cleen foundation

Nigeria; Governance and the Voluntary Principles

written by Ifeanyi Anyanwu


After decades of military rule, Nigeria was able to elect civilians leaders in 1999. This process produced the former head of state President Olusegun Obasanjo as a civilian President. He remained in power for two tenures of eight years before the election of President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua in 2007.

The electoral act empowers the people to elect officials to represent them in policy making and resource control. However, candidacy is based on political party system where political parties have to conduct primaries among their members to elect their flag-bearer in the election.  In the general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would conduct election with assistance from security agencies especially the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). The NPF is saddled with election security management which they usually coordinate with other security agencies to ensure peaceful, free and fair elections.

Through elections, public officials who are returned elected in the polls become the representatives of the people. It is expected that the interest of the people should be their uppermost priority while in office and there should be mechanisms that would encourage and ensure civic participation in governance, as representatives should constantly keep in touch with people they are representing.

The Extractive Sector

Since the commencement of hydrocarbon exploration in Nigeria in the 1950s, many initiatives, policies and agitations have surfaced either because the elected leaders who constitute what we see as government are trying to reduce the powers of the citizens in order to maximize the revenue of the government at the expense of the average citizen; or the companies doing the exploration have violated or infringed on the rights of the host community members in a bid to protect their profits, personnel and facilities.

Agitations and unfriendly policies have aggravated the level of insecurity in the communities where exploration is done and also has affected production and income of the companies which in turn affect the revenue of the country. The spate of insecurity truncated the relationship between the host communities and the oil companies, including security agents attached to the companies. These security agents who are meant to protect lives and property of citizens and residents of the country are being seen as tools in the hands of these oil companies to intimidate and victimize host community members.

In response to these and other security and human rights challenges which are common in the extractive sector of developing countries, some countries, oil companies and international non-governmental organizations brainstormed to established principles that would ensure that when providing security, companies should promote respect for human rights. These principles evolved into what we now have as the Voluntary Principles of Security and Human Rights (VPs) established in the year 2000. Unfortunately, Nigeria, the largest exporter of petroleum in Africa was not part of the parley that bequeathed to the world the VPs

Since the establishment of VPs in 2000, efforts have been made, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Nigerian Government to sign on to VPs. Some NGOs like Global Rights, CLEEN Foundation, LITE Africa etc have continually advocated for Nigerian Government to sign on, but the advocacy has not yielded any significant result. Be that as it may, some multinational oil corporations, such as Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Chervon Corporation, Exxon Mobil, Statoil and Total have sign on to the principles. Although there are limitations, in that companies who sign up to the Principles may be reluctant to comply with them when they operate in a country that is not a signatory, we have observed commitment by a small number of stakeholders to making the VPs work for ordinary Nigerians.

The CLEEN Foundation, for example partners with the Partners Global to roll out an initiative in 2013 where it introduced the VPs as a tool for encouraging dialogue between oil-bearing communities, elected and public officials representing them and the oil companies operating in such domains. The thrust of the initiative has been to promote dialogue and encourage the protection of human rights in oil exploration and extraction. The project has successfully educated about 300 members of host communities in Abia and Imo States. The participants in these workshops are not the regulars one find in cozy hotels; the seminars have been held in local languages and deployed to remote communities of the two pilot states. One spin-off of the initiative is the partnership established to monitor activities of oil companies in the community – including the conduct of security agents working with them and the desire to monitor thefts and vandalisation of oil infrastructure with the goal of filing reports.

The VPs are divided into three key elements, namely a) Risk Assessment which states that companies should always conduct risk assessment; b) Interaction with public security to ensure that ethical conduct of the company and respect for human rights are adhered to, strictly; and c) the third element is interaction with private security where companies need personnel to complement the efforts of the public security that would also adhere strictly to policies of the companies in line with the VPs. It is crystal clear that VPs meant well for extractive sector in terms of security, respect for human rights and collaboration amongst key stakeholders. In Nigeria, however, even without the country officially signing on to the VPs, it appears they have huge potential of promoting peace amongst key stakeholders in the sector.

The key stakeholders in the extractive sector who must work together to achieve transparency and equity are government, host communities and the companies. The separation and distance between the government and host communities is the aggravating factor of high level of insecurity in the Niger Delta region, the gap between elected leaders and the electorate gives room for the challenges we face in Niger Delta and Nigeria at large. VPs can contribute to addressing the challenges in the extractive sector, but more effort should be made towards reducing the gap in the relationship between elected leaders and electorate.

Government should prioritise protecting the interest of the people; any government that sees itself differently from the people cannot succeed in delivering the fundamental objectives of the state. The VPs initiative is the solution we need to restore peace and security in the extractive sector that would in turn reduce the rate our economy dwindles. This is critical for Nigeria where renewed rumblings and agitations in some of the oil producing communities place the infrastructure of the oil industry and the earning potentials of the oil sector in grave danger.

Host communities in Abia and Imo States have adopted VPs and have partnered with us at the CLEEN foundation and other civil society organizations to urge the government to sign on to the VPs. The Change Mantra of the current administration provides a viable opportunity to reaffirm to oil producing companies, host communities, Nigerian citizens and the whole wide world that the exploration and extraction of oil in Nigeria cannot continue as in the past. It would make more sense to the average member of oil producing community if the VPs are adopted and all stakeholders adhere strictly to them for improved relationship between stakeholders in extractive sector.

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