Lessons for Nigeria from Indian farmers’ resistance to mega refinery - BusinessDay : News you can trust

businessdayonline   businessdayonline.com | Friday, May 18, 2018 | 14 views

Saudi Aramco, the world’s most profitable oil company and a consortium of Indian players, on April 11, 2018,  signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to build a $44 billion refinery and petrochemical project in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri.

The refinery will be capable of processing 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day (60 million metric tonnes per annum, or MMTPA). It will produce a range of refined petroleum products, including petrol and diesel meeting BS-VI fuel efficiency norms.

The refinery will also provide feedstock for the integrated petrochemicals complex, which will be capable of producing approximately 18 million tonnes per annum of petrochemical products.

The strategic partnership brings together crude supply, resources, technologies, experience and expertise of these multiple oil companies with an established commercial presence around the world.

However, thousands of farmers oppose the refinery and are refusing to surrender land, fearing it could damage a region famed for its Alphonso mangoes, vast cashew plantations and fishing hamlets that boast bountiful catches of seafood.

“We earn enough to fulfill our needs and we do not want to surrender our lands for a refinery at any cost,” Sandesh Desai, told the Economic Times of India, standing amid his fruit-laden mango orchard in Nanar, a village in Ratnagiri district, some 400 km (250 miles) south of Mumbai.

Land acquisition has always been a contentious issue in rural India, where a majority of the population depends on farming for their livelihood. In 2008, for example, India’s Tata Motors had to shelve plans for a car factory in West Bengal after facing widespread protests from farmers.

Under land acquisition rules in India, at least 70 per cent of the land owners need to provide consent for a project.

The refinery, announced in 2015, was to be commissioned by 2022, but delays in land acquisition mean the deadline is likely to be pushed back.

These concerns raised by Indian farmers point to a problem at the heart of extractive industries, both mining and drilling and industrialisation in general.

For Nigeria, one of the most evident cases of environmental degradation as a result oil and gas related activity is the Ogoniland lingering clean up.

In June 2016, Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the Ogoniland clean-up exercise but people with deep knowledge of the matter and who live in the environment say slow pace of the exercise has become a major source of concern and may trigger youth restiveness.

“We are talking about the clean-up of Ogoni. Nothing has happened. And in fact, what I am hearing is that the position of government is they cannot get money to clean Ogoni unless we allow oil to flow. Such blackmail will not work,” Ledum Mitee, former president of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) told unpo.org, an online newspaper for environmental rights advocacy.

Robinson Sibe, a policy analyst and development strategist from Ogoni said promises of job creation and economic growth when production commences are highly contestable.

“While it might be lawful and economically expedient for the Nigerian government to want to resume oil exploration in Ogoni, “it is not expedient at this point, because the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoniland documents the scary levels of pollution,” he said.

Efforts to reach the Federal Ministry of Environment for comment were futile because the phone number on its website identified by Truecaller, an app that reveals the identity of telephone numbers, as belonging to ministry did not connect.

The analysis so far ties into Nigeria’s Land Use Act of 1978. The Act provides under section 28(2) (c) for the compulsory acquisition of land by government for mining purposes or oil purposes or for any purpose connected forthwith. This puts land owners on shaky grounds to be able to negotiate unlike what is happening in India.

The Act governs land use and administration in Nigeria, and is included in the Constitution. It abolished all existing freehold systems, and provided for a nationwide leasehold system. The leases are typically granted for 99 years, the maximum period stipulated by the Act.

The evident disadvantage of the Act to the oil host communities and the abrogation of their customary land rights are compounded by its ouster of the courts’ power to inquire into matters relating to the provisions of the Act.

This position is further reinforced by relevant provisions of the 1979, 1989 and 1999 constitutions of Nigeria. Through the Land Use Act, the State monopolises all rights of access to all oil-rich lands, precluding legal recourse by the original land owners.

Thus, the Land Use Act completely divested the Niger Delta people’s right to their ancestral lands and invested same in the state.

What is worthy of note is that before the promulgation of the Land Use Act, communities in the Niger Delta had direct dealings with oil companies over land acquisition and access for their operations even though mining rights was the exclusive preserve of the Nigerian state.

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