Many Nigerians with critical interest had hitherto believed that the advent of Nigeria’s Petroleum Industry Act, 2021, arguably the most audacious attempt to overhaul the petroleum sector, will solve the real and imagined challenges in the nation’s petroleum sector, and turn the Niger Delta region, particularly host communities, to a zone of peace in their relationship with crude oil prospecting and exploration companies.

However, facts have since emerged that instead of providing the legal, governance, regulatory and fiscal framework for the petroleum industry and the host communities, the PIA has contrary to expectation become a first line of conflict between crude oil prospecting, exploration companies and their host communities. Like other Acts that guided crude oil production in the past, PIA has similarly become a toothless bulldog that neither bites nor barks. In fact, analysts and industry watchers have come to a sudden realisation that nothing has changed.

Among many examples, the recent 14-day ultimatum/threat by oil-rich community of Tsekelewu (Polobubo) in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State to shut down ongoing exploration activities of Conoil Producing Limited if the company failed to reach a definite agreement with the community on the implementation of Chapter 3 of the PIA for the Tsekelewu bloc of communities supports this assertion.

Entitled ‘14-day ultimatum to implement chapter three of PIA in Tsekelewu (Polobubo) host community and bloc of communities by Conoil Producing Ltd at OML 103’, the petition/ultimatum dated December 30, 2022, signed by the President-General of the Tsekelewu (Polobubo) Development Association, Dr Bright Abulu, and the spokesman of the association, Mr Christmas Ukagha,  and addressed to the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Conoil Producing Limited, among other things, lamented that they adopted the option due to seemingly snobbish attitude of the management of Conoil as the company’s management had refused to honour letters asking for a meeting with the TCDA on the issue of the PIA implementation.

Essentially, while the people of Tsekelewu (Polobubo) continue to wait for what becomes the outcome of their ultimatum, there is indeed, greater evidence that points to the fact that the underlying premise behind PIA enactment has been defeated. There is equally reason for concern that what is currently happening between oil companies and their host communities may no longer be the first half of a recurring circle, but, rather the beginning of something negatively new and different.

A tour by boat of creeks and coastal communities of Warri South-West and Warri North Local Government Areas of Delta state will reveal that the much-anticipated end in sight of gas flaring is actually not in sight. In the same manner, a journey by road from Warri via Eku-Abraka to Agbor, and another road trip from Warri through Ughelle down to Ogwuashi Ukwu in Anoicha Local Government of the state shows an environment where people cannot properly breathe as it is littered by gas flaring points.

To a large extent, the above confirms as true the recently published report which among other concerns noted that Nigeria has about 139 gas flare locations spread across the Niger Delta both in onshore and offshore oil fields where gas, which constitutes about 11 per cent of the total gas produced, is flared.

Apart from the health implication of flared gases on humanity, their adverse impact on the nation’s economy is equally weighty. For instance, a parallel report published a while ago underlined that about 888 million standard cubic feet of gas was flared daily in 2017. The flared gas, it added, was sufficient to light up Africa, or sub-Saharan Africa; generate 2.5GW of power; or produce 50 million barrels of oil equivalent; or produce 600,000 metric tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas per year; produce 22 million tonnes of carbon dioxide; feed two-three liquefied natural gas trains; generate 300,000 jobs; attract $3.5bn investment into the country with $350m carbon credit value. This is an illustrative pointer as to why the nation economically gropes and stumbles.

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Looking at the enormity of the health and economic losses inherent in gas flaring, one may be tempted to ask what set the stage for gas flaring in Nigeria, that is the politics that keeps it going, and why it flourishes unabated. Banking on what experts are saying, the major reason for the flaring of gases is that when crude oil is extracted from onshore and offshore oil wells, it brings with it raw natural gas to the surface and where natural gas transportation, pipelines, and infrastructure are lacking like in the case of Nigeria, this gas is instead burned off or flared as a waste product as this is the cheapest option. This has been on since the 1950s when crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantity in the country.

While Nigerians persist to encounter gas flaring in the country, even so, has successive administrations in the country made both feeble and deformed attempts to get it arrested. The facts are there and speak for it.

On Monday, September 2, 2018, the then Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, while speaking at the Buyers’ Forum/stakeholders’ engagement organised by the Gas Aggregation Company of Nigeria in Abuja among other things stated, “I have said to the Department of Petroleum Resources, beginning from next year (2019 emphasis added), we are going to get quite frantic about this (ending gas flaring in Nigeria) and companies that cannot meet with extended periods –the issue is not how much you can pay in terms of fines for gas flaring, the issue is that you would not produce. We need to begin to look at the foreclosing of licenses.”

That threat has since ended in the frames as the minister did little or nothing to get the threat actualised. The Major General Muhammadu Buhari(retd.) regime also launched the now abandoned National Gas Flare Commercialisation Programme; a programme according to the Federal Government aimed at achieving the flares-out agenda/zero routine gas flaring in the country by 2020. Again, like a regular trademark, it failed.

Away from the Buhari regime, in 1979, the then Federal Government in a similar style came up with the Associated Gas Re-injection Act which summarily prohibited gas flaring and also fixed the flare-out deadline for January 1, 1984. It failed in line with the leadership philosophy in the country. Similar feeble and deformed attempts were made in 2003, 2006, and 2008.

So the question that is as important as the piece itself is; if this legion of laws/Acts cannot save the people of the region, who will? What will deliver the targeted result to the people of the Niger Delta region?

While answer(s) to the above questions remain germane, this piece holds the opinion that to permanently resolve the Niger Delta question, the people of the region must be directly involved in the management of their resources. Call it resource control; you may not be far from the truth.

 Utomi writes via [email protected]

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