COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: A PANACEA FOR PEACE IN EXTRACTIVE OPERATIONS
The development of any industry within a nation lies in her ability to harness her natural and man-made resources in a sustainable and harmonious manner. The approach of all stakeholders would be to respect each others’ viewpoints, and forge mutually beneficial relations through robust, pre-emptive and clear communication and iterative dialogue involving all leading and marginalised stakeholder groups. In pursuit of this, numerous actors across various sectors at both national and international levels have amplified their voices in pursuit of a primary goal – best practice engagement for brokering unhindered and impactful development.
In Nigeria today, the nexus between resource theft, conflict and their prevailing antecedence in undermining our national sustainable development, cannot be under-estimated. While resource theft has led to loss of financial equivalence, conflict arising from illicit resource control has shattered national dreams, amputated targets and made nations to be left behind. Resource theft and conflict have been forged by feelings of inequitable distribution of financial resources and benefits within extractive communities, attendant poverty, perceived disinterest in the well-being of community hosts and disruptions that come with foreign incursion into monogenous societies; all inextricably linked with the notions of engagement and dialogue.
According to our research across the 9 oil-producing states of Nigeria, extractive companies face rising expectations to do more than simply mitigate negative impacts, they are expected to be sources of economic opportunity and to be reliable and trustworthy partners and neighbours. Responses during our 2018 community stakeholder mapping and engagement exercise, to the question asking how often business operators engage with communities show that the frequency of engagement is perceived to be low in some states and non-existent in others, with 33.9% of respondents alleging that they are never engaged and a whopping 53% stating that they are engaged once in a while. And clearly, women and other minority groups are accorded a minimal role in formal engagement by companies through community leadership systems, and superficial engagement of resource explorationists.
Oftentimes, communities unfortunately abrogate the primary responsibility of development to businesses, and ignore the responsibility of community leaders to protect collective community interests and to engage transparently. Government, on the other hand, has been caught in the quadrangle of whether to lead engagement with communities or to leave the process to business licensees, which has led to dissatisfaction, ambiguity of actual socio-economic interventions and stunted development of extractive communities.
In actuality, communities will fare better if they have access to and open discussions with government agencies and businesses who conduct business in their milieu; and businesses do not have any better choice but to deliver tangible and sustainable benefits to their access, host and impacted communities if they wish to enjoy sustainability of operations. Governments who wish to enjoy a peaceful socio-political environnment, value for resources and sustained development, would need to have open and transparent discussions throughout the life cycle of an extractive project. Informed and respectful engagement is the responsibility of all critical stakeholders in the sector – government, community and business – as well as holding each other accountable to binding decisions. As such, it is critical that relevant stakeholders are able to identify, proffer solutions and manage the potential risks associated with resource exploration to avoid resource theft and conflict in order to mitigate their impact on continuous operations, as these threaten economic stability, repel investors and promote uncertainties.
The 2019, SITEI discussions will be centred on the need to apply key engagement and communication methods – stakeholder identification and analysis, community consultation and participatory development, free, prior and informed consent and social responsibility policy – that facilitate peaceful co-existence in the extractive industries. It is our position that strong and effective engagement and communication will negate environmental degradation, inequity, calamitious expenditure on security, resource theft and halt conflict, as key stakeholders pursue a one-for-all interest for sustainable national development.
Some highlights of the 2019 Conference are that we will:
- present a first of its kind Community Engagement Framework for the benefit of all stakeholders, and provide training for community engagement personnel of companies and government institutions
- deploy panels of experts who will analyse and proffer solutions to community engagement challenges
- recognise companies with exceptional community engagement processes
- recognise community leaders who have shown leadership, transparency and accountability for collective good.
The objectives of the 2019 SITEI Conference ultimately are to:
- establish the rationale for an all-inclusive engagement framework to strengthen relations for peace
- identify opportunities for more cohesive communication between communities, exploration firms, government and other stakeholders
- network a re-invigorated cast of committed community engagement specialists
- build capacity for better engagement practices across sector players and within institutions.