Off the chart pollution level in Niger Delta.

As I was settling down to comment on the pollution of several communities along the coastline of the Atlantic which rattled the residents of the affected communities of Bayelsa State, the riddle relating to the actual organization that caused the incident has not been resolved. Also, the residents of the communities have remained resolute, insisting that the culprit is Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) caused the pollution through its operations, but it has stoutly denied doing so. The intervening agency, National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), has equally incensed everyone by its remarks that the pollution was not induced by oil industry wastes, but might have been caused by domestic and industrial sources emptied into the water body (Vanguard, Friday, May 15, 2020). The statement which was credited to the NOSDRA Director-General, Mr. Idris Musa, also infuriated various interest groups in the region, triggering more controversies.

This incident and recurring cases of oil pollution in the region make it abundantly clear that the people of the region will remain permanently in captivity so long as nothing is done to check the incidents of oil pollution notwithstanding its pernicious effects on the environment and the health of the people. For example, Mr. Nimo Bassey, a foremost Nigerian environmentalist, recently recalled that NOSDRA announced that a whooping 1,300 oil spills occurred in the Niger Delta between 2018 and 2019, exclaiming that “it is astonishing that we would have an average of five spills a day in Niger Delta without government declaring a state of environmental emergency in the entire region. This is unacceptable”. See Vanguard September 1, 2020.

Also, shell Petroleum Development Company and Ikarana Oil Community in Yenogoa Local Council of Bayelsa State are locked in a protracted battle over the cause of oil spills occurring in Okordia-Rumuekpe Pipeline in November 12, 2019 with the former rejecting the result of NOSDRA tests. Painfully the crude oil tanker carrying crude oil from Okpai along the west bank of River Niger through Onya – Patani to Port Harcourt Export Terminal, polluting the waters all year round with out NOSDRA querying the owners of the crude oil tanker.

It is quite patent that the reckless pollution of the region by drilling activities of oil companies since the past decades is peculiar to Nigerian where the oil prospecting companies disregard international best practices in all aspects of their operations. Before I proceed further, I will refer readers to some examples where oil exploration in other countries has not crippled human activities through pollution of the environment.

In early January 1996 in Lagos, I participated and covered a workshop along with few other colleagues in the print media on peace culture organized by the International Institute for Peace, ITIP with Professor Muyibi Amoda as the Director General. The objective of the workshop was to identify causes of conflicts in the society and recommend solutions. There, late Alfred Erinle, a prominent member of Ethnic Minority Rights Organization of Africa EMIROF, told participants at the workshop how oil company drilling oil apply international best practices without destabilizing the environment. This according to him, was the finding of the Ogoni people during their tour of many countries where oil exploration and exploitation are carried out without destablising the environment of host communities.

For example, he stated that in an oil community visited by the Ogoni entourage, an oil exploration company attempted to lay its pipes across lily fields, but the people protested without hesitation, arguing that pipes would destroy their lilies. That action was halted and the concerned company withdrew its plan honourably. Second, in another community, a different oil exploration company intended to lay its pipes in a forest but the host community also demurred and bluntly disallowed the venture, contending that if their squirred jumped on the pipes to be laid their legs would be broken. Interestingly the company also withdrew its plan, no obduracy on its part as it did not ignore the protest of the host community. It had no choice, but had to lay its pipes in other directions like what the other oil company did in the first example stated above in the case of the lily fields.

What gladdens the mind from the above examples, was the absence of hagglings between the people of the two companies and their hosts. Without doubt, both parties enjoy peaceful coexistence. Moreover, the oil companies, without being told did not record any man however loss in their operations nor loss of any lives as in the case of Nigerian where we have frequent altercation and fist fightings between the oil companies and youths of the host communities. It is instructive for the international oil companies –Chevron Nigeria Limited, Shell petroleum Developing Company, Nigeria, Agip Oil Company and others to emulate the matured way those companies handled the two cases referred to above.

Sadly, in Nigeria the OICs over the past 50 years have been drilling oil in brazen and shameless manner without recourse to international best practices. If oil companies operating in other parts of the world like USA, UK, Middle East countries can protect the environments where they operate without polluting the streams, rivers and oceans and at the same time protecting terrestrial and aquatic animals, why can’t those in Nigeria emulate them? Can anyone compare the value of lilies with Iroko and cotton trees or farm products killed by international oil companies operating in Nigeria, or compare the value of squirrels to buffalo, gorillas, elephants, etc.

Professor G. G. Dara in a Forum organized by Urhobo Social Club in Lagos in 2000 disclosed that 37 economic trees in Urhobo land had been destroyed by oil companies. Anyone familiar with the forest of the Urhobos knows that this has caused agony to the local palm oil refiners of the tribe, their major source of livelihood. Sadly, while the lilies and squirrel mentioned above, remain pristine, the flora and fauna of the Niger Delta have been pushed into extinction. But the 10Cs in Nigeria at various fora, boastfully tell their Nigerian audience their efforts to restore the mangrove swamp forest in Forcados, Escravos and their operational areas in other parts of the Niger Delta Region- a flash in the pan.

*Paul Orie, a Public Affairs analyst wrote from Lagos.