The upper house of Nigeria’s parliament, the Senate, has finally approved the long-awaited second reading of an oil industry overhaul bill that has been stagnate for ten years—a necessary step towards more effectively managing the country’s oil wealth.
Part of the bill would establish a regulatory commission that would deal with oil revenue distribution—an issue that has shaken the very heart of Nigeria’s oil industry, most recently with the Forcados bombing on Tuesday, which forced a pipeline closure that has resulted in a 200,000 barrel per day loss for the already troubled country.
Preventing future outbreaks of attacks against Nigeria’s oil facilities would require amendments to the country’s 17-year old constitution, according to the Ijaw Youth Council, a group that has played a key role in placating energy-related violence in the past.
“We’re not expecting much out of this meeting,” Udengs Eradiri, the president of the council told Voice of America regarding a meeting held by President Muhammadu Buhari with representatives of militant groups and community organizations.
“Whatever we’ll be doing today will just be window dressing. We believe Nigeria’s problems need to be solved once and for all and in order to do that, we need to revisit our constitution.”
The recent surge of militant activities, such as the attacks perpetrated by the Niger Delta Avengers and the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, are not the West African country’s first.
Before the Ijaw council brokered a peace deal in 2009, groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) wreaked havoc on Nigeria’s pipelines and related oil facilities, cutting exports by 40 percent. The attacks even spurred over $2 per barrel increases in the oil prices seven years ago.
Every time a new wave of hostility arises in the Niger Delta region, there is a common theme: the insensitive distribution of profits earned from energy resources in the oil-rich regions of Nigeria.
So far, the Nigerian government and the militant groups have been unable or unwilling to find common ground.
This summer, the NDA agreed to a ceasefire forbidding further attacks on oil facilities, but the group bombed a Bonny crude pipeline at the end of September – restarting the cycle of violence. At the time, a representative from the NDA said that the bombing was in response to government attempts of “over dramatization of the so-called dialogue and negotiation process on the side of President Muhammadu Buhari and his government.”
Abuja will have to work harder to convince the NDA that it has the best interests of the Delta communities at heart during the negotiations, the group said after its attacks.
“We cannot be continuously fooled, the government cannot justify the indiscriminate targeting of Niger Delta youths while glorifying on these victimization of law abiding citizens of the region,” a statement read.
A 2015 report by Al-Jazeera says the United Nations estimates that oil spills and illegal tapping would cost $1 billion and 30 years to clean up.
Pollution, poverty and powerlessness is what local residents, especially the youth, expect after Niger Delta-native Former President Goodluck Jonathan lost in the 2015 elections to Buhari. Jonathan partnered with Ijaw tribesman to taper militant activities during his reign.
Still, the Ijaw council has not made clear the reforms the young constitution would need to move the nation beyond its recent challenges.
In its current state, the 1999 constitution affirms the Nigerian government’s full control over oil resources, but makes no additional commentary on the country’s energy resources.
As delta locals congregate their demands, the long history of government versus local militants does not bode well for a peaceful future for the region or Nigeria. Constitutional amendments provide long-term commitments to the development of one of Nigeria’s least developed areas, but as long as proposals remain unclear, the path to reform will stay insurmountable.