In continuation of efforts aimed at breaking down the findings of the Benchmarking Exercise Report (BER) and the entire Natural Resource Charter Framework, the NNRC had earlier in the year engaged with notable columnists and Features Editors from different national dailies to seek their support and understanding on key oil and gas sector governance issues, the organisation considers of national importance. In her opening remark, Ms.Tengi George-Ikoli, Program Coordinator of Nigeria Natural Resource Charter (NNRC) welcomed participants and gave a brief description of the activities of the NNRC, breaking down the findings of its flagship report (Benchmarking Exercise Report, BER) and the need to get the general public properly informed about some of the key governance weaknesses in natural resource management. She also situated the much needed reforms in the petroleum sector against the NNRC precepts; highlighting benefit sharing policies implemented in the Niger Delta (precept 5), framework for managing Nigeria’s revenues (precepts 4, 7 and 8) and the review of the national oil company; Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) (precept 6).

She noted that the absence of a governance framework has greatly hampered the much hyped economic diversification in Nigeria, insisting that the impact of this must be considered holistically, considering the global changes and the ever increasing oil producing countries. She pointed out that due to the way things are run in Nigeria, investors are forced to take profit-based decisions by taking their monies elsewhere as there are too many options currently. This she said, is working against government’s efforts to create jobs, grow the economy and also generate revenues. “This is because other countries that discovered oil long after Nigeria, have moved on, taking our laws and using it as a template of what not to do while we have been preoccupied with re-jigging our laws and trying to cut to suit”, she added.

On the importance of the gathering, she noted that with the petroleum sector occupying a pride of place in Nigeria’s economy, it is unfortunate that very few people know what happens in that industry. This she blamed on inadequate information and knowledge of the sector, either because people do not pay attention to serious issues, or they find the technicalities involved, off-putting. Continuing, she noted that if the issues are broken down to the level of everyday experience, they would show more interest. And with the heightened interest, they will ask questions, and hold government officials, oil companies and their elected officials to account. This according to her will not only help enrich citizens’ participation in our democracy, but will also ensure that transparency, accountability and institutions are strengthened. This, she said, is the reason behind the engagement with the columnists, who are mostly shapers of opinion, and narratives drivers.

In his contribution, Mr. Henry Ademola Adigun, Team Lead, Facility for Oil Sector Transformation (FOSTER) in Nigeria, pointed out the key issues currently plaguing the oil and gas sector that requires public attention. The main purpose of this, he said, was to throw more light on defective areas of the sector and the need for options as the sector provides most of government’s revenue which the country is run on and accounts for a significant percentage of our foreign exchange. He took the participants through series of scenario to highlight how Nigeria has lost so much revenue because of failure to embark on full reforms of the petroleum sector. He noted that the NNRC charter was domesticated within the context of Nigeria, using lessons learned from thriving resource rich countries to provide evidence to support the federal government to adopt global best practice strategies in enhancing natural resource management. He noted that the opaqueness and revenue shortfalls in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria has over the years been categorised by series of negative upstream indices causing Nigeria to lose out in the competition for investment. Moreso, the continuous reduction in oil reserve replacement rate, has led to the withdrawal of several International Oil Companies (IOCs) from Nigeria. As well as a drastic increase in the value of onshore production and a resultant increase in the cost of petroleum products in the downstream.

In his remarks, Mr. Kelechi Anyanwu noted that due to the highly technical nature of the industry, the columnists would need to adopt a different approach in weaving their narratives by pointing out the opportunity costs of the failures to do the right thing the government and the oil companies. He pointed out that unless the populace is made aware of what they are losing by such inactivity or negligence; they will never identify with such.

Mr. Azuka Onwuka while expressing his gratitude to the NNRC for hosting the event, pointed out that to get the general public to show interest in such a highly technical issue requires constant advocacy and engagements with both the media and the people noting that due to the economic hardship in the country, many people hardly think such issues are of concerns to them. He asked why government continues to maintain the Excess Crude Account (ECA) when it is clear that the objective of setting it up is not being met, suggesting that it be collapsed into the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) instead. Mr. Osaze Omoragbon suggested that strict withdrawal conditions should also apply to the ECA while the National Assembly should make laws that compel government to save for rainy day. He noted that presence of funds in the SWF creates the image of being credit worthy to investors hence, giving them the confidence needed to invest.

At the end of the Workshop, it was evident that the participants were better informed about some of the happenings in the oil and gas industry. It was agreed that more efforts should be put into advocacy through the media, while the columnists hit the ground running by coming up with likely article topics and focus they are going to work on immediately after the event. Ms. George-Ikoli while expressing her appreciation, promised to provide them with relevant data and materials to back up their research and articles.