Why FG should implement community engagement standards —Expert

OIL and Gas expert, Mr Meka Olowola, has urged the Federal Government to review its strategy and approach to conflict resolution as it pertains to the oil-rich Niger Delta region by implementing the recently developed Community Engagement Standards; a widely researched framework for consciously and equitably engaging host communities.

Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune in Lagos on strategies to reduce vandalism and theft in the oil sector as part of the New Nigeria Foundation sensitisation program themed “Curbing Crude Oil Theft in Nigeria”, Olowola identified commitment to acceptable engagement standards across the value chain as a panacea to incessant conflicts in communities that play host to oil and gas exploration and counseled that Nigeria enforces the much-needed discipline in the oil and gas sector, which according to him is currently marred with violence and corruption.

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He stressed that the Federal Government needs to espouse the comprehensive standards and principles of community engagement put forward by sustainability inclined stakeholders in the sector led by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reform (FOSTER II) in Nigeria and CSR-in-Action. Adding that the standards are products of painstaking research and will help in laying solid structures to tackle community conflicts and reduce oil theft as well as illegal bunkering.

According to him, “the interminable challenges facing both oil companies and communities in the Niger Delta region can be prevailed over with proper stakeholder engagement and communication.”

He posited that the need for oil companies to engage in multilayered dialogue with host communities and the government cannot be overestimated and the Community Engagement Standards gives insights as to how this can be achieved using real-life scenarios.

“The rising tension between oil companies in the upstream sector and their host communities impels a multi-stakeholder engagement approach. Companies need to see their host communities as business partners and as such do all to ensure that the relationship is mutually beneficial as possible. The change of outlook will invariably impact the attitude of members of oil-producing states towards companies.

‘’Following the establishment of clear communication lines between all stakeholders, oil companies must then proceed to launch sustainable and far-reaching CSR activities. The practice of CSR transcends charitable donations and companies need to obtain a full understanding of this fact which will change the conduct of firms across the nation.”

The Community Engagement Standards codifies the best approach to optimising the gains of the oil & gas sector,” he said.

Olowola further decried the unending cases of pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta region, stating that it is inimical to all stakeholders as the culprits create lasting damages to their environment and put their lives at risk while the oil-dependent economy of the nation suffers huge blows for it. He maintained that the FG must earnestly devise strategies to halt the practice before it morphs into a greater national issue. Olowola finally enjoined oil companies to hearken to the demands of members of their host communities even though he is aware of how difficult it could be, given that individuals have diverse interests.