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Empowering the Media to Stimulate Growth, Transparency in Oil & Gas Industry

-By Benjamin Ike

The Nigerian media has played major roles in Nigeria’s existence; especially during the country’s quest to gain independence from its colonial masters and in the fight for the entrenchment of democracy.

All through the years and in every step of the country’s journey to development, the media had partnered with the government and the citizens, playing its traditional role of informing, educating, entertaining, serving as a watchdog and stimulating national discourse for socio-political and economic development.

However, despite the immense role it plays in uplifting key sectors of the economy, the Nigerian media is currently faced with challenges that are threatening its relevance and existence.

These challenges had impacted the ability of the media to effectively cover and provide incisive and critical reports on key sectors of the Nigerian economy, especially the petroleum industry.

These concerns formed the basis of discussion at the Valuechain Magazine’s Third Annual Lecture and Awards, which had as its theme: ‘‘The Role of Media in the Nigerian Petroleum Sector Reform and Investment’. The event held at the Fraser Suites in Abuja, October 12, 2020.

At the event, stakeholders suggested, among others, the creation of a specialised fund for energy journalists by both private and public players in the petroleum industry, fashioned after the likes of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) or the Industrial Training Fund (ITF).

The fund, which they said should be institutionalised in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), would be utilised to assist in the professional development of energy journalism.

The Fund, they said, when established should provide facilities for training of members of the Energy Correspondents Association of Nigeria and other group of energy journalists.

Specifically, speaking at the forum, Publisher of Valuechain Magazine, Musa Bashir Usman, disclosed that the media had underperformed in its role of bridging the information gap in the petroleum sector and holding government and stakeholders accountable for operations in the industry.

“No doubt, coverage by the media of developments in the oil industry for decades, have been impacted by a number of social, political and economic factors. However, the overall verdict is that Nigerian media coverage of the sector and reforms thereof, are said to be poor and contributed minimally to entrenching transparency and accountability,” Usman noted.

He added that recent findings had revealed that media practitioners in Nigeria, with exception of few, were not accorded the role and respect they deserved, particularly in the oil and gas industry.

The media and public relations expert described the situation as worrisome, while he attributed it to the proliferation of quacks in the media profession, and the presence of many untrained personnel manning the public affairs units of various oil and gas companies in the country.

He said: “It is a known fact that the media, if utilised well, can bring about the much-needed mass popular participation of stockholders towards rapid expansion of investments in the industry for the benefit of the nation. This is what is practised in other climes, and this is what we need to adopt.

“You may agree with me that the inability of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which was conceived 20 years ago to be passed into law, was perhaps due to shortage of public awareness on the importance of the bill.

“The awareness drive, which the media is supposed to spearhead, is what today’s lecture intends to bring to limelight considering the fact that the PIB was recently submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The media, more than never before, should amplify the importance of this very crucial bill that will, if passed into law, improve the government’s revenue generation drive especially, as the country faces another round of recession due to the effect of COVID-19 and other economic setbacks, too numerous to mention.”

Also speaking, Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum, Mallam Mele Kyari, who commended the Nigerian Media for picking interest in how NNPC is being run, however, noted that some of the media coverage on the activities of the corporation leaves one with mixed feelings.

According to him, some of the representations of the NNPC were not reflective of the real issues, while he insisted that greater engagements would have led to appropriate clarity.

Kyari confirmed that the media has served as a platform for clarification and enlightenment on issues and trends that affect NNPC and the broader oil and gas sector.

He said: “From oil price crash to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigerians have followed with keen interest the developments as they unfold on our pages and screens. Top on the agenda at the moment is the Petroleum Industry Bill.

“Although the conversation has been on for over two decades, the media have beamed their searchlight on almost every process of the bill’s journey thus far. As Industry practitioners, we are well at home with our responsibility of not only ensuring that the PIB is passed into law, but also with the task of delivering value to our most important stakeholders (the over 200 million Nigerians).”

Confirming the essence of the media, Kyari disclosed that the NNPC is open to partnerships with the media in terms of capacity building, especially as it relates to the PIB.

“I am of the opinion that every Nigerian deserves to know what this legislation means for the Nigerian oil and gas industry. It is therefore duty-bound on the media to continue to scrutinize the provisions of the bill in order to provide validation and even additional value,” the NNPC boss added.

In his presentation, the lead Speaker at the event, Secretary General of the African Petroleum Producers’ Organization (APPO), Dr. Omar Farouk Ibrahim, maintained that the Nigerian media provides the platform for the different interests in society to articulate their positions which are aggregated and, in theory, taken by their representatives in government to guide the formulation of governmental policies and actions.

Apart from providing the platform for the articulation of public opinions, Ibrahim, who is also former spokesperson of the NNPC, reiterated that the media also acts as watchdog of the society, over those in government — the executive, the legislature and even the judiciary.

He stated that communications experts had identified three preconditions which must be present in any polity for its press to be able to perform the two identified key roles in a diligent, effective and professional manner.

He listed the preconditions to include the institutional presence of a legal and political order in the polity that protects and supports journalists in the course of performing their professional duties.

The second precondition, Ibrahim noted, is that there must be a minimum professional standard for the practice of journalism in the polity, while he identified the third as availability of adequate resources for the professional pursuit of the goals of the media, such as the necessary tools, equipment, human capital and funds for the efficient performance of their duties.

In other words, he explained that the laws of the land must not only protect the freedom of expression, but must also give the journalist the right to access public information.

Specifically, he said: “If we all accept that petroleum is critical to the life of our economy, it follows naturally that those reporting on petroleum should be very well educated on the subject. They should operate in an environment that is conducive to their professional development.

“The petroleum sector is covered mostly by specialised reporters – the energy media. So then, how many energy journalists or members of the National Association of Energy of Correspondents can say that they have been sent on trainings to prepare them to better analyse and report the protracted reform of the Nigerian petroleum industry in the last 20 years?”

Continuing, Ibrahim said: “They should be able to inform and educate our policy makers and the general public on petroleum matters so that we all benefit from informed decisions. This is good for the government, for the industry and for the nation as a whole.

Towards this end, petroleum industry players, both private and public may consider coming together to create a specialized fund, similar to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund or the Industrial Training Fund, ITF, whose objective is to assist in the professional development of energy journalism.”

Ibrahim, who suggested the establishment of the specialised fund for energy journalism, also stated that the fund should be utilised to provide tools and working facilities, including studies and publications on petroleum, to accredited energy journalists.

Explaining the structure of the fund, he said: “Although the government, through its various petroleum agencies, may contribute the larger portion of the Fund’s budget, efforts must be made to ensure that it is not dominated by the government.

“One way to do this is to make sure that the law establishing the Fund clearly states that the budget of the Fund comes from contributions by oil operators, as well as any media organization that has an energy desk and employs up to a dozen staff.

“The formula can be worked out amicably. Such contributions must be compulsory. The law should also preclude the government from appointing the Chief Executive Officer of the Fund.

“In this regard, the National Assembly, which is currently reviewing the PIB, may seriously consider making a provision in the law for the creation of a Special Fund for the Development of the Energy Press in Nigeria. It is in the interest of the journalists. It is in the interest of the industry. And most importantly is it in the best industry of the nation.”

The implementation of these recommendations, would certainly strengthen the media to engage and interrogate stakeholders in the petroleum industry, thereby, ensuring that the country enjoys the immense benefits to be derived from the oil and gas industry