April 06, 2022

Nigeria’s New Petroleum Industry Act Could Entrench Injustices in Oil host Communities

PIB blog

Shell Oil’s oil and gas terminal on Bonny Island in southern Nigeria’s Niger Delta (Photo by Pius Utomi EKPEI / AFP)

Written By: Dr Phillip Nelson and Dr Modesta Tochi Alozie (Research Fellows, University of Warwick)

After nearly two decades of legal limbo, the Nigerian government has finally signed the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) into law. In Nigeria, the petroleum sector contributes significantly to the country’s economic growth and development. There are laws empowering the federal government to control and distribute the revenues generated from oil extraction. Many people in the Niger delta, the region where Nigeria’s oil exploration takes place, believe that the current fiscal framework guiding the distribution of oil revenues does not favour them. Concerns over the environmental harms of oil exploration also run deep within the Niger delta. The oil communities have been protesting against these legal frameworks and environmental harm, with many calling for resource and pollution control. Many commentators agree on the need for transformative reforms in the oil sector. The PIA, among other things, aims to address some of the grievances within the oil host communities.

The PIA aims to improve the governance of the Nigerian oil industry by ensuring accountability and transparency, while repositioning Nigeria for gas-based industrialisation as the world moves away from oil. The bill aims to address the massive lack of development in the Niger delta by requiring oil operators to contribute 3 per cent of their operating expenses toward a host community trust fund which is to be utilised for the socio-economic development of the Niger delta.

Yet, the PIA has not escaped criticism. It allocates 3 per cent of operating costs for community development, rather than the 10 per cent the local communities asked for. This minimal commitment has generated scepticisms about the willingness of the federal government to integrate local demands into oil policies and laws. However, what is less widely discussed, is the other ways in which the PIA risks entrenching existing injustices.

Chapter 3 section 257 (2) of the Host Community Section of the PIA states that:

“Where in any year, an act of vandalism, sabotage or other civil unrest occurs that causes damage to petroleum and designated facilities or disrupts production activities within the host communities, the community shall forfeit its entitlement to the extent of the costs of repairs of the damage that resulted from the activity with respect to the provisions of this Act within that financial year: Provided the interruption is not caused by technical or natural cause.”

This blog highlights three avenues through which this approach taken in the PIA may entrench injustices in oil host communities if it is not implemented carefully. First, this section prescribes collective punishment that can be ineffective and morally hazardous. Second, that it could constrain citizenship and activism, and finally that the process of establishing the causes of oil spills may be flawed.

1. Collective punishments are morally hazardous and can be ineffective.

When an entire community is forced to forfeit their entitlements for acts of vandalism, sabotage (pipeline vandalization) or unrest, they are being collectively punished for acts that may be caused by only a very small number, or even a single individual. Herein lies our first concern with the clause above: punishing innocent parties for the actions of others is unjustifiable. Collective punishments exacted during the course of conflict have been generally outlawed since the Hague Regulations of 1899. The Geneva conventions also prohibit collective punishments, and many individual states have specifically outlawed such punishments in their military regulations. In the case of Nigeria, if oil extraction were hampered by civil unrest, punishing the community rather than establishing individual responsibility would violate international conventions. Additionally, collective punishments can incentivise otherwise well-behaved, individuals to dissent – if you are going to be punished anyway, why not take part, or take what you can get from the situation? Furthermore, historically the Niger delta communities have had a very terrible relationship with the federal government and collective punishments could entrench community hatred towards the federal government.

2. Constrains on citizenship

The requirement that the oil communities forfeit their host community funds if civil unrest impacts oil production has significant implications for citizenship and activism. Historically in the Niger delta, protests and activism have been used to challenge unjust laws and policies as well as other harmful impacts of oil exploration, such as environmental degradation. However, the federal government has often repressed protests in the oil communities and described them as undermining peace and security even when they have been peaceful. Based on this history, we argue that this section could provide a window of opportunity for the federal government to characterise any act of local resistance to the oil industry as civil unrest. Concern that any protests, even when legitimate, could result in withholding host community funds can discourage all anti-government protests, effectively stripping citizens of their rights.

3. The process of establishing the cause of oil spills is deeply flawed

Finally, the above section of the PIA states that local communities will continue to receive host community funds only when interruption to oil production is caused by ‘technical or natural causes’. The issue here is that the process of establishing the cause of oil spills has been a key source of controversy in the Niger delta. When an oil spill occurs, a ‘Joint Investigation Visit’ (JIV) is carried out by representatives of the oil companies, regulatory agencies, and community representatives to establish the cause of the spill. While in theory, there are measures in place to ensure transparency and accountability within the JIV process, reports of corrupt practices, unreliability, undue influence of the oil companies, and complaints about the limited participation of the local communities are widely documented. In many cases, oil companies have used their undue influence to misattribute the cause of oil spills to sabotage which absolves them of paying compensation to the oil communities. On the other hand, local communities argue that while sabotage and vandalization is a big problem in the region, the JIV process greatly underreports the amount of oil spills caused by operational failure and corrosion. Since the process of establishing the cause of oil spills is flawed, the causality of oil spills is necessarily in doubt. We argue that this provision is likely to provide further incentive for the inaccuracies in the JIV process to continue since the cause of the oil spill will determine the allocation of development funds.

Taken together, while the PIA can provide a significant fillip to the governance of the petroleum sector, we see three main issues with Chapter 3, Section 257 (2) of the Host Community Section of the PIA. This Clause provides for collective punishment, which has specifically been outlawed in many circumstances, and it remains morally hazardous and ineffective. The Clause can also discourage host communities from engaging in peaceful protest, which is their civil right. And it can incentivise further inaccuracies within the JIV processes. With these concerns in mind, we recommend to the Federal Government of Nigeria to use needs assessments to fully explore the reasons why some individuals and groups object to the extraction by vandalising oil pipelines, and to consider using development funds to mitigate these. Lastly, we recommend, improving the legitimacy and integrity of the JIV process by making the process fair, transparent and increasing the meaningful participation of local communities. Without addressing these issues, the PIA will potentially leave the oil communities at the mercy of the powerful oil companies.

Author Bios

Dr Modesta Alozie is the Lead Research Fellow on the Data and Displacement Project at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Warwick, UK. She holds a PhD in Development Planning from University College London. Her research interests are in oil politics, climate change and digital humanitarianism.

Phillip Nelson is a postdoctoral researcher, most recently employed at the University of Warwick. He holds an MA in Economics and International Relations from the University of St Andrews and an MSocSci in Peace and Conflict Studies from Uppsala University, Sweden. He was awarded his PhD in international relations from the University of Essex in 2019 for his thesis on individual and group motivations for participation in civil conflict, and has so far published work in the journal of Defence and Peace Economics.

March 17, 2022

Is sustainable development possible in the current global political economy?

GPE and sustainable dev

Source: Kristen Honig/USFS

Written By: Turhan Hizli

The consequences of climate change have become more obvious in recent decades, with global warming bringing many natural hazards, primarily sea level rises, wildfires etc. While we need to prevent its devastating impacts, can we mitigate climate change within the existing global political economy (GPE)? Can we accept that a significant reduction in emissions will inevitably require a change in our current consumption of goods and services? To sustain development without depleting our resources and damaging the environment encourages us to embrace a relatively new concept in the international development discipline- sustainable development, which according to the Brundtland Report, is a development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Report, 1987, p. 16). 

In the current era of global capitalism, some developed countries and global corporations disproportionately control key aspects of the GPE which is based on capitalism, globalisation, and free trade. GPE “deals with the interaction between political and economic forces. At its centre have always been questions of human welfare and how these might be related to state behaviour and corporate interests in different parts of the world” (Walzenbach, 2016, p. 1). It encapsulates predominantly capitalist institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, and since the 1990s capitalism’s ‘victory’ over socialism has led to wide-ranging support for the pro-market instruments ranging from deregulation, privatisation, and a limited state (Gilpin, 2001). A key question which currently faces us is whether sustainable development is possible within this incumbent GPE. This blog evaluates this question and concludes that sustainable development will necessitate substantial changes in the GPE and political institutions that bolster it.

Although developed countries are responsible for environmental degradation, as they consume 75 per cent of the world’s energy and contribute to 70 per cent of the ozone layer’s destruction, impact of climate change like rise in sea-level or habitat destruction threaten the livelihoods of most people in developing countries (Nixon, 2011). Developing countries in Southeast Asia are vulnerable to sea-level rise and subsequent floods whereas developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa suffer from droughts and crop failures (Ngcamu and Chan, 2020). There are also apparent inequalities in greenhouse gas emissions, for example, the US produces 20 per cent of emissions despite having 4 per cent of the world population (Roberts, 2019). Although the developed countries are responsible for triggering climate change, attempts by developing countries to stimulate development are criticised for causing global warming. For instance, their rural inhabitants are blamed for environmental degradation as they use industrialised fertilisers and pesticides even though Western chemical corporations promote their use (Banerjee, 2003). Also, slash-and-burn farmers in developing countries are held responsible for habitat destruction whereas timber corporations are inflicting the most damage (Banerjee, 2003). Furthermore, large corporations strive to spread scientific doubts to undermine efforts to tackle climate change. For instance, large corporations like ExxonMobil hires lobbyists, journalists and scientists who do not believe in climate change to justify inaction against climate change.

Large corporations also seek to consolidate the business-as-usual approach through green capitalism which advocates the market’s role in reducing emissions and decreasing their waste (Berghoff and Rome, 2017). Although there have been minor improvements in pollution control and emissions decline, corporations’ prime aim is profit maximisation and there is still a long way to minimise emissions and monitor businesses compliance. More importantly, corporations put pressure on developing country governments to provide some concessions in economic policies (Banerjee, 2001). For instance, in Mexico, pressure from corporations persuaded the government to grow meat for Western fast-food companies on the land that was previously used by indigenous communities to grow corn (Banerjee, 2003). Another example is Brazil’s Carajás region- the centre for iron ore and timber production, in which the Brazilian government invested US$60 billion mainly funded by loans. While this project had a low economic gain, its costs were significant, it unsettled the Eastern Amazon’s native people and caused deforestation while easing developed countries’ access to imported raw materials (Carvalho, 2001).  

Furthermore, there are contradictions in international institutions’ efforts to achieve sustainable development like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, Goal 12, sustainable management and efficient resource, is incompatible with Goal 8; decent work and economic growth. Goal 12 is measured by material footprint and the consensus on yearly footprint is 50 billion tons, whereas the consensus on global economic growth in Goal 8annually is 3 per cent. This economic growth rate will increase material footprint from 87 billion tonnes (2015) to 167 billion tonnes (2030). However, reducing the material footprint to 50 billion tonnes would require six times increase in efficiency levels which is an unrealistic target. Also, Goal 13 advocates acting against climate change, and the Paris Agreement binds the SDGs to increases in average temperatures by a maximum of 2 degrees. However, with the business-as-usual approach in emission production, average temperatures are expected to rise by 4.2 degrees. To avoid global warming of more than 2 degrees, substantial decreases in CO2 emissions of around a yearly 4 per cent decline are needed. Assuming that the economic growth should be 3 per cent annually (Goal 8), and the reductions in emissions need to be 4 per cent, this would require 7.29 per cent decarbonisation annually, which means decarbonisation should happen six times faster than the historical levels which shows another contradiction between Goal 13 and Goal 8 (Hickel, 2019).

Decreasing emissions and resource consumption but also maintaining economic growth are difficult and not possible in the current GPE (Hickel, 2018).  Therefore, a considerable change in the GPE and democratic reforms in international institutions that would empower the Global South are essential. Furthermore, their debts should be cancelled, and they should receive financial assistance to achieve economic development. Developed countries should accept responsibility and implement de-growth strategies to achieve sustainable development. Deconstructing the current GPE is a bitter prescription, but the only way that humanity can survive.

Author’s Bio

Turhan Hizli is a final year Politics and International Studies student at the University of Warwick. His areas of interest include international development, geopolitics, de facto states and state-building, the politics of Cyprus and Turkey.

February 17, 2022

Language is a Tool for Youth Exclusion in the Niger Delta

Niger delta oil

An illegal refinery in Rivers State, Nigeria.Pius Etomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

Written By: Dr Modesta Alozie

Like many young people in the Niger delta region of Nigeria, Timi[1] felt great optimism about the future in 2009. This was the year the federal government announced the Presidential Amnesty Programme for young people in the violence-hit region in the southern region of the country. Youths who had been involved in the Niger delta violence were paid under this programme to drop their arms, with the additional promise of employment and regional development.

The violence erupted after years of the oil-producing communities complaining of developmental neglect and environmental degradation, while the Nigerian government and oil companies make profits from oil exploration.

The Niger delta is one of the most oil-rich regions in the world. Most of Nigeria’s wealth comes from the sale of the oil produced here. But despite this oil wealth, the Niger delta lacks real transformation. A clear indicator of this stunted development is the lack of good roads and reliable electricity in the region, including in its major cities.

Many youths in the Niger delta are also unemployed. And rising levels of pollution from recurrent oil spills is putting local livelihoods and health in further danger.

Then there is the big issue of oil revenue distribution. Many people in the delta believe that the national oil revenue distribution arrangement mostly benefits the ethnic majorities. This is because Nigeria distributes oil revenue according to population size. As such, regions with larger populations are allocated more resources.

As a result of these concerns, youths in the Niger delta began in 2003 to violently resist the oil industry, challenging their exclusion and demanding the development of their region.

Given this background, many have urged the government to create development agencies and programmes like the Presidential Amnesty Programme to integrate the region’s young people into the national development agenda.

My research finds, however, that the development agencies in the Niger delta are having limited success in including youths in the benefits of oil.

Language as a tool of exclusion

In this study, I interviewed 84 youths in the Niger delta. I also interviewed 19 development agency representatives from the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Presidential Amnesty Programme.

My findings show that institutional representatives use language to exclude young people from sharing in the benefits of oil.

I asked the youths to explain how they perceive their involvement in the Niger delta violence. I also asked institutional representatives to explain how they view youth violence. In analysing these interviews, I paid deep attention to the use of language.

Language and domination are intimately related. By using harmful language permitted by society, we can marginalise vulnerable groups, while enabling more powerful groups to maintain their power. Interestingly, those who bear the brunt of discriminatory language sometimes accept the negative language, and are complicit in their own oppression.

This phenomena is described by the French sociologist Bourdieu, as ‘symbolic violence.’ It’s a situation whereby dominant language accepted to be true by society is used to discriminate and exclude a group of people who accept but also resist that language.

There are three ways in which these dominant beliefs and ways of speaking about youths enable their exclusion while simultaneously allowing institutional representatives to maintain their power within the development agencies.

First, many institutional representatives believe that older people are wiser, and therefore more suitable for leadership. Young people on the other hand are often portrayed as lacking wisdom and leadership capabilities. In some instances, young people have come to internalise and accept this misconception.

However, some youths challenged this idea. One respondent pointed out that many past military heads of states in Nigeria led the country in their youth. They pointed to the example of Nigeria’s current president, Muhammadu Buhari, who first ruled Nigeria under the military government at the age of 41.

Still, this language used to describe young people deterred them from occupying leadership positions within the development agencies. As a result, more older people occupy higher positions of power within the agencies.

Also, in most interviews, institutional representatives perceived youths as lazy and responsible for their own unemployment. For example, an institutional representative said:

If you give them a job they don’t want to work, they are just lazy.

Portraying young people as lazy distracts from other causes of unemployment in the region, including graft. This language of ‘laziness’ also effectively functions to constrain the accountability of development agencies for failing to create jobs and improve lives.

This negative language of laziness helps perpetuate the economic domination of older people because it presents them as hardworking people who are deserving of their wealth.

Finally, institutional representatives also perceived young people as criminals with destructive tendencies. This negative portrayal casts doubts on young people’s credibility, and it puts them at a disadvantage when contesting for public office. It also means that older people are recognised as morally superior and worthy of public service. Language like this clears the way for the older generation to continue to hold on to power and decision making, while excluding young people. One respondent’s comment serves as an example:

You may not understand what I am saying because you are young. There will be a problem in the communities, sometimes they bring it to us and we have to decide what to do. You have to know about the people, their history, even the culture … Young people, many of them don’t know the culture.

Language matters

These seemingly natural ways of speaking about Niger delta youths dictate who is valued and who participates in the decision-making processes within development agencies in the region.

This harmful use of language puts young people at a disadvantage because it assumes that the older elites are better than the youths. And it justifies the economic, political and social domination of the elites in the oil development process.

The study findings raise questions about whether distributive interventions alone can enable the equitable participation of youths in the oil development process.

Distributive agencies remain crucial channels for achieving a more equitable distribution of oil profits. But without confronting the cultural and social barriers that limit young people’s participation in the oil development agencies and programmes, young people like Timi will continue to be left behind.

Author Bio:

Dr Modesta Alozie is the Lead Research Fellow on the Data and Displacement Project at the Department of Politics and International Relations University of Warwick, UK. She also teaches the Politics of Globalisation at Warwick. She holds a PhD in Development Planning from University College London. Her research interests are in oil politics, climate change and digital humanitarianism.

[1] This is not the real name.


The Warwick Interdisciplinary Research Centre for International Development addresses urgent problems of inequality and social, political and economic change on a global level.

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