From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Three weeks after a pipeline explosion in Nembe, Bayelsa State, which led to oil spillage across 45 communities, the Federal Government has announced plans to institute stiffer punishments for companies involved in oil spillage.
Minister of Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, who described oil spillage in the Niger Delta as massive devastation of the environment, spoke at the weekly ministerial press briefing organised by the presidential media team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday.
According to her, the ministry is engaging other relevant government agencies to arrive at the stiffer sanctions applicable.
A wellhead in the Santa Barbara South field had blown on November 5 and since then, it had been spewing oil into the water bodies.
It is jointly owned by Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company (AEEPCO) and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
While Aiteo, the operating company of the OML29 blamed the spillage on sabotage by the locals, Ikeazor announced that it had been brought under control with necessary personnel and equipment deployed to begin recovery and remediation efforts.
The minister said a bill is being worked out to amend the law establishing the National Oil Spillage Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) to build its capacity and give it the needed teeth to bite.
“On the Santa Babara oil spills, you remember the ministry of environment issued a statement stating what happened and the action being taken. It’s a collective action between the ministry of petroleum resources, the ministry of environment and the oil company involved. It goes beyond the oil companies giving out palliatives, they must put measures in pace to prevent such accidents from happening. They are also claiming that the spill was due to sabotage by the local communities. We are going to have a targeted approach to illegal bunkering, tampering with oil installation and artisanal mining in the Niger Delta to get alternative livelihood for the young people of the Niger Delta, so that they would desist from this because it is further polluting the environment. The situation has been brought under control. I got a brief from NOSDRA director general who was out on the field. So, now, work has to start on the proper clean up.
“I got briefings through the director of NOSDRA, and what I saw in term of the pollution either through oil refining or illegal oil refining and otherwise- the devastation of the Niger Delta is massive. As we are cleaning up, what we are cleaning up is minute compared to the devastation going on.
“So, it is something that government needs to tackle headlong. I hope they would have put the picture on, it was like a Hiroshima site. So, this is something we must tackle headlong. We are beyond talking and having workshop.”
On the issue of penalties, she said: “I mentioned earlier the review of NOSDRA bill. You know most of Acts we have passed years ago. You will see that they will give maybe N100 fine, anyone can pay that and go back and re-pollute.
“We need to put stiffer penalties, build the capacity of NOSDRA which is the regulatory agency in the oil sector to be able to have the teeth to bite. Without enhancing their capacity and reaffirming the legal framework, getting it stronger, they can’t do much. These are areas we are looking in to, it has to stop.”
The minister also touched on the need to put an end to artisanal refineries, which she said had continued to cause pollution in the Niger Delta.
Ikeazor also lamented the high rate of deaths from smoke, especially among women in the country, which she noted is the highest in the world.
She said something must be done about ongoing gas flaring, noting that the country cannot be committed to zero net emission and still be flaring gas.
The minister also said the country has made a strong statement by the signing of the climate change bill into an act by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Ikeazor added that with the step, the country has shown its commitment towards the Paris agreement on climate change.
“I will like to state that Nigeria has delivered the loudest statement after COP26, by the president signing the climate change bill into an Act and we have shown a very strong commitment.
“So, the next step now under the Ministry of Environment is the implementation of all these commitments and strategies as well as the national plans we have in place.”
Ikeazor stressed the need for every Nigerian to play a role towards providing a sustainable environments.
“For an environment that we can be in harmony with, each and every one of us has to be a part of that sustainable environment that we all dream about. We must implement and accelerate the Great Green Wall project which is basically to review and reverse desertification and land degradation in the Northern part of Nigeria.”
She assured that the Ogoni clean up would be completed.
“We must accelerate also, the Ogoni cleanup, to make sure the remediation is completed in time for the good people of Ogoni but at the same time, we must tackle the issue of artisanal refining because as we are cleaning, some are still polluting the environment and we ask that this must stop, for us to have a clean and decent environment,” she said.
Ikeazor said the ministry is already adopting various strategies to help address environmental challenges confronting the country.
She said the Nigerian government is working on improving the livelihoods of youths of the Niger-Delta region, in order to move them away from restiveness.