Opinion: Oil spill in Abuja and lessons for the rest of us

by Wale Bakare

The Impact of Oil in the Niger Delta

With the growing trend of oil spills in non-oil producing states, as it is the case with the Abuja spills, it is a wakeup call to other states and environmental activists to rise up to the challenges and advocate for a safer, cleaner environment before it gets out of hand.

In Nigeria, oil spillage is synonymous with the south-south region of the country and more pronounced within the Niger-Delta area due to the growing number of petroleum industries.

Since the discovery of the oil goldmine in Nigeria, her economy has largely depended on it as a major source of sustenance. This led to an unprecedented exploration and exploitation of the land by the multi-national companies, while the indigenes take advantage of the inconsistency in government policies by successive government to regulate the activities of the oil companies by vandalising oil pipelines to scoop fuel for their daily survival.

For the locals, their argument bothers on the lack of development in the region despite the barrels of oil churned out on a daily basis, rather, the discovery of oil has led to a great deal of environmental hazard and famine.

 The fishermen have been thrown out of business due to persistence seepages of oil flow to the streams, their water is contaminated and the once-upon a fertile land became barren.

 Abuja, unlike the Niger-Delta is located within the middle belt surrounded by a few Northern States. Oil spill incident is a rare occurrence here since Abuja is not an oil producing state. This gives a clear sense of what might have caused the spillage in the federal capital territory despite rumours that oil may have been discovered in some municipality within Abuja.

According to reports emanating from the media houses, the spill that occurred in Abuja at Km 102, Makana, Kwali area was as a result of a rusted pipeline transporting crude oil to other cities. This report was further corroborated by Mr Olusegun O. Abebe, the Managing Director of Optima Oil and Environmental Services Nigeria Limited – a company operating in the downstream sector of the oil industry communities. He was also of the opinion that the spill could have been caused by a freak accident or human error; concluding that there are hosts of other factor that could be responsible.

Another report has it that the Abuja spill was initially kept away from the prying eyes of the media until the spill overflowed through the Usuma River; a major source of water for the community, thus affecting about seven communities. Thereafter, the community reported the situation to the appropriate agency for fear of further havoc.

For some years now, Nigeria remains Africa’s largest oil producer and the fifth largest oil supplier to the United State. About 2.5 million barrel of oil is exported daily almost entirely from the Niger-Delta region. Unfortunately, this glowing figure has not brought about infrastructure and economic development to the region let alone the entire country.

Remediation exercise and clean up of Spills that occurred in Odioma Brassa Local Government area of Bayelsa State, Bonga Oil spill, Biseni oil spillage in Bayelsa, Ikarama Yenogoa. Nembe creek in Nembe local government, all in Bayelsa State are yet to restore the land’s fertility.

The calamitous effect of these spills no doubt has led to an imbalance in the ecosystem. Their predominant occupation – Crop cultivation and fish farming no longer thrives. Oil spillage is seen as part of the oil business. For these companies, they conveniently attribute a larger percentage of the spills to theft and sabotage. Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, one of the major oil companies in the Niger Delta through its Managing Director, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu told reporters that illegal activities on their facilities was the major causes of oil spills in the region.

Mr Sunmonu said “Oil spills in the Niger-Delta are a tragedy, and The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) takes them very seriously. That is why we have always accepted responsibility for paying compensation when they occur as a result of operational failure”

Amnesty International and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) in its previous findings accused Shell of manipulating oil spill investigation.

Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International while reacting to the report findings on the activities of shell has said that “Shell is being disingenuous about the devastation caused by its Niger Delta operations. This new evidences shows that Shell’s claim about the oil spills cannot be trusted”

Giving credence to this report, the Chairman Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, Senator Bukola Saraki, has called for the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme especially the independent assessment report conducted in the Niger Delta.

He said “I strongly feel that the issue before us need not be handled with kids glove, the report findings must be implemented in a record time to salvage what is left of our farmland and the general health of the community”.

In another development, an environmental rights activist and founder of Mary-Elika Foundation, Mrs. Mary Manzo in an interview with the Punch Newspaper called on the National Assembly to enact stringent laws and come up with policies that will spell out severe sanctions against multinational oil companies whose actions cause oil spillage and pose health hazards, especially in the Niger Delta area.

She said, “The National Assembly should enact laws and policies against oil spillage and environmental degradation especially in the Niger Delta. For instance, oil spillage is a great problem in Nigeria. The activities of oil companies are causing serious health hazards.

The National Oil Spill Detection Regulatory Agency (NOSDRA) is seen to react too slowly in its oversight function. The NOSDRA amendment bill in its fourth reading at the legislative chamber is seeking to checkmate the excesses of the oil companies by introducing stiffer punishment for defaulters.

With the growing trend of oil spills in non-oil producing states, as it is the case with the Abuja spills, it is a wakeup call to other states and environmental activists to rise up to the challenges and advocate for a safer, cleaner environment before it gets out of hand.

Today, International organizations and civil society group are advocating for a genuine, non-partisan approach to refining and transporting crude oil. Nigeria, being a major oil producing country has a role to play in speeding cleanup exercises in oil polluted region across the country and addressing critical social needs of the people of Niger Delta to curb the damages of oil facilities and pipeline equipment.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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