For over 5 decades of oil exploration, production and export by several international oil companies in partnership with the Federal Government of Nigeria, it is obvious that the relationships between the IOCs, the Federal Government, oil-producing communities and other relevant stakeholders have never being cordial, and may never be anytime soon, and hence the continuous crisis in the oil-rich Niger Delta. At the heart of the crisis is the challenge of bringing together the various relevant stakeholders in the region together in order to address the lingering problems amicably.
Why is it difficult to bring the relevant stakeholders in the Niger Delta together? The simple reason is because of the poor stakeholder engagement approach being adopted and used by the government and IOCs. According to the International Council on Mining and Metal (2005: p116), this poor stakeholder engagement approach takes the following form and practice:
- Poorly conducted analysis that does not capture relevant interest groups.
- No stakeholder engagement strategy, plan and activities.
- Stakeholders ignored and requests denied.
- Stakeholder engagement consists of a one-time set of public meetings with local leaders who do not represent the true interests of local communities.
- A process that is only responsive (passive), i.e. a company engages only when there is a problem, such as a community protest, negative press or NGO pressures.
- An ad hoc approach.
- Engagement with communities is conducted on the company’s premises.
Until a good stakeholder engagement approach is adopted and put to use, the crisis may continue.
What is then a good stakeholder engagement approach? A good stakeholder engagement approach includes relevant stakeholder identification and analysis, information disclosure, stakeholder consultation, negotiations and partnerships, grievance management, stakeholder involvement in project monitoring, reporting to stakeholders and management functions (ICMM, 2005: p116). This takes the following form and practice:
- Stakeholder engagement throughout the whole project cycle.
- Stakeholder engagement is integrated into core business activities (HR, procurement, security).
- Senior management is involved in stakeholder activities.
- There is a system in place that measures effectiveness of building constructive corporate–community relations and relationships with other relevant stakeholders.
- Local communities are seen as partners.
- Stakeholders can call the meetings and there is a procedure for this, jointly established between a company and relevant stakeholders.
- Negotiations with communities are conducted in good faith.
- Communities give feedback about programs that are being implemented and their feedback is incorporated into project design.
- Vulnerable groups are included in engagement activities in a distinct manner.
- In cases where local communities lack experience in organizing themselves and/or in public consultation processes, the company facilitates capacity-building activities.
- The company ensures that local benefits are understood by local stakeholders.
- Expectations are effectively managed and the company is very clear about who loses and who wins.
- There are programs targeting “have-nots”, people who do not benefit from the project, that help create opportunities for them.
The adoption and usage of the above form and practice of a good stakeholder engagement by the Federal Government and oil-producing companies in the oil-rich Niger Delta will bring together all relevant stakeholders in the Niger Delta region which will eventually lead to a permanent resolution of all issues fueling the crisis in the region.
I think this is one of the right steps to putting an end to the incessant conflicts in the oil-resourced Niger Delta rather than outlining and announcing a national agenda devoid of any inputs from the oil-producing communities, people and relevant stakeholders in the region.
ICMM, 2005. “Community Development Toolkit.”