Time to address reoccurring crude oil spills in Nigeria

Energyday Editorial

The incessant oil spillages and their attendant effects on the socioeconomic life of the people of the Niger Delta region should be a source of concern, and a big challenge to every well -meaning Nigerian.

The history of oil spillage bears with it tragic fortunes for the people of the region, and this itself is a sad reminder of the conspiratorial amity against the Niger Deltans between the federal government and the oil companies; which tragically came to a head in the state -sponsored judicial murder of one of Africa’s finest writers and human and environmental rights activist, Kenule Sarowiwa (aka Ken Sarowiwa) and the Ogoni 8 in 1996; as a result of their non violent protests and advocacy against incessant spillages.

Between the time oil was discovered at Oloibiri in Bayelsa State in 1956 to the time Sarowiwa was judicially murdered up to the recent Santa Barbara wellhead incident, there have swelters of oil spillages with their attendant toll on the environment and economic life of the people, yet, it would seem successive governments have always shied away from confronting this Hydra that intermittently rears its head.

Though, the oil company, Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company Limited, in conjunction with its Joint Venture (JV) Partner, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), finally succeeded in putting a stop to the oil spillage at the Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 in Nembe, Bayelsa State, the environmental damage had been done. And as usual the people whose lives were disrupted are not known to have been compensated in any way neither is there any intent to do so.

This is obvious as the Joint Investigative Visit, JIV, report initiated by the Federal Government has concluded that the Nembe well head blowout was caused by sabotage. A position the Bayelsa state government has rejected insisting that spillage was due to equipment and maintenance failure.

Unfortunately, the JIV report which is a prelude to setting the stage to abandon those affected by the spillage and the environment is coming after the incident in question was allowed to ravage the area for over 40 days.

Prior to the JIV report, Aiteo’s Group Managing Director, Victor Okoronkwo, owned up in a statement two weeks ago, when he said “the malfunctioned facility” that led to the oil spill on its Santa Barbara wellhead, had been brought under control. How do one say a facility malfunction in one breath and in another say it is a sabotage?

Great to hear, Mr Okoronkwo emphasized in his statement that remediation activities would align with Aiteo E&P’s strategic priorities, to ensure uninterrupted continuation of the living conditions of the Nembe people as, according to him, it was the company’s paramount consideration. However, there is now a cause for worry as the JIV report seems to have absolved the company of wrong doing.

This double standard altitude of the Federal Government, its agents has become a repressive tool of oppression against host communities to the advantage of the oil companies operating in Nigeria.

A case in hand is the recent outcry of a group of fishermen in Akwa Ibom who accused ExxonMobil of refusal to pay compensation for oil spills after deploying shenanigans to stop their legal pursuit for same.

The fishermen accused the American oil giant, ExxonMobil, of failure to take responsibility and pay compensation for a series of oil spills said to have occurred in the state between 1998 and 2012.

According to them, they initially instituted a legal pursuit against the company but were encouraged to withdraw their case out of the court in the hope of amicable settlement. But several years after and in spite of numerous petitions and reminders to government officials and the company, nothing has come out of their efforts.

The fishermen, acting under aegis of the Akwa Ibom Cooperative Fisheries Association, stated that the oil spills in question, led to the destruction of their nets and other fishing tools and livelihoods.

The group held a protest in Abuja in July to press ExxonMobil to pay for damages and the hardships inflated on its members in the last 14 years as a result of oil spills, estimating the compensation at N11 billion.

According to them, in October 4, 2020, they dispatched a petition to the National Assembly through the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, asking for the Nigerian government’s intervention in the push for compensation from the oil firm.

On 24 September, 2021 the group sent a reminder to the lawmakers through the office of Ike Ekweremadu, the Enugu state senator.

“We, the board of directors and members of Akwa Ibom Co-operative Fisheries Association Limited wish to remind you of our plight and request contained in our letter of 24 July, 2018 (copy attached) on the above subject and to express our utter disappointment at the way our matter of injustice and spiteful treatment is being handled by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the notice read.

The union said it was forced to go to court in 2005 to seek redress, owing to the oil firm’s nonchalance to their plight, but ExxonMobil quickly approached Eme Ufot Ekaette, a former senator, to plead with them to withdraw the case from court, with a promise that they were willing to settle the matter and pay compensation to enable them to return to business.

In 2010, the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology under the then chairmanship of Grace Bent pleaded with ExxonMobil to compensate the group for the ruin the spills wrought on the community. The company has failed to comply 11 years later, the group said.

In 2015, ExxonMobil replied to a letter from the group, acknowledging that oil was released on January 12, 1998 from its Usari Idaho pipeline after scientific investigation but no damage was discovered in the environment.

At EnergyDay, we have observed that most of these oil companies are spurred on by the collaborative effort of government agencies, weak regulatory framework, government’s insensitivity and corruption. Consequently, they have continued to treat the environmental concerns of the locals with nonchalance.
This is morally reprehensible and should no longer be tolerated.

This medium is of the view that since most spillages are said to be acts of sabotage, provision of security for the pipeline should be a priority.

We recall that shortly before he left power, former President Goodluck Jonathan had initiated a policing of the oil and gas installations with some ethnic warlords such as the leader of Odua People’s Congress, OPC, Chief Gani Adams and Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo to secure the pipelines.
What happened to the arrangement? And why did the Buhari administration not build on it, even to expand such security arrangements to include all oil and gas installations?

In our view, the Amnesty program for Niger Delta militants should include an official arrangement with ex -militants and other locals to secure installations in their spheres of influence in return for the money government pays them as part of the amnesty programme.

Government should show more interest in oil spillage, and if we use the Ogoni-Shell situation as a case study, who becomes responsible for the cleanup of polluted land in the event that the oil company relocates to another place?

We are aware that the Petroleum Industry Act has taken care of some of these issues, we urge the federal government to expedite action in letting the full weight of the Act come into operation.

Once again, we urge government to utilize agitators like the Niger Delta militants in securing the pipelines, while the amnesty funds usually given to them can serve as compensation.

Technology must also play a more significant role in this regard as it has taken dominant role in socioeconomic life of the people, including security. In this wise, the federal government and the oil companies can deploy drones to police these pipelines and other oil and gas installations.

This will help to check and detect sabotage as the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), has alleged as being responsible for much of the spillage.

It is not enough to attribute the regular occurrence of crude oil spills in the Niger Delta to sabotage, efforts must be made to stop them at least to save the environment for future generations.

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