The Head of the International Secretariat and the Executive Director of the global EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative), Mark Robinson, was in Nigeria last week. During the three-day visit, Mr Robinson held meetings with key government officials, agencies and civil society groups on the EITI remediation process.
Business & Economy Editor, Bassey Udo was at his meeting with civil society groups and the media where he acknowledged Nigeria’s progress. He said the country’s achievements so far put her in a unique class among the 52 EITI member countries.
PT: Since you arrived in Nigeria, you have been holding meetings with several government officials and agencies. What’s your assessment of Nigeria’s progress in the EITI process?
MARK: Today is the one year anniversary since I took up this role as Head of the International Secretariat.
The EITI has 52 countries membership. My assessment is that Nigeria is one of the jewels in the crown in the EITI global family.
Nigeria is the largest single country of the EITI family. Nigeria has shown that it has the capacity to drive through all the reforms.
This is not my first trip to Nigeria. I have been here for about six times. So, I don’t claim I am an expert. But, certainly I have a certain level of familiarity.
I have been pestering the NEITI Secretariat ever since I was appointed to arrange a visit to Nigeria. Quite understandably, this will be a good time to come. We were waiting for the elections and the formation of a new government.
With the formation of a new government came a series of important new appointments to senior positions of not only to represent government, but also segments of the industry.
Since I arrived, I have had the opportunity of meeting with the Group Managing Director of the NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr (Mele) Kyari, and of course the Finance, (Budget and National Planning) Minister, (Zainab Ahmed), recently reappointed to her expanded role.
We had long interactions with both of them, as well as the Minister of State in the Mining Ministry. I had a meeting with the Board of the NEITI at their headquarters.
So, it’s been a good and intense 24 hours in Nigeria. And now we have the time to hear from civil society because civil society, in the EITI, is one of three legs that sustains this initiative.
Civil society has an important place in the table, along with sovereign governments and companies, both international and multinational companies involved in the exploitation of oil and gas and minerals, as well as important state enterprises, and local industries domiciled in the global environment.
I say that because, increasingly, we are keen to diversify the company base in the EITI so that we are fully representative of the industry interests in the EITI.
So, we are hoping we might have the opportunity of welcoming state enterprises like the NNPC to join in the EITI initiative as a supporting company.
Of course, I do not need to tell you how important the contribution civil society makes to our overall effort globally and here in Nigeria.
I am well aware that Nigeria is blessed with a very active and healthy civil society, and also that you are very engaged in the extractive governance efforts.
PT: What are those new global trends in the EITI you would want civil society to be aware of?
MARK: Let me say a few words about some of the evolving trends in the EITI and how they may play out here in Nigeria.
I assume that most of you have a decent knowledge of what EITI is about. So, it is not my purpose to explain what we do and who we are.
One of the things we are, of course, is essentially an initiative dedicated to improving extractive industries governance in the oil, gas and mining sectors.
We are also an initiative that seeks to root out and tackle corruption. EITI is not an anti-corruption agency.
But, we do believe that the work we undertake is significantly against corruption. The data we generate and make available to the media and others who are interested and wish to join in tackling pernicious problems should be a central part of our effort.
The data that can be used for pursuing that larger goal increasingly is something that in the global organisation is encouraging to take a clearer position on corruption. How do we contribute to that overall goal?
We realise that this has a huge relevance to the work of the civil society in Nigeria, because the country has been afflicted with the problems of corruption in the extractive sector for many years.
I am sure most of you around the table are unified by your desire to make use of the results generated by the sector for the public purpose, for reinvestment in services that the Nigerian citizens so need, whether to improve health, education, infrastructure, etc.
So, the activities of EITI both in Nigeria and globally contribute to generating resources to the public’s agenda, to in turn be translated into priority expenditures for citizens of the EITI countries.
That’s the overarching goal of revenue mobilisation and using our efforts in supporting campaigns against corruption. This is the significant primary goals of what we are doing. That is why we are here together to share that perspective.
The other thing we do is that we have an industry that has the capacity to help create prosperity and generate jobs.
We realise the huge potential the mining industry has in Nigeria in future and some of the demands in renewables will translate into increased demand for many of the underground resources that Nigeria has as well as for broadening the global economy growth.
We know the sector has huge potentials for growth and will in the future make significant contribution to the resource base in Nigeria, alongside the oil and gas sector.
We watch with interest to see how that develops. The figures we have suggest we are already in a major and significant steady increase in the contributions to revenue collections by the mining sector.
The involvement of civil society is critical, because you can help shine the light on practices which don’t allow us to pursue those overarching goals.
You have a clear link to citizens. You represent the citizens’ voice, which you can use to make increasing demands and to hold accountable those responsible for making decisions about the use of the oil and gas and mineral resources.
That’s why I said you are a vital leg of the EITI mechanism. We have some of the unique scales with which we operate our multi-stakeholder process.
The fact is that we have an international Board that represents some of the constituencies, and our 52 countries similarly have representations of those constituencies.
PT: Earlier, you described Nigeria as one of the ‘jewels in the crown’ in the EITI global family. Why did you say so?
MARK: One of the things I have been very impressed about Nigeria, which makes the country quite unique, is that Nigeria has representations in its National Stakeholders Working Group from the different regions in the country.
I don’t think I know of any other key stakeholder working group in the EITI that has that level of representation. That’s quite important and significant, in terms of inclusivity in the representation of all key interests.
For the other role civil society plays, apart from holding decision-makers and companies to account, it gets information out to the citizens.
I am excited to hear some of the initiatives already taking place here in Nigeria. But, how do you translate the complexity of the long, technical reports produced every year about the EITI Implementation into information that are readily accessible to citizens; that is understandable and not in a form that is available to only a small number of people that can read and understand?
That translation of EITI data into citizen-friendly information is something we will warmly welcome and we are actively encouraging at the moment.
The purpose of the EITI is not just to inform public debates, but to make sure that debates take place and include members of the public who are more broadly outside the multi-stakeholders group.
That includes people who are far away from the capital city where the actions take place in a federation like Nigeria, but also equally men and women in that conversation.
I make reference to this because we now have a provision in the revised EITI standards of 2019 to pursue efforts to include men and women in more equally and more multi-stakeholder process of the EITI.
I just wanted to highlight our expectation through the standards we hold ourselves to account for the same commitment to achieve greater balance between the genders in our multi-stakeholder groups.
The make-up of the regional representatives in Nigeria on the multi-stakeholder group is something I will take away with me back to Oslo as an important insight I will love to share with others.
PT: What are the priorities of the EITI going forward?
MARK: In terms of the priorities of the EITI going forward, I recommend you read and familiarise yourselves with the revised EITI standards, because what we have there is not business as usual.
We have some important new commitments and requirements that are mandatory. The most salient is on contract transparency between governments and companies.
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This spells out the terms of contracts, royalties, and payments of fees by companies to government. It’s a mutual commitment between government and companies in the contractual form in the public domain.
That is a requirement that will be enforced in two years’ time. That is a very important new step in the EITI process, which all our stakeholders and several other companies are actively championing is the importance of contract transparency.
A second point, which is already in force, and we are accelerating progress on is Beneficial Ownership Transparency.
Here, in Nigeria, this has a huge resonance in an effort to identify, in terms of individuals, names and contact details of the real owners of assets in the extractive industries.
I ready applaud the fact that in Nigeria you will be releasing on December 12 the first Beneficial Ownership Register for the Extractive Sector.
That is a huge leap; one to be welcomed and applauded. Nigeria is one of the few countries that have actually made that achievement.
We know this is a first effort. We know it is not perfect. But, we also know that it will require a change in legislation to enable Nigeria realise that commitment to the full.
We look forward to the government committing more fully to the future and addressing the legislative environment to make beneficial ownership transparency in the extractive industry real for the future.
The third area of priority is on commodity trading. This is a complex technical area. It is all about the sales and movement of cargoes of oil, gas and minerals; an important revenue earner for the country; one that has not always been a special area for transparency.
Now our new revised standard enables us to shine greater light on the significance, in revenue terms, of those sales.
These three important commitments, alongside many other requirements in the agenda, and also on the environment, which we actively encourage companies and governments to publish as much information as is available from investment projects into the public domain as part of reporting under the EITI.
We are not asking for fresh additional requirements, but to make better use of the information already available and put at the public domain around the world, in terms of impact assessments, distribution of benefits, to make for compensation at the local levels.
The last thing I want to talk about is systematic disclosure or mainstreaming. In Nigeria, there has been a lot of thinking and practice to mainstream EITI data.
What we mean is not relying wholly on these reports about increasing volumes of data to government information systems, government websites and company reporting from company websites. This is the direction we are traveling in the EITI processes.
What we are looking for is generating data and reporting against our requirements using online systems increasingly, open data in pursuing government to uphold those commitments too.
This is going to be the future of how we operate, with reports providing important supporting roles.
PT: What will be the role of civil society in the new priorities you have highlighted going forward?
MARK: One of the important roles for civil society is how you harness that data and information in a way that it becomes relevant to citizens, rather than them going through long audit reports.
There will be a need for reporting, but one that highlights some of the areas of corrective actions, either through a validation process, or the provision of accurate, credible and information.
It will be the role of civil society to ensure that happens. If that data becomes more accessible and more timely, it also should be in a form that could be sent out to a large number of ordinary people.
That’s the agenda that lies ahead and included in our revised standard. I do encourage civil society to play an active role in helping EITI mainstream in Nigeria.
PT: In all of these, how much progress would you say Nigeria has made in its involvement in the EITI process? Again, what is your perception, from all the meetings you have held so far, of the government’s attitude to transparency?
MARK: On the issue of how much progress has been achieved through the EITI process in Nigeria, my response is a huge amount.
We have listened to the many achievements the NEITI and civil society has recorded through their involvement in the process. Even though Satisfactory Status has been the highest level given to Nigeria through the EITI validation process, there is still quite a large number of corrective actions for the government to follow up.
So, in giving Satisfactory Status to Nigeria, the EITI indeed recognises real progress that has been made. But at the same time, if one looks at the detail of the corrective actions that need to be done, there is quite a long way to go.
So, we are still on the journey. It’s not a completed journey. There are many other things that need to be done in order to go beyond satisfactory status to excellence.
Nigeria has huge ingredients to succeed. Success stories are all around as contained in the various NEITI audit reports.
It’s very striking that NEITI has been able to reveal all the monies that haven’t yet been transmitted from oil revenues into government budgets by companies.
There are important reports showing the illegal removal of oil resources, which has cost the economy big. These are real achievements that must be applauded. I am confident that NEITI can build further on that.
In terms of the perception of the EITI about government’s attitude to transparency during the series of meetings we have been having since I arrived in Nigeria, I think I have already spoken about some of the important moments in Nigeria, when you have key individuals being part of the government, who have a direct say on the issue of transparency we are discussing today.
What other evidence of commitment do we need when you have a reforms champion like Mr Kyari as the Group Managing Director of the NNPC committing publicly to having a committee on remediation of government revenue involving civil society and government?
That’s absolutely remarkable commitment. That is addressing a lot of problems identified by NEITI in its reports over the 15 years of its foundation.
That has huge potential to demonstrate real intent of dialogue and openness about what the remaining corrective actions and the opportunities of mainstreaming through open data.
The fact that the NNPC now has monthly data about its production and profits is a great reason to be confident about the government. The possibility is high that they, maybe in two weeks’ time if the Board endorses it, have audited financial accounts in the public domain. This is another good sign of progress.
On body language, again, I talk about Mr Kyari. He impressed me a lot from the moment I met him. When he offered me coffee, he did not ask his subordinates to make it for me. He made it himself for me.
That tells me something special. That he did not need someone else to perform such a simple act of hospitality and thinking about the big reforms he has so far followed through in a major establishment like the NNPC.
So, I am very looking forward to welcoming the NNPC as a supporting company joining our 60 other companies in our expanding global network of companies in the EITI.
The other important reformer you have in government is your Finance Minister. She has a long history of involvement in extractive industries transparency work through NEITI and her two terms as a member of the International Board of the EITI.
That she committed about 90 minutes of her incredibly busy schedule as Minister to talk us through the opportunities for progressing reforms in the extractive industries in Nigeria is another glowing testimony to the government’s commitment to transparency.
These are just two examples of what I see as huge opportunities that Nigeria has to make sudden jump in progress in the country and in the EITI process. I thank you.