Opinion: Oil spills in the Niger Delta – The position of the law

by Egoyibo Okoro


The repercussions of these unchecked oil spills are catastrophic. Arable land is left infertile, aquatic life destroyed, host communities livelihoods snatched away and their lives rendered at risk, health wise.

Historically, oil existed as far back as 2,000 years BC. Noah in building his ark, used tar (a product of petroleum) to make his vessel watertight. The Egyptians used petroleum substances in the mummification process.

However, it was not until 1908 was oil first associated with Nigeria, when the German Firm of Nigerian Bitumen Company unsuccessfully explored for oil in Okitipupa, about 200 kilometers east of Lagos; Oil was not found in commercial quantity.

29 years later, Big Oil came along in the entities of Shell Petroleum Company and British Petroleum Company, who, together, established Shell/D’Arcy Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, in 1937.

In 1938, Shell-BP received oil exploration license from the British Colonial Government, and monopolized the Nigeria Oil market for two decades. During which they had sole exploration, prospecting and mining rights over 40,000 square miles of area; by virtue of section 6(1)(a) of the Mineral Oils Ordinance 1914 (now repealed and replaced by the Petroleum Act of 1969), non-British companies were “disqualified” from receiving exploration licenses. See nepotism!

After many disappointments and delays caused by the second World War, in 1956, Shell-BP made its first commercial discovery of oil in Nigeria at Oloibiri in Bayelsa State. Followed by another major discovery at Afam, Rivers State, in the same year. By 1958, Nigeria had exported its first shipment of crude oil to Europe, and was at a promising production of 6,000 barrels a day.

Many decades later, despite the good provisions of the NNPC Act, the Petroleum Act, the Oil Pipelines Act and the National Oil Spill Detection And Response Agency (ESTABLISHMENT) Act, oil spills, gas flaring, chemical dumping and other appalling environmental pollution still occur in mind-numbing quantities, with little or no efforts being made to safeguard the environment. But then the Bible says – “What good is it, my brethren, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?..Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” – James Chapter 2, Verses 14-17. In other words, Nigeria might as well not have promulgated these Laws, if she will not uphold them.

The repercussions of these unchecked oil spills are catastrophic. Arable land is left infertile, aquatic life destroyed, host communities livelihoods snatched away and their lives rendered at risk, health wise. These riverine communities, who have, since time immemorial, made their living as farmers and fishermen, are sinking deeper and deeper into impoverishment while Big Oil continues to grow wealthier and wealthier.

As of 9 September, 2013, 150 men, women and children have been reported dead, and about 5,000 very sick in Delta and Bayelsa states due to the alleged destructive chemical dispersant used to clean the oil spill from the Bonga Oil Field, belonging to Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, SNPECo, on December 20, 2011. Yet, Nigeria claims to have an Agency whose responsibility it is to detect and ensure effective clean up of oil spills?

According to the 2011 UNEP Report, the oil spill that occurred in Ogoniland was as a result of poor clean up practices which are not in line with the Government or even Shell’s guidelines. Ogoniland is severely polluted and will take 30years to clean up and cost the whooping sum of US $1 billion.

“The oil industry has been a key sector of the Nigerian economy for over 50 years, but many Nigerians have paid a high price.” – Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

These unchecked oil spills are allegedly the largest to ever occur in the world, surpassing even Mississippi’s DeepWater Horizon Oil Spill, in which 4.9 million barrels of oil was spilled and 11 lives lost.

Stringent steps needs to be taken to rid our land of environmental pollution caused by the oil industry. The Government should wake up, stop primping and uphold our Laws, especially the provisions of the National Oil Spill Detection And Response Agency (ESTABLISHMENT) Act.

The downtrodden people of Niger-Delta want and deserve to live long healthy lives, and have their arable lands and marine life preserved, and not nonchalantly destroyed by those, whom, the fictitious Alan Shaw of Boston Legal (TV series), call disparagingly, Big Oil.



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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