The Niger Delta Environment and the Nigerian State (2) – By Nnimmo Bassey.

By Nnimmo Bassey.

To read the beginning part of this paper, click here.


The Nigerian state-polluters nexus

The Nigerian state has relied on the revenue that originates from the Niger Delta over the past five decades and finds it difficult to be weaned off this vampire-like grip on the veins of the territory and peoples. The creed appears to be one that sees those who damage the
environment as untouchables because they bake the toxic cake while the people and the environment are seen as absolutely dispensable.

The open conspiracy that casts this alliance in concrete is one in which the State collects rents from petroleum operations and everything is done to assure the oil companies of unfettered massive profits from their operations.

The alliance of the State and oil companies works excellently for both parties and to the detriment of the peoples on whom environmental costs are unashamedly cast. This criminal bent continues because the Nigerian Constitutions pays scant attention to issues of environmental rights and related injustices. In addition, the laws and regulations
that ought to defend the people and the environment are often not enforced or are simply ignored. A clear example is the Associated Gas Re-Injection Act of 1979 No. 99 which set 1 January 1984 as the deadline for the achievement of zero gas flaring. A November 2005 High Court ruling against SPDC clearly stated that gas flaring is unconstitutional and is an affront to the people’s human rights. But the flares still rage on.

The nature of the Nigerian State means that all that counts is the income that gets into the centrist purse and that the owners of the resource must have as little access to the resource as possible. This breeds a situation of lack of productivity and unhealthy interregional relationships that engender oppression and exploitation, betrayals and politics without conscience or concerns about the common good. We have built a system with a huge deficit of humaneness, solidarity, care and morality.

This discounting of environmental rights has permitted the State to embark on wholesale destruction of communities including Umuechem (1990), Odi (1999), Odioma, Gbaramatu/Oporoza (2009) and others.

The same mindset has allowed the militarisation of the region and the continuous compounding of the pollution of the environment in the guise of destroying what has come to be known as illegal refineries while the fat cats ply their crude-laden vessels to international markets in the full glare of the world.

The environment and its resources

A critical question we must grapple with when speaking of the Niger Delta environment obviously has to do with the resources the environment is endowed with. Two questions in this regard are about who owns the resources and who gets to enjoy the resources or the value extracted from the resources? A further question follows from the first: if the owner of the resource is known, can that owner have sufficient control over what is done with the resource and can decide whether to have the resource exploited or not?

Going by recent statistical acrobatics touching the Nigerian petroleum sector, we cannot be certain about concrete figures from this sector. A lot was revealed from the January 2012 oil subsidy uprising. Let us stay with the figures that there are no less than 388
oil blocks in Nigeria and 315 oil fields out of which about 218 are producing.

We keep in mind also that the region has over 250 furnaces where associated gas is routinely flared. The region has up to 5,284 wells, over 7,000 kilometres of pipelines, 10 export terminals, 275 flow stations, 10 gas plants, 4 refineries, and a monster liquefied natural gas. By any measure the Niger Delta is an obnoxious industrial complex that
leaves scant positive impact on the territory.

It is laughable that the Nigerian State claims to have crude oil reserves of 40-billion barrels when there is no clarity about how much crude oil is actually extracted on a daily basis owing to a lack of reliable metering system. This is a profligate, almost mindless, system.

Extreme pollution

Oil spills have been so rampant that we are almost numb over it. At a time it was routine to announce that such spills could not be stopped because the locations were inaccessible due to security difficulties. Today the pipes could spew and spray crude along community roads and streets and no one would bat an eyelid.

Offshore spills are routinely underreported and the dispersants and other chemicals used in dealing with the spills and their toxicity are undisclosed to the impacted communities. The dispersants used to tackle Shell’s Bonga offshore spill of 2011 where Shell claimed that only 40,000 barrels of crude were spilled remains undisclosed to the public. Another example is Chevron’s one month long gas rig fire starting from 16 January 2012. The impacted communities are demanding information on the chemicals dumped into their waters. Exxon Mobil’s last reported offshore spills impacted the Ibeno shorelines upturning the oil company’s claims that only a few barrels were spilled.
Notable spills over the years include:

1. The Escravos spill of 1978 in which 300,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled into the coastal waters and Shell’s 1978 spill caused by tank failure at Forcados Terminal in which 580,000 barrels were spewed

2. Texaco’s Funima-5 offshore blow out in 1980 that released 400,000 barrels of oil

3. Mobil’s spill at Idoho in 1998 with a reported release of 40,000 barrels of crude oil

4. The Shell Spill in 2008 at Ikot Ada Udoh where a capped well failed and spewed an unreported amount of crude oil for months before it was stopped

5. Agip oil spills at Kalaba, Bayelsa State raged for over two months starting from February 2009 before it was stopped.

6. Plus the several spills at Ibeno, Ikarama and other communities

Taking the cake is the Ebubu Ejama crude oil spill that is over forty years old and still remains visible for all who care to see. That spill is the classic example that contradicts the claims by oil companies and supervising agents of the State who claim and certify
that spills in the Niger Delta are routinely cleaned up.

With regard to gas flares we need only remind ourselves that gas worth more than $2 billion go up in smoke every year, stoking the atmosphere with toxic elements that mean harm and death to our communities and our environments.

When the oil runs dry (Our environment, our most valuable resource)

We must ask the question: what will happen to the Niger Delta when the oil runs dry? An equally important related question would be what will become of the Niger Delta when no one needs the crude oil produced here? And what sort of fishes and crabs would ply our lethal waterways?

The optimism that fossil fuels will remain the dominant energy source into the foreseeable future is delusory and not founded on fact. The world may ramp up extreme extraction such as tracking and may defy all sense of responsibility, drill in nature reserves and sacred locations, but that will not keep the shift from climate changing
fossil fuels to ultimately occur. The Stone Age came to an end not for a lack of stones, and the oil age will end, but not for a lack of oil. We stopped using stone
because bronze and iron were superior materials; likewise, we will stop using oil when other energy technologies provide superior benefits.

This sobering thought explains why as a people we must reshape our resource politics. We must awake the fact that our most valuable resource is neither crude oil nor natural gas. Our most valuable resources are our environment and our peoples.

What must be done

There are things we must do ourselves and there are demands we must make of the State. First, we must remind ourselves that that our environment is our life. Secondly we must recognise that money and tokens do not solve poverty because politics of the belly merely locks in poverty.

We must keep in mind that the issues we are raising today are not new and that they have been raised over the years without any resolution. This cannot go on.

To secure environmental justice and sanity, our demands on the State should include the following:

1. It is time to once more bring forward and insist on practical response to the various demands of our peoples: the Ogoni Bill of Rights, the Kaiama Declaration, the Oron Bill of Rights and those of Urhobo, Egi and Aklaka etc.

2. Commence immediate audit of the entire Niger Delta environment using the UNEP processes for the Assessment of the Environment of Ogoniland as a template. Publicly publish the list of toxic waste dumps including discharge points of produced water.

3. Stop all oil spills and close down operations of defaulters who are unable to comply

4. Stop gas flaring and compensate impacted communities for decades of environmental abuse

5. Replacement of all pipelines that have exceeded their useful life spans

6. Provide alternative potable water for all impacted communities to halt the continued dependence on highly poisoned waters

7. Commence immediate clean up of the Niger Delta.

8. Creation of a Niger Delta Survival Fund (NDSF) which would have two components. A) Immediate actions in terms of environmental remediation detoxification of our water bodies and lands) and B) A separate account kept for future use to help our people adapt to the coming climate change and other catastrophic changes that have already been set in motion by decades of despoliation.

9. Empower NOSDRA with adequate equipment and human resources to monitor onshore and offshore facilities independent of oil companies

10. Halt all processes aimed at giving out new oil blocks

11. Empower communities through Community Crises Committees or existing structures to fully understand the impacts of the toxic petroleum industry

12. Review the NESREA Act to include regulation of the petroleum sector and remove industry players from the NESREA Board.

13. Full ownership of resources found in the territory and same rights to communities in other territories.

14. Rights of owning communities to say no to extraction and to demand that their resources should be left untapped.

To read the full paper, click here.

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