Oredola Adeola, Solomon Ezeme
As the calls for energy transition intensify, the attention of the Federal Government and the international community have been drawn to the negative environmental and economical impacts of crude exploration on the livelihoods of residents of oil- producing communities as a result of decades of oil and gas exploration and production activities by multinational oil companies.
This was part of the issues discussed Thursday at a virtual event with the theme : “What After Oil: Climate and Environmental Resilience in Extractive Communities”.
The event was organized by the Yar’Adua Foundation and moderated by Amara Nwankpa, its Director of Public Policy Initiatives.
In view of the environmental and economic damage done to these communities, analysts have called for concerted efforts and strategies to be anchored on an alternative framework of multilateral cooperation amongst stakeholders necessary for resolving and preventing further escalation of the disaster that could arise as a result of the vulnerability of the residents to climate change.
Dr. Chichi Aniagolu-Okoye, Ford Foundation Regional Director, West Africa, in her remark has called for accountability and responsibility on the part of government agencies in charge of the region as well as the civil society in a such a way that will protect the vulnerable residents and ultimately results in the empowerment of the communities.
According to her, the time was right for the Federal Government to implement right policies and programs that will get the extractive companies to be committed to plight of the communities in a way that will be beneficial to the people.
She also suggested the need to rethink some of the policies of the government including the recently signed Petroleum Industry Act(PIA) to ensure sustainable transition from oil production to renewable energy sources.
She said, “Are we prepared and ready for the change that is going to emanate from transition to renewable? Our case is not bad as an oil producing nation, because the reality is that the extractive activities will continue to be relevant to the economy of Africa, and Nigeria in particular. We may be transitioning from oil, but must be willing to optimally harness our gas potential.
“We may be transitioning from oil, but industrial raw materials are on the surface of African countries including raw materials for production of mobile phones, manufacturing sector and power. Are we ready to take advantage of this?
“It necessary for us to position ourselves to ensure that we do not remain second-class in the things that we own? It is extremely important to continuously talk about the clean up. We have to ensure that we don’t end up doing what we have always done. We now have to do things differently and more efficiently and effectively.
“The civil society also has to get into the program. It has to change their rhetoric and understanding about the reality of the transitioning period. It is a fact that crude oil will still be relevant for the next 30-40 years. The oil companies and civil society have to prepare for the next 30-40 years.
“As the International oil companies are planning to diversify, there will be less oil money because of their new endeavours. We need to urgently start taking care of our environment?
“It doesn’t always have to be ‘them’ and ‘us’. It’s not always about the good and bad ones. It’s about partnership. It’s about how we can get government agencies, communities and the civil society working together in a way that protects the vulnerable, communities, livelihoods,” the Ford Foundation Regional Director said.
She suggested a partnership that holds every stakeholder accountable. According to her, “we have to do it in a way that ensures that we are talking to ourselves, not at ourselves. In a way that ultimately results in the empowerment of our communities.
Mr. Uche Orji, Managing Director/CEO, Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), who was a keynote speaker at the event, advised the government to engage stakeholders to develop policies and projects, to combat the economic effects of climate change.
The NSIA MD stated that the global economic factors are changing along with the climate, stating that government should not only direct its efforts and resources towards addressing carbon emissions, but also ensure it controls existing economic impact.
“The UN Secretary General has told the world that global warming has accelerated in recent decades and that every help to fight it counts.
“As the world becomes increasingly concerned about reducing carbon emissions, government agencies are pushing for a transition for a greener economy.
“The effects of climate change are here and may intensify if the government does not learn it and take measures to address it, quickly,” he said.
“It poses a great risk to the financial stability of businesses in this country. We need to sit down and set deadlines for achieving each of our goals. There is need for clear policy at the national level.
“Sharing of knowledge and expertise is needed. The fight involves a shared responsibility by the government, public and private agencies, donor agencies and the general public,” the NSIA boss said.
Orji however advised international financial organizations to help educate the oil producing economies about potential economic opportunities that await them if they could control carbon emissions.
According to him, the rising temperature, clashes between farmers and herders, deforestation and other environmental issues, have great economic consequences on the global communities. He suggested that this can be addressed if there is commitment by all.
Mrs. Cecile Tassin-Pelzer, Head of Cooperation, European Union Delegation to Nigeria & ECOWAS, in her own address, also stated the EU is conscious of the fact that Nigeria is the 58th most vulnerable country affected by carbon emissions in the world, and the 21st most unprepared to combat it.
She noted that EU is no longer interested in funding crude oil production and infrastructure, emphasizing that funds are only available for natural gas projects and initiatives.
She said the EU is committed to the new policy of pulling out of all fossil fuel financing, adding that the FG’s decision to utilize 30% of oil revenue for frontier basin exploration was in the wrong direction, as it may hinder its goal of achieving Net-Zero Emissions by 2030.
She said, “The newly signed PIA allows the NNPC to use about 30% of crude oil revenue to be spent on frontier oil exploration. This may affect Nigeria’s ambition to end gas flaring by 2030.”
During the panelists session, Mrs Bekeme Masade-Olowola, Chief Director, CSR-inAction, said that the level of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities going on in the Niger Delta region from which Nigeria crude oil is mainly extracted and refined is low, stating that it accounts for some of the vandalisations of oil pipelines and oil spillages by aggressive youths, in the region.
She said, “Only 26% of CSR activities is being carried out in the Niger Delta. Their lands have been degraded by oil spills. Why are oil companies operating in their communities not deploying technology to monitor oil spills and follow up with cleanup?
“It is necessary that oil companies carry community people along to give them a sense of belonging. Once that is done, there will be a huge reduction in cases of oil pipeline vandalism and oil spills. They have legal, health and economic effects,” she said.
The CSR-inAction Director, therefore, charged the Federal Government to use the new Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) to make oil companies improve their CSR obligations to their host communities.
“When you come to a community and they allow you to use their environment for investment, I think you should also have the sense of responsibility to give back or reward that community.
“The FG should help encourage these oil companies in the Niger Delta to perform better, through the PIA,” she said.
Ms Martha Agbani, Executive Director, Lokiaka Community Development Center, who spoke at the event, stated that members of various communities in the Niger Delta region are still complaining of polluted water and land, despite claims by some contractors to have completed their projects.
She said that people in the region continue to face serious health challenges, due to the polluted environment.
She explained that the unhealthy living condition of community people posed by the pollution of their environment by oil companies, is responsible for their low life expectancy, as she equally mentioned that the people still are faced with the challenge of portable water.
Martha said, “The life expectancy there is age 44, and it’s not too surprising why it is so. Their environment have been badly polluted by oil companies operating there. We are living in very poor condition. There is no portable water as it has already been contaminated by oil spilled into the rivers.”
She also said most clean-up projects claimed to have been 100% completed by contractors are, in reality, incomplete projects as oil could still be seen at project sites.
She explained that the contractors are sometimes sent back by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), to rework the sites, after getting too much complaints from community people.
“The are ongoing attempts to clean up the land, but there is delay in the clean-up process. It’s taking too long than expected.
“Some contractors even declare their projects 100% completed whereas we still see oil on our farms and even on the surfaces of rivers.
“NOSDRA, in some cases, used to ask these contractors to go back and do proper clean up whenever the complaints from the people are getting too much. So, even after clean up, people in the communities still find their environment lying in pollution,” she said.
Mr Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, while giving his speech, lamented the poor living conditions of oil communities caused by the activities of Shell Nigeria and other oil companies, noting that the companies care less about the welfare of their host.
“If you look at the challenges of the cleaning of Ogoni land, for example, the over dependence on crude oil or excess crude oil production activities in the Niger Delta region has led to the host communities abandoning the original occupations that sustained them. Everywhere is now messed up.
“They no longer have good water to drink, they no longer have fresh air to breathe, they no longer have clean soil to farm. So people there are in a critical condition. They are in a dying condition. That is what oil has meant in this region.
“Even fishes that are taken from the rivers are so polluted that when people wash, boil and eat them, they often passive the smell of fuel and have to spill them out of their mouths.
“Those who live beside refineries, all over the world, are enjoying. Why is the case of Nigeria different? Oil companies operating in those communities, including Shell and the likes, do not care about the interest of the people. They only make use of their lands,”´he said.
The participants at the conference concluded that if urgent measure is not adopted to address the recklessness of oil companies, contractors, third parties and government officials, there is tendency that the climatic impact may cause more severe pollution of the entire ecosystem in the Niger Delta.
They thus seek collaboration amongst various stakeholders to address carbon emissions in the country.