A. Introduction

Aiming to ensure expanded utility of existing mechanisms on addressing cases of human rights violation in Nigeria, a State Level Training on Environmental, Social and Human Rights Impact Assessment (ESHRIA) in Rivers State was organized by Publish What You Pay (PWYP) and facilitated by Foundation for the Conservation of the Earth (FOCONE) –with funding support of Cordaid International –on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 in Port Harcourt. The training was attended by 40 participants (comprising of 25 males and 15 females); the participants were largely members of oil impacted communities, representatives of community-based and non-governmental organizations (CBOs/NGOs).

The training sought to: a) provide participants with knowledge and response passion on use of rights-protection instruments to ensure that corporate accountability and responsibility is maintained in accordance with provisions of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights; b) ensure practical ways of putting into operation necessary accountability/responsibility procedures by integrating human and social rights into existing impact assessment processes through adoption of human rights-based approaches; and c) create broad participatory learning and knowledge exchange across citizens groups in Nigeria.

The scope of the training covered: a) the definition, essence, nature and examples of human rights; b) analysis perspective of human rights under the frame of availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality (AAAQ) principles –to cover human rights cope across the United Nations specially focused areas of housing, food, education, health and water; c) rights-holders and duty bearers frame of promoting due diligence as regards upholding state and corporate responsibility to protect and respect human rights; i.e., focusing on access to grievance remedy by victims of rights violations, domesticating of processes to implement the UN Guiding Principles on human rights for ensuring state obligations, and closing existing gaps toward achieving corporate commitment to respect human rights; d) overview of the process of implementing environmental, social and human rights impact assessment effort in Nigeria –under current engagements coordinated by PWYP; and e) broad stakeholders engagement processes on ESHRIA.

Additional aspects covered by the training include: access to remedy over violations and abuses of human rights; expanded local participatory capacity building; components of impact assessment (e.g., baseline status, social profile, context analysis, vulnerability and vulnerable groups); human rights-based approach); and currently available grievance remedy mechanisms.

B. Training process

The training utilized participatory processes to accomplish its mission. The strategies, therefore, included series of lectures, plenary participation, questions/answer sessions and suggestions/decisions for further action. The process also entailed providing for (mostly) community representative to consider planning for more grassroots engagements over the critical areas of addressing ESHRIA matters such as will target realization of benefits to impacted communities, groups, stakeholders, and individuals. As well, civil society participant groups were sensitized through awareness/zeal-creation processes to become armed with passion and knowledge of existing tools/options to include ESHRIA processes in their advocacy programmes.

C. Far-reaching interrogations

Some significant probing questions were thrown up by participants in response to the covered scope realities of the training; they include:

  • Who should be held responsible for an invasion of an oil-bearing community by the military under government order when acting to protect state interest within international oil company (IOC) operations –if the company defaulted in pillar 2 of corporate responsibility of the UN Guiding Principles? (Eferebo, Henry)
  • How much awareness can rights activists create to enable local victims understand that their rights have been abused or violated –to ensure that they speak up, or even petition for remedy? (Hon. Mrs. Stella Agada, JP)
  • To what extent are local communities involved in Environmental Impact Assessment process in the Niger Delta –to even talk about expanding the process to include ESHRIA? (John Bibor)
  • Why is the state government not effectively protecting its citizens in line with the UN Guiding Principles? (Alfred O Nwankwo)
  • As related to pillar 3, some youths in recent times are killing staff of operating oil firms under claim of whatever they think is their right. Will it not be right in this case for affected corporations to demand the enforcement of the rights of their staff? (Mgbam, Samuel)
  • We have the current challenge of politicizing every public concern raised –on the basis of party affiliation, which is highly compromising effort at advocating for genuine issues. So, how do we encourage fresh advocacy over rights violations/abuses –to make it effective? (Casmir Ihedike)
  • On realizing human rights due diligence, at what point do we have implementation of findings after being reported and communicated? (Sunny Zorah)
  • Can this training process be extended to further steps on filing grievance complaints over violations under ESHRIA process? (Menidin Egbo)
  • Are there any provisions for enforcement that will enable the citizens to seek for redress and compensation over rights violations by the state/corporations –and to strengthen the process of protecting citizens’ rights? (Evang. Kiikpoye Mark)
  • Why are state governments not responsive to various human rights violations perpetrated by operating oil firms in host communities of their operations? (Allen R)

D. General comments and observations

  • The currently EIA Act amendment process offers a window of opportunity to get it right for the ESHRIA to be integrated into effective domestication status, and to further promote more community involvement
  •  The government in Nigeria and the IOCs have no regard to any guiding principle –nor the constitution –and have been violating citizens/communities’ rights in the Niger Delta
  • Broad collaborations and vulnerable groups inclusion are largely lacking for ESHRIA to lead to sustainable results
  • Distinguishing political representation from socio-cultural rights of individuals/groups is still difficult in present day Nigeria’ socio-political system
  • There is limitation of enforcement of rights when government interest interfaces with efforts to use security agents to protect corporate operations
  • The inability of government to effectively address rights violations is drawing Nigeria back in its obligation to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles
  • EIA processes are even currently not done in accordance with the stipulations of the law EIA Act
  • Corporations that operate with World Bank/International Financial Corporation’s loan can be held to account (over rights violations) on the bases of existing adopted remedy frameworks to control investment involvements related to these institutions support.

E. Recommendations  

  • There should be clarification over rights of citizens and citizens’ duties/ or obligations to the state
  • Genuine issues of rights violations should be filed with the National Human Rights Commission ((NHRC), now fulfilling constitutional/legal mandate to protect and enforce human rights
  • Non-judicial grievance mechanisms exist for possible remedy option over rights violations –through home government National Contact Point of violator IOCs and in line with the Voluntary Principles on Business and Human Rights of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
  • Citizens and civic groups should support the process of closing the gap of absence of national policy on ESHRIA to refocus corporate obligation on respect to human rights –for which this training is designed by PWYP to capture wider inclusion
  • Elected local political representatives should be placed on demand by the citizenry to get assurance from them over promoting their ward’s interests as covered in all socially relevant impact assessments; i.e., in accordance with policy/legal provisions
  • Further training on filing complaints would be looked into in due course –as PWYP and partners find possible windows to address related issues in future.

F. Conclusion

The training event was successfully facilitated with outstanding achievement. Participants expressed happiness over gained new knowledge for further necessary engagements to protect human rights in their communities. There was clear interest around the learning of the human rights-based UN guiding principles three pillars, namely: state duty to protect, corporate responsibility to respect, and citizens access to remedy; especially as this framework provide some target focus for promoting, protecting and enforcing human rights in Nigeria.    

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