Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, has set up the State Environmental Degradation Commission of Inquiry to investigate years of negative impact of oil exploration on oil bearing communities.
The move is expected to bring to the front-burner the concerns about health hazards, which residents of oil communities have been going through since oil was discovered in the state.
Dickson, who inaugurated the commission, yesterday, announced its members to include the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu as chairman, the former president of Ghana, John Kufour, a former member in the British Cabinet and House of Lords, Baroness Valerie Amos Brondesbury and a Principal at the Fydow Forensics, Daniel Onifade.
Others are former attorney general and commissioner of justice, Bayelsan State, Wodu Kemesuode, who is to serve as legal counsel to the commission, Head of the School of Law, University of Bradford, Prof. Engobo Emeseh, Professor of Public Economics, University of St. Gallen, Roland Holder and Dr. Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dohou, Prof. Michael Watts and Dr. Anna Zalik.
Dickson, while disclosing that the commission has a life span of nine months to submit its report, said it has the powers to conduct private hearings, both within and outside the country.
He said: “The terms of reference of the commission include the conduct of investigation about the facts and current circumstances surrounding oil spills and their environmental and human impact.
“To that end, the commission shall (a) establish the facts; (b) quantify the impact of oil spills; (c) determine responsibilities and, where possible, identify those responsible; and (d) make recommendations, including, in particular, on a suitable accountability framework.
“As governor of the oldest and largest on-shore oil producing state in Nigeria, I represent those who have been unduly affected by this corporate negligence. It is on behalf of the people of Bayelsa State that I have set up the commission.
“Oil and gas exploration and extraction has had an incalculable impact on the people and environment of Bayelsa State. It has threatened local livelihoods and economies, impeded agricultural development, fuelled health disorders and caused tensions in the social fabric of our communities. The people of Bayelsa State have paid too high a price for the growth of Nigeria’s oil sector, without reaping any significant benefit.”