On December 10, 2011, Spaces for Change (S4C) launched a first-of-its-kind Online Conferencing Series (OCS) which takes the form of an online-moderated debate between two experts who hold opposing views on a social or economic subject that is of utmost priority in Nigeria. OCS’s overarching objective is to enhance public consciousness and understanding of Nigeria's economic policies and agenda; encourage informed dialogue among Nigerians on matters that affect their social and economic well being while exposing Nigerian youths to informed dialogue and issue-based engagement on matters that affect them.
The E-conference titled, Oil Subsidy: The Social And Economic Policy Imperatives started by 4 p.m. and featured an exhilarating cross-continental exchange and astonishing discussions led by maverick discussants, Oladayo Olaide (based in Dakar, Senegal) and Samuel Diminas (based in Houton, Texas, United States). Both of them are experts and practicing consultants from the development and oil/gas fields respectively. The e-conference moderator, Pamela Braide is a Nigerian-based development communications and public relations consultant who has worked for organizations and projects such as the Heart of Africa Programme, WHO, FHI, FMoH, the Amnesty Programme for Niger Delta militants. Special observers - from the highest-level of Nigeria’s executive, legislature and judicial organs, technocrats in all sectors of the economy cutting across oil and gas, manufacturing, banking, finance, insurance, engineering, local and foreign media, human rights and development sectors - were specifically invited to observe the conference discussions as a way of feeding the critical issues and concerns raised into policy and decision-making platforms.
In addition to unpacking the underlying controversies as well as the technical, political, structural and philosophical underpinnings that characterize the petro-subsidy discourse, the discussions examined in great depth, the advantages and disadvantages of a deregulated oil industry, with a special focus on the dynamics in the upstream and downstream sectors; the social and economic policy directions and imperatives that must be explored and undertaken in order to reduce adverse impact should President Goodluck Jonathan go ahead with his plans to remove petro-subsidies in January 2012. It goes further to clarify and analyze the place of human rights in the subsidy withdrawal plan, and the variety of strategies that the Nigerian government may employ to democratically engage citizens on the issue.
Recognizing that the downstream sector is linked and affected by activities in the power, commerce and industry, financial, transportation and the other sub-sectors in the energy industry, the first hour of the debate was dedicated to rigorous debate and intense engagement on a wide range of key issues and priorities regarding measures necessary for Nigeria to overcome problems facing the downstream sector in the short-, medium- and long-term. During the second session of the e-conference, the lead discussants received and responded to scores of questions and contributions from observers, participants and the group’s members participating from over 20 countries who joined the important discussions regardless of the time zone differences. Combating the staggering levels of corruption, lack of accountability and transparency in governance was one issue that dominated the proceedings. There were also warnings that a hurried deregulation of the downstream sector, without complementary attention to ensure regular supply of electricity to make refineries functional, access to credit, legislation to attract investors, investments by the Nigerian government to revamp derelict pipelines and efficient transport for carrying products, minimization of militancy and threat to feeds for the refineries; will only result in further impoverishment of Nigerians.
The initiator of the OCS series, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri is a development practitioner and human rights activist who has dedicated several years to the struggle for the realization of economic social and cultural rights in Nigeria. She is a specialist in monitoring and analyzing key issues, trends, policies, programmes and legislations affecting housing, oil operations, health, environment, women and children.
About Spaces For Change(S4C):
The discussants: Oladayo Olaide has worked for more than fifteen years in policy analysis, capacity building and advocacy on natural resource management, corruption, elections, human rights and programme management in West Africa. Since 2007, he has served as Economic Governance Officer for Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) Nigeria; Programme Coordinator of the West Africa Resource Watch and OSIWA's Ag. Country Coordinator. He holds a MA in Development Studies (major in Public Policy and Management) from the Institute of Social Studies, the Netherlands, where he wrote his thesis on corruption and Nigeria’s extractive industries. He also obtained an MBA in Finance from Olabisi Onabanjo University in Nigeria.
Samuel Diminas is a Senior Geologist/Geophysicist at Chevron North America Exploration and Production Corporation. He started his career at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), during which time he was involved in several projects in some of the most interior and deprived oil producing areas in the Niger Delta. He is the founding director of Baysludge Ltd, and Baysludge UK Ltd, a petroleum products marketing and supply firm. He holds an MSc. & DIC, Petroleum Geoscience from the Imperial College London, in 2006 and studied Geology at the University of Port Harcourt, 2000.
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