By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
On Friday April 22, 2022, the world celebrated the Earth Day, an annual event by the United Nations, to among other things; demonstrate support for environmental protection, remind humanity that the Earth and its ecosystems provide us with life and sustenance, that the healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people. And most importantly, reminds all that restoring our damaged ecosystems will help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction, but we will only succeed if everyone plays a part. The official theme for 2022 is Invest In Our Planet.
First held on April 22, 1970, and includes a wide range of events coordinated globally, Earth Day was first observed in the United States, when some 20 million people took to the streets to protest against the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Since then, the occasion has played an important role in raising awareness on other environmental issues. In fact, the landmark Paris Agreement, which was signed by nearly 200 countries to set a common target to reduce global greenhouse emissions, was signed on Earth Day in 2016.
Indeed, this piece understands the words and position of this world body(United Nation). Their resolve to create a livable world appears to this author as a great message of hope for our environment.
But, at about the same time, it invites some maze of high voltage confusion.
Essentially, this feeling of confusion naturally comes flooding when one reflects on the environmental challenge in the Niger Delta region, a region according to latest data from the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), that recorded a total of 4,486 cases of oil spill, amounting to 242,193 barrels of oil, from 2015 to 2021. The reported figure of oil spill cases is equivalent to 38.5 million litres of crude loss, representing an average of about 62 cases and 3,362 barrels of oil spills in a month, per data from NOSDRA’s satellite website on April 16.
Oil spillage as we know is the release of a liquid petroleum hydrocarbon or distilled products into the environment, especially the marine ecosystem.
A typical example of, and freshest of such ordeal that comes to mind is the large scale oil spill at Benikrukru community, Warri-South Local Government Area of Delta state, in the early hours of February 17, 2021, from one of the major facilities of a multinational oil company operating in the community, resulting in deadly pollution, environmental degradation, and disruption of both fishing and farming activities in the community and adjourning villages.
Qualifying this occurrence as a reality to worry about is the awareness that despite the excruciating pains that stemmed from the ugly development which the victims and the community have stoically endured, the Oil prospecting/production has neither provided relief materials to the affected individuals, nor shown remorse for their failings and failures or deemed it necessary to take active step to clean up of the affected areas through environmental remediation/upgrade.
The community in a recent statement lamented that they expected the Oil giant to come up with a conceptualized remediation plan and proposal for compensation of affected individuals and communities. But contrary to that expectation, the Oil giant persistently, via series of statements/releases lied and absolved itself of any wrongdoing-stating that the said spillage neither emanated from nor has anything to do with their facilities.
This high level of crass corporate irresponsibility/rascality, the community added, continued until a Joint Investigation (JIV) was on April 2nd and 10th, 2022, carried out. The result established beyond reasonable doubt that the Oil Company’s facility installed in the year 1972, has recorded what the report described as two pin holes through which the crude oil was emptied into rivers and devastated the environment.
The JIV team according to the report included but not limited to; staff of the multinational Oil Company, representatives from the National Oil Detective And Response Agency (NOSDRA), staff of the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission of Ministry of Environment, Delta state, Commissioner for Oil and Gas, Delta state, and representatives of affected communities in Gbaramatu Kingdom.
However, even as the JIV report ended the Company’s season of lies and established its culpability, the Oil Giant which prides itself as one of the best organizations in the country when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has not bothered to provide the community with relief materials. And the world which has benefitted from their God given natural resource especially the federal Government of Nigeria have looked on while the people of the community suffer this form of hardship.
In reality, there is in my views, no question that Benikrukru and of course Niger Delta region will continue to face such challenges as there is no end in sight spillage and environmental pollution of the region
There are reasons that support this assertion.First is the frequency of spillage that occurs in the region. According to NOSRA latest report, Oil spill incidents occurred 921 times in 2015, resulting in a loss of 47,714 barrels of oil, the highest within the period under review. In 2016, 688 cases of oil spills occurred, culminating in a volume of 42,744 barrels of oil. In 2017 and 2018, 596 and 706 cases of oil spills occurred and resulted in the spillage of 34,887 and 27,985 barrels of oil, respectively. Oil spills occurred on 732 occasions, spewing 41,381 barrels of oil in 2019, and 455 cases were recorded in 2020 with 23,526 barrels of oil. In 2021, companies reported 388 incidents, resulting in 23,956 barrels of oil.
The second reason has to do with weak/poor regulations/monitoring. In Nigeria, there are laid down principles guiding the handling of oil spills. For instance, oil spills should be closed off within 24 hours. But no operator can claim a clean hand when it comes to obeying such law in Nigeria and the regulatory agencies have never bothered to hold them accountable for such failures.
Again, according to NOSDRA, oil companies are required to fund the clean-up of each spill and pay compensation to local communities affected, if the incident was the company’s fault..Yet, there exists no appreciable instance where such obligations to host communities has been obeyed.
Thirdly is the government’s attitude of listening without being attentive to the hazards (both health and environmental) caused by crude oil exploration and production. This challenge is further fed by FG’s erroneous believe that so far the eggs are secured, the condition of the goose that laid the eggs become secondary and exacerbated by government’s constant expression of more interest in promoting petroleum production, without giving symbolic attention to environmental protection process or any substantial action to environmental issues in the region.
Thus, aside from enforcing this directive which says that oil spills should be closed off within 24 hours, this piece holds the opinion that for the nation to enthrone a new order within the sector, the Federal Government must intervene and address Benikrukru community pollution challenge. Demonstration of such a new attitude will not only be characterized as rewarding to the community, but illustrates FG’s new found capacity to hold Oil companies in Nigeria accountable for their misdeeds.
Until this is done, the majority of the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region will continue to view the call for corporate responsibility as a dangerous fiction imposed upon the wealthy and powerful. And not even the recently enacted Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) will serve or save the region.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via;[email protected]/08032725374.