STATEMENT BY BAYELSA STATE COMMISSIONER FOR ENVIRONMENT, INIRUO WILLS, ON MONDAY 4TH AUGUST, 2014, BEING THE 3RD ANNIVERSARY OF THE UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME’S ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT OF OGONILAND
In his Official Statement on World Environment Day 2014 two months ago (titled Voicing Out from Bayelsa’s Brown Fields, Mangroves and Seas), the Governor of Bayelsa State of Nigeria, Hon Henry Seriake Dickson, called national and global attention to the environmental terrorism that has continued unabated in the oil and gas host communities of Bayelsa State for fifty-eight (58) years now since Nigeria’s inaugural commercial oil production occurred in the Oloibiri area of present day Bayelsa State in 1956. The traditional perpetrators of these environmental crimes against our communities are the oil exploration and production companies, multinationals mostly, although they have recently been joined by unscrupulous individuals and cabals who break oil pipelines, illegally ‘refine’ crude oil and recklessly unleash much of it upon the delicate mangroves and creeks of our communities.
The State Government’s call on the international community and the Federal Government to compel oil and gas industry operators in the State and in the larger Niger Delta region to observe internationally acceptable environmental standards was in continuation of the persistent clamour for environmental justice, remediation and restoration for our communities and in keeping with the United Nations’ declared theme for the World Environment Day 2014, Raise Your Voice, Not the Sea Level. Today, being the third anniversary of the release of the United Nations Environment Programmes’s (UNEP) Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, presents another opportunity for raising our voices and calling for immediate action on the restoration of our environment and communities that remain devastated by the ravages of hydrocarbon exploration.
The rigorous scientific study along with the ensuing report and recommendations by UNEP, the leading global environmental body, on the effects of 50 years’ continuous oil pollution in Ogoniland represented a template for application or replication across hydrocarbon host communities in the country, and in Bayelsa State in particular where the scourge of oil-based environmental degradation is in its worst manifestation, largely earning Nigeria and the Niger Delta the tragic distinction of being the oil pollution capital of the world. The inauguration of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) by the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources in 2012 to implement the UNEP report, and the earlier creation of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), provided some hope that the work of compelling oil corporations, private and governmental, to respect the environmental rights of our communities and redress the damage done to them would soon start effectively. Sadly, three years after the UNEP report, that work is yet to start. In particular, HYPREP whose inauguration was attended by much fanfare is proving to be a phantom rather than a source of succour.
In the time that has passed since then, new oil spills and gas flaring and blow outs happen as routine in hundreds of communities in our State. In December 2011, a massive oil spill from Shell Petroleum’s Bonga facility affected coastal communities in Bayelsa and Delta States. In January 2012, a catastrophic gas blow out from Chevron’s K S Endeavour rig off the Koluama coastline in Bayelsa State left the incident area ablaze for days and has put the entire lives, livelihoods and health of dwellers in the host communities in jeopardy. A recent ocean surge that swept off in a single swoop the barrier between Koluama and the Atlantic Ocean has raised questions as to a possible connection between that severe ecological-climate event and the Chevron gas blow out of January 2012. Agip continues recklessly to maintain a canal of sludge by the Brass Island, while Shell and Agip compete in causing oil spills in Biseni Clan, Ikarama, Sabatoru and similar host communities. Yet, there is scant or no redress or restoration work in earnest in any of the affected communities. There is also yet to be any restitution – whether substantive or symbolic – to Oloibiri and its sister historic host communities, despite repeated promises and foundation laying ceremonies over the decades.
We call upon ALL the major oil producing companies (Shell, Chevron, Agip, etc and where applicable ALL of their emerging successor companies in the ongoing divestment attempts), the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Federal Ministry of Environment, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), HYPREP, NOSDRA, the Niger Delta Development Commission (which has a huge statutory environmental mandate that is largely unattended to) and the National Assembly to take immediate, visible, robust steps to commence or cause the remediation, redress and restoration of our devastated communities and environment in all dimensions. It is time to demonstrate by clear action that we truly care about the environment and about the future of host communities.
At a time when environmental factors are being integrated globally into the basic definition of sustainable economic development and business conduct, as exampled in the outcomes of the recently held First United Nations Environment Assembly in Kenya, oil and gas corporations and regulatory/stakeholder agencies in Nigeria cannot expect to remain recalcitrant or inert and be greeted with silence. We therefore repeat the appeal to all concerned, including relevant international governmental institutions and environmental NGOs, to support the Bayelsa State Government in the steps it has committed to take to enforce environmental rectitude and restoration in the communities and coasts of Bayelsa State. As a government that directly shares and sees daily the costly ecological damage across the State, and being the environmental trustee of our affected communities, the Bayelsa State Government remains eager to dialogue and collaborate appropriately with the responsible oil industry, relevant intervention agencies, concerned regulatory bodies and international development institutions towards repairing the still accumulating damage. But we serve this reminder: that the matter is critically urgent; that it is an overriding legal and moral obligation; that adequate funds and logistics must be mobilized quickly, and that the work of equitable restoration must start now.
BAYELSA STATE COMMISSIONER FOR ENVIRONMENT