For over fifty years now, oil and gas host communities in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta region have borne the brunt of environmental degradation engendered by oil exploration and exploitation activities. Since the commencement of commercial oil production in the Oloibiri area of present day Bayelsa State in 1956, oil exploration and production companies, multinationals mostly, have continued to devastate these communities.
Calls by environmental rights activists to draw global attention to this menace have largely fallen on deaf ears. In some unfortunate instances, champions of these calls have had to lay down their lives in the attempt to salvage what is left of their once harmless homeland. The fate of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni activists who were hanged on November 10, 1995 by the Sani Abacha junta for what many believe was Saro-Wiwa’s determination to pursue the rights of the Ogoni people, readily comes to mind.
Nonetheless, calls for restoration and restitution have continued to grow louder. For instance, in his official statement on World Environment Day 2014, Bayelsa State Governor, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson called on the international community and the Federal Government of Nigeria to compel oil and gas industry operators in the State and in the larger Niger Delta region to observe internationally acceptable environmental standards. Dickson’s call was in line with the persistent clamour for environmental justice, remediation and restoration for oil and gas host communities and in keeping with the United Nations’ declared theme for the World Environment Day 2014, ‘Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level.’
The World Environment Day 2014, being the third anniversary of the release of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, presented another opportunity to call for immediate action on the restoration of the environments and communities that remain devastated by the ravages of hydrocarbon exploration. Part of the observations of the UNEP scientific assessment was the presence of benzene in wells in Nisisioken Ogale area of Ogoni at a level over 900 percent higher than the accepted World Health Organization’s guidelines.
The rigorous scientific study by UNEP, the leading global environmental body, on the effects of 50 years’ continuous oil pollution in Ogoniland represented a template for application or replication across hydrocarbon host communities in the country, and in Bayelsa State in particular, where the scourge of oil-based environmental degradation is in its worst manifestation, largely earning Nigeria and the Niger Delta the tragic distinction of being the oil pollution capital of the world.
The UNEP report provided some hope for the effective commencement of the work of compelling oil corporations, private and governmental, to respect the environmental rights of the communities and redress the damage done to them. Sadly, three years after the report, nothing substantial has been done.
In the time that has passed since then, new oil spills and gas flaring and blow-outs happen routinely in hundreds of communities in the region. In December 2011, a massive oil spill from Shell Petroleum’s Bonga facility affected coastal communities in Bayelsa and Delta States. In January 2012, a catastrophic gas blow-out from Chevron’s K S Endeavour rig off the Koluama coastline in Bayelsa State left the incident area ablaze for days and has put the entire lives, livelihoods and health of dwellers in the host communities in jeopardy.
A recent ocean surge that swept off the barrier between Koluama and the Atlantic Ocean in a single swoop has raised questions as to a possible connection between that severe ecological-climate event and the Chevron gas blow-out of January 2012 while Shell and Agip seem to be competing in causing oil spills in several host communities. Yet, there is barely any redress or restoration work in earnest in any of the affected communities; neither are there signs of a restitution programme for Oloibiri and its sister historic host communities.
It is therefore pertinent to call upon ALL the major oil producing companies (Shell, Chevron, Agip, etc and where applicable, ALL their emerging successor companies in the ongoing divestment exercise), as well as the relevant government ministries and agencies and the National Assembly to take immediate, tangible and robust steps to commence the remediation, redress and restoration of the devastated communities.
In the words of the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Environment, Iniruo Wills, “it is time to demonstrate by clear action that we truly care about the environment and about the future of oil and gas host communities.”
What’s your take?