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Residents of Ikarama and Okordia communities in Bayelsa, have suggested the inclusion of Host Community Development Fund in the new version of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill before its passage into law.

The residents made the call on Wednesday at an Environmental Parliament held in Ikarama, to intimate residents with the provisions of the Bill, which is currently before the National Assembly.

80 participants drawn from representatives of oil bearing communities, youths and women groups, among others, advocated the inclusion of the Host Communities Fund in the Bill.

A new version of the PIB, which removed the Host Community Development Fund, initially proposed in the earlier version, has been re-presented for deliberation at the National Assembly.

At the Environmental Parliament organised by Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), the participants were unanimous in calling for the reinstatement of the Host Community Development Fund.

Mr Moses Seleowei, one of the participants, expressed delight at the interest of ERA/FoEN in advocating for the rights of the rural oil communities and the need to obtain their inputs to the legislative process.

Also speaking, a community leader, Chief Raphael Warder regretted that host communities, who had faced the adverse effects of oil exploration for decades were left out in the new legislation, and called for a more holistic approach.

Chief Ediwini Lambert, a traditional ruler, noted that the leadership of the region had not effectively managed the derivations and other resources that accrued to the region over time.

Mr Alagoa Morris, the Head of Field Operations at ERA/FoEN, said that the session became necessary in view of the review of the Petroleum Industry Bill, renamed the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill.

Morris said that ERA/FoEN, an environment focused rights advocacy group, was keen on getting feedback from host communities for presentation for effective advocacy on the new PIB.

Dr Tari Dadiowei, who reviewed the current provisions in the Bill, geared toward its unbundling, underscored the need to include environmental governance, community participation and security.

Dadiowei, an expert in conflict resolution, who examined the various components of the draft Bill, pointed out that the document, in its present form, did not guarantee community participation and protection of the environment.

According to him, the bill is silent on who will bears the ecological debt when the oil resources are exhausted, adding that the bill was also skewed in favour of the International Oil Companies and their profit motive.

The participants therefore resolved that the legislature should ensure that the 10 per cent Host Communities Fund, which was recommended in the previous version, should be reintroduced before its passage into law.

The participants regretted that the bill was yet to see the light of day since 2008 when efforts were first made to introduce it