By Dandyson Harry Dandyson
Communities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria face a number of major challenges, some of which arise from their poor socioeconomic conditions, while others are the result of successful agreement making over land and natural resources. How Indigenous communities organise themselves to address these challenges is emerging as a critical issue, and how the non-Indigenous governmental structures and multination companies they play host to facilitate or frustrate those efforts are important components of Reconciliation.
Communities in the Niger delta continue to have the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, early mortality, and lowest levels of education in the country. Household and family incomes remain lower than average, Communities suffer from substantial historical infrastructure and funding gaps, and most rural members of oil and gas host communities live in substandard conditions.
GASIN's Community Governance Project starts from the hypothesis that good governance of oil and gas host communities is essential for effective self-determination and is a key ingredient to successful socio-economic development. This is aimed at strengthening the community governance structures, which were strong and cohesive but today are either weak or lacking legitimacy. The cause of this lack of legitimacy in some community governance structures is that with the advent of oil companies individuals and families, seeking their self -intrest, began to ignore and violate the traditional governance structures in order to deal directly with the companies.
The vacuum thus created began gradually to be filled by people who lack legitimacy before their communities. To stem this erosion of traditional authority, GASIN aims to bring parties together both within and among communities, and also facilitate meetings between communities, operators and regulators. It is also critically important to host communities engaging successfully with developmental organizations, multinational oil companies and governments at various levels.
Currently there are many changes going on in the governance environment, but little is understood about what makes for culturally legitimate and effective community governance and how to attain it. The Project, supported and sponsored by the Dutch Embassy and is being executed by Gas Alert for Sustainable initiative (GASIN) has put together a team of staff and researchers who are working with communities, their organisations and leaders, in order to understand how community governance operates at the local and regional levels.
GASIN's purpose is to foster constructive and mutually beneficial engagements in order to reduce pressure on human rights, environmental rights and on the frail security situation prevalent in these communities. Preliminary work has highlighted a number of issues which will be the subject of more systematic research in coming months and years. Despite important local variations, it is apparent that all the selected community organisations are facing common systemic issues.
The Context of community governance
Community governance does not exist in isolation. It is situated within a wider, inter-connected 'governance environment' that spreads across local, regional, state, territory and national levels. It comprises government and private sector agencies, other Indigenous organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), institutional forms, networks of relationships, as well as overlapping statutory, policy and jurisdictional frameworks.
And it has inter-cultural dimensions operating across all these layers. It operates as: a field of inter-connected (and disconnected) players; networks of relationships, rights and interests; layered institutions where decision-making, differential power, governing functions and economic activities are dispersed among diverse entities; institutional spheres (state, market and customary) which have an intimate presence in communities; and is marked by different languages of governance and competing expectations.
The Project is concerned to make its research count in host communities by using a participatory community-based approach, called participatory vulnerability analysis (PVA) and participatory research and action (PRA) this process which is carried out by trained community members called Forum on early warning and early response (FEWER) helped to highlight the various vulnerability levels of different groups in the community. SOME PRELIMINARY FINDINGS:
(1) Governance as practiced in Indigenous communities and groups is dynamic, evolving and responsive to different local conditions. The seven selected communities of Gbarain/Ekpetiama Kingdoms of Bayelsa state and the six communities selected in AHOADA WEST LGA of Rivers state formerly Oruama, community governance invariably requires a process of building consensus amongst different groups, and a focus on building a strong traditional chieftaincy installation and guiding principles for succession to help put a stop to the crisis occasioned by chieftaincy struggles, which are capable of destroying lives and property.
(2) The lack of a good Communication strategy is another factor that was highlighted in this research. This is because there is an apparent lack of communication between the community leaders and the members of the community most vulnerable groups are mostly the women, youths and the non-indigenes who reside in the community this is mostly caused by age old customs and cultural belief systems that have become outdated, and perhaps need to be abolished or modified
(3) Absence of proper reporting and documentation system at the community level. Communities do not have proper documentation strategy i.e. none of the selected communities have a community library or filling system. This makes it difficult for proper and effective information gathering and sharing. As a result sensitive community issues get muddled up with individual selfish pursuits. Etc.
(4)The policy, service delivery and statutory environment constitute exogenous conditions also affecting community cohesion. The changing political and policy climate, prevailing jurisdictional arrangements and government funding frameworks, as well as bureaucratic staff turnover, have major impacts on the scope and exercise of Indigenous governance at the community level. Few government departments appear to have effective mechanisms for managing conflicts that arise within Indigenous communities, or bridging the gap between the government's idea of the way the 'community world' should be, and the way it actually is.
There is a lack of capacity within government for ongoing evaluation of their policy practice and service outcomes in the area of community governance. Governments' lack of stable, adequate resourcing, and workable mechanisms for delivering streamlined funding and this is having significant negative impacts on the viability of the communities despite the huge revenue being gotten from the natural resources of these communities.
(5) Lack of sincere and committed partnership between multinational companies and host communities resulting in abandoned projects and unfulfilled Memoranda of Understanding. This militates against needed understanding between communities and oil companies, and causes undue delays and sometimes frustrations of oil industry activities.
(6) Lack of proper written Community Governance handbooks and/or Guiding Principles that clarify the roles of different strata of community leadership. This gives room for individuals with selfish motives to formulate and propagate so-called 'customary' and traditional ways of the community to their personal benefit etc.
Local government is the organized political unit that is closest to the people and, therefore, the foundation of the democratic structure. Local government is not only expected to deliver democratic values – transparent elections and good governance - at the grassroots, but also to ensure the dividends of democracy captured in service delivery and the improvement in the quality of life of the people. Local government also has a vital role in the management of conflict and natural resources at the local level.
To emphasize the importance of local government in Nigeria, 21 per cent of federal allocation goes to the 774 local government councils in the country. However, numerous challenges have combined to undermine the ability of local government in Nigeria to contribute to democracy, sustainable community development and conflict resolution. It is the weakest link in Nigeria's three-tier government structure. Some of the challenges include lack of accountability and transparency. Corruption is generally perceived to be rife in the councils. The councils lack autonomy which undermines their potential as they are more or less under the thumb print of the state governors.
Local government and conflict management/resolution
The local government uses the official state security apparatus- the criminal justice system especially the Judiciary, Police and Civil Defense Corps as intervention measures for peace keeping. The Police and Civil Defense mainly serve as a stop gap method of conflict management by separating the parties in conflict and stopping further immediate violence. They, in conjunction with the local government may use the alternative dispute resolution methods to reach amicable settlements in informal settings. The courts also apply the judicial processes to adjudicate cases.
The major shortcoming of the judicial approach is its complexity and over-dependence on technicalities. It does not therefore actually serve as very useful organ for resolving the underlying causes of communal conflict. The local government also mediates in inter-and intra-communalconflicts either directly or through intermediaries.
As an alternative dispute resolution approach, mediation is a voluntary and informal method of conflict resolution which outcome is non-binding. The local government intervenes either as authoritative or independent mediator often with a view to bringing the parties to the round table for dialogue. Parties to the conflict can accept or reject the outcome of the mediation process.
The local government sometimes uses traditional rulers and other communal institutions such as the Eze's, Paramount rulers, Kings, etc. depending on the nature of the conflict and the parties involved. This has the advantage of using the laws and customs of the people as they relate to their cultural values and norms. As custodian of traditional institutions, the monarchs are better placed to know the historical and political antecedents of the parties. The major problems associated with the above approaches include: the conflict may be already existing or perceived to be in existence and in some cases have actually escalated. The local government officials are sometimes sympathetic to one of the parties in the conflict since they are essentially communal.
This brings in the elements of bias, suspicion and mutual mistrust. In most cases, conflicts become explosive when government officials, through their actions or inactions are perceived to favor other parties to the conflict. The law enforcement agents and other so called peace makers are susceptible to taking sides especially when there is pecuniary inducement. The implication is that the local government, as presently structured or constituted, lacks an integrated and functionally related strategies or approaches to conflict resolution. There is no specialized unit or department and experts to handle issues relating to conflict. The present approach is haphazardly carried out. Even when investigative panels are setup, the reports are often not released while the recommendations are hardly implemented. Moreover, conflict merchants or entrepreneurs who spur ethno-communal conflicts for the personal benefit they derive from the chaos, often frustrate such ad-hoc or quick fix arrangements.
There are instances where peace committees have been set up, but they are conflict situation-specific; the membership are essentially based on political patronage, lacking the requisite skills for conflict resolution and are easily influenced. This adversely affects the outcome and accounts for the resurgence of communal conflicts.
1. Civil society organisations, NGOs, both the federal and state parliaments and political pressure groups should come together and fight for the autonomy of the LGAs through advocacy, research and publications in order to make local government work by delivering the expected outcomes. This will strengthen local government thereby improving sustainable community governance.
2. Establishment of local government Early warning and early response centre's to help curb the level of destructions caused by community conflicts and natural disasters.GASIN has already set up Early warning and early response groups in some communities in Yenegoa LGA of Bayelsa state and Ahoada west LGA in Rivers state if the LGA chairmen could set up an office to in the councils to handle these reports that will be coming in from the groups in the communities future conflicts might be averted early enough.
3. Establishment of local government Gas and oil spill monitoring centre's to help monitor the activities of multinational firms and the frequency of spills in the oil and gas sector at the community and LGA level regards to the GASIN as also set up gas monitoring groups in some communities in both Yenegoa LGA of Bayelsa state and Ahoada west LGA of Rivers state if the LGA chairmen could set up an office to synergize with the community groups it will help in providing much needed data to help curtail conflicts that occur between companies and host communities.
4. Local governments areas in the Niger delta region should establish a public complaints office specifically for oil and gas related complaints from host/impacted communities.
Local government areas that host oil and gas companies should put together a research team to help inform and advise the council and host communities on the activities being carried out in their domain that might be detrimental and harmful to their health and socio-economic well being;develop tools, through research, for ensuring local government best practice that will be in consonance with international governance best practice and also to help in organizing enlightenment trainings for community based organisations such as the CDC, CHIEFS COUNCIL, YOUTH BODIES, WOMEN GROUPS, GMGs, FEWER etc, to Assist the councils to expand their revenue portfolio through training in collaboration with other relevant agencies. Undertake research and publications on local government affairs.
5. Local government authorities should build a local government data base for public access, including updates on the activities of the councils, through an interactive website to be created to promote local government accountability, transparency, effective service delivery and the enhancement of grassroots/micro democracy through popular participation.
6. Local government authority should assist these host communities to carry out periodic participatory vulnerability analysis (PVA) and participatory research and action (PRA) to help highlight the vulnerability level of the various groups in the communities and the community at large and also to help in promoting gender based activities.
The rising tide of community conflicts, fragmentation and reconfiguration, identity mutation and reconstruction in the Niger Delta are all related to the dynamics of oil politics. This is due to the creation of benefit factors and captors in oil-host communities arising from the policies of the oil companies.
The policies of the oil companies and the emergence of educated and non-educated youth groups have heightened crime and violence in the politics of the Niger Delta oil communities and the region as a whole. The violent youth phenomenon and the general state of militancy and protests have made available enormous quantity of sophisticated arms and ammunitions.
This has caused numerous feuds within and between communities that have led to very bloody and disruptive conflicts; that have; claimed many lives, massively destroyed villages and properties, disrupted oil facilities and production and general insecurity in the Niger Delta.
Thus, the oil multinationals may need to reshape their policies to encourage community harmony if they are to operate in environment devoid of violence and relentless rancorous conflicts. Those unfamiliar with events in the Niger Delta would want to dismiss the above narratives as mere gimmicks aimed at disparaging the image of the oil multinationals, especially NAOC and SPDC in the Niger Delta.
It is a well-known fact that for over three decades, there were no major conflicts between the people and the oil multinationals, and the oil-host communities were not riddled with violent conflicts and the government on the other hand introduce resource control and give total autonomy to the local government council as they are the government that is closest to the people.