opportunity for experience sharing by members of HCDTs Boards, Advisory and Management committees from the different states to share experiences on the journey so far and peer learn.
One after the other, representatives of communities were given the opportunity to speak to the various issues challenging the implementation of Trust Funds in their various areas, even as position papers on lingering and impending crisis were submitted to the regulators by community representatives, during the town hall session.
Speakers on the various panels were carefully selected for balance and inclusion and they include; community members, industry experts, academia, civil society, government, parliament and traditional rulers. Some of whom are Dr. Orji Ogbonnaya Orji, Executive Secretary, NEITI; Dr. Steve Manteaw, Co-Chair, Ghana EITI; Celestine Apkobari, National Coordinator, Ogoni Solidarity Forum; Ikechukwu Ironali, Chief legal Officer, National Human Rights Commission; Prof MN Obasi, Faculty of Law, Imo State University; Senator Ohere Sadiq Abubakar, Chair, Senate Committee on Local Content; Hon. Abdulkarim Ahmed, Deputy Chair, House Committee on Host Communities; Dr. Benjamin Okpa, Head Safety, Health, Environment and Community, NUPRC, Owerri Zonal Office.
Others include Prof. Eugene Okpara, Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, Imo state; Dr. Ebieri Jones, Commissioner for Mineral Resources, Bayelsa State; Amadi Onyekpere, Director, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, Abia State; Emem Ibokette, Director, Mineral Resources, Ministry of Petroleum, Akwa Ibom State; Engr. Akemu Julius, Director, Ministry of Oil and Gas, Delta State and Gekpe John, Director, Ministry of Mineral Resources, Cross Rivers State.
Also highly featured across the panels and discussions were traditional rulers from the oil producing states which include; HRH Eze Emmanuel Assor, Odozi Obodo 11 of Assa Ohaji Egbema LGA; HRH Idahosa Agidigbi, Enogie of Utese, Ovia North-East LGA, Edo State; HRH Emmanuel Odunze, Eze Ukwu Chinyere 1 of Obitti Community, Ohaji Egbema LGA; HRH Igwe Mbanefo Ezedioranma of Mkpunando Aguleri, & Chair of Anambra State Host Communities Traditional Council and HRH King Bubaraye Dakolo Agada IV, Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, & Chair, Bayelsa State Traditional Council.
Speaking on the choice of this year’s theme, Executive Director, Spaces for Change, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, explained that with the PIA providing host communities a legal means to move away from charitable developmental assistance to a new era of entitlements and human rights, there was the need to x-ray methods and approaches that can make the benefits sharing equitable and sustainable for communities.
She said the conference strategically brought together extractive industry stakeholders from Nigeria and Ghana to collectively evaluate the progress so far made with establishing Host Community Development Trusts and delve deep into critical matters related to the governance structure, management, funding mechanisms, community participation, conflict resolution, participatory needs assessment, and long-term investment options among others.
“It means that host communities now have the right to benefit from natural resources tapped from their backyard. These benefits 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 or advisory bodies created under the Act,” Ibezim-Ohaeri said.
She added that the law places much importance on this provision so much so that failure of a company to comply with the requirements is a ground for license or lease revocation.
In a special address, Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma, who spoke through the Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, Prof. Eugene Opara, while counselling communities against prolonged delays with setting up their Trusts as required by law, said this was the first time Nigeria is having a law that makes beneficiation directly to host communities legally binding on oil companies. The Governor harped on the need for oil bearing communities to maximize the opportunity provided by the HCDTs for sustainable development.
Former President Muhammadu Buhari on August 16, 2021 assented to the PIA which resulted in the reforming of the governance, administrative, fiscal and regulatory architecture of the Nigerian oil and gas industry and specifically provided for the HCDTs in Chapter 3 of the Act, for the purpose of promoting sustainable prosperity within oil host communities.
In April 2022, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) rolled out five regulations which included the Host Community Regulations governing the day to day administration of the Trust Funds.