The unending conflicts between oil and gas bearing communities and oil companies will be minimized when community leaders learn and begin to apply appropriate negotiation strategies in their dealings with companies.
This position was canvassed by a community development advocate, Mr. Henry Eferegbo at a recent training organized by Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Center in Port Harcourt.
Mr Eferegbo, who, took participants drawn from some oil and gas communities in the Niger Delta-Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa Ibom states-said there is need to build the capacity of community leaders on negotiation as that will make them demand more and thus, reduce incidents of conflict over neglect by the companies operating in their domain.
According to him, “Communities do not get much because they do not know how to negotiate. They have to understand the rules of successful negotiation.
To get the best, he advised them to research on companies they want to negotiate with, checking out whether it operates locally or beyond, what it is coming to do in the community and what its interests are.
The activist with full experience in resolution of community/company conflicts said it is also important to pay attention to what the company is presenting and the timing.
“Pay attention to timing. Don’t jump into asking for what you want; wait until they are ready and giving attention to your community-ask at the right time,” he urged.
Community negotiation representatives he added, should also leave their ego at home to allow for an atmosphere of mutual discussion and note that no segment of society gives up power easily. He said there should be occasions to shift grounds.
Listening skill was also recommended as key to negotiation. “Horn your listening skills. Listen; allow the company to speak; it helps you know their intention, strengths and weaknesses and gives you an entry point to begin to speak based on what they have said, Eferegbo pointed out.
He advised communities not to be shy to make demands. “Ask, if you don’t ask you don’t get. Do not limit your request provided you have a convincing reason for making that demand. Register your fears, explain anticipated dangers”.
Eferegbo also advised community representatives to go to the negotiation table with an alternative. “Have a Plan B; do not be confused when things don’t go your way. Demand and accept offer of commitment from companies; document all agreements reached. Close negotiation meetings with confirmation to ensure that points raised and read out are agreed to by everybody.
“Be careful, read minutes carefully to ensure no extra information was smuggled in and, check everything before signing any document”, he stressed.
Eferegbo said communities get continually reaped off by companies because their representatives fail to carefully scrutinize documents before signing and warned, ”You must read through carefully, go through very well to be sure that what is in the agreement document is what you all agreed on. You can contest any word written in an agreement to protect your community”.
Eferegbo further advised community leaders to be careful with the Freedom to Operate, OTP, agreement urging them to rise above immediate financial gain.
“Negotiate OTP projects not money. Read the terms of GMoU agreements”, he stated adding that negotiations should take place on neutral grounds and not in company premises or in hotels”.
Theme of the four-day training funded by Womin, an African women in the extractives network had as its theme, “The Right to Say No,” a carefully structured programme to build the capacity of community leaders to be able to resist attempts by companies or government to foist on communities projects that will not be beneficial to their people.