Somebody’s Got to Say It (2): 50 Years of Catastrophic Oil Spills In Nigeria Must Stop Now !

I firmly believe that the first step towards solving a problem is acknowledging that the problem exists.

According to a recent story reported by AllAfrica Global Media, the Nigerian government is embarking on an initiative to establish a  “regulatory framework for the oil and gas industry, to deal with catastrophic oil spills in the country.”

My immediate reaction is one of shock that a country ranked 16th highest oil-producing country in the world, according to CIA World Factbook (2008), and extracting 1.8m barrels of crude oil a day, does not already have a robust regulatory framework in place to monitor and manage oil spills.

The Nigerian government has tasked a forum of oil and gas stakeholders with the responsibility of delivering the regulatory framework. Addressing these stakeholders at a safety workshop on oil drilling, held in Abuja,  the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, made the following remarks:

“Your recommendations at the end of this forum may invigorate the process of establishing the body. Nature has been very kind to us in this part of the world but we should not overlook the necessity of putting adequate plans in place to overcome any natural challenge that might arise at any point in time.”

I wonder what specific “natural challenge ” Mrs. Alison-Madueke was referring  to? Was she insinuating that oil spills are caused by natural disasters? Well, if she was, it does not wash. According to Amnesty International, the oil spills in Niger Delta region of Nigeria  result from:

“corrosion of oil pipes, poor maintenance of infrastructure, spills or leaks, human error and as a consequence of deliberate vandalism or theft of oil.”

Oil spills have catastrophic effects on marine life, wild life, drinking water and the general health of the people who live in the vicinity of oil drilling activity. Sadly, since oil production commenced in Nigeria in 1959, this has been the fate of the  Ogoni people of the Niger Delta.  Moreover,  it is this environmental damage and economic injustice that the late environment activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, spoke out against and for which he and eight other activist were executed by the Nigerian military government  in November 1995.

I am appalled by the Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s remarks that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill ( aka BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill) necessitated the safety workshop in Abuja and the need for the regulatory framework on oil spills. How disgraceful ! What an insult to the Ogoni people;  the families of the slain Nigerian activists; the memories of  the slain activists; and the countless  others across the world advocating against environmental pollution.

It is worrying that Mrs. Alison-Madueke is more concerned with the recent oil spill in the US – a country that has stringent environment laws which are effectively enforced –  than the 300 oil spills occurring annually in the Niger Delta according to Amnesty International.

Before the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the worst oil spill in the history of oil drilling was the Exxon Valdes oil spill in 1989.  The Exxon Valdes oil spill resulted in a leak of 25-32 million gallons of oil compared to the 206 million  gallons of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. According to the CNN clip at the end of this post, oil spills of a similar magnitude to Exxon Valdes have occurred every year in Nigeria for the past 50 years.  This is alarming.

While Shell is responsible for the environmental pollution of the Niger Delta region, successive Nigerian governments are not without blame. Why previous Nigerian regimes never publicly held Shell accountable for its reckless venture in the Niger Delta remains a mystery.  In my opinion,  in a country rife with bribery and corruption,  the effectiveness of the new oil and gas regulatory framework, will hinge not only upon the robustness of the framework itself, but to a large extent its ultimate enforcement.

Given that the Minster of Petroleum Resources, is a one-time Executive Director of Shell,  is this a case of setting a thief to catch a thief ?

In  1995,  Ken Saro-Wiwa was awarded the Goldman Environmental Award in the US.  As he was incarcerated at the time, his son Ken Saro-Wiwa Jnr accepted the award on his behalf.  Excerpts of his acceptance speech, smuggled out of prison and  read by his son at the award ceremony, follow thus:

“I submit that we have every reason to be emotional in our struggle for the sanctity of our environment. The environment is man’s first right. Without a safe environment man cannot exist to claim other rights,  be they political, social or economic.”

I applaud Amnesty International for its campaign to make Shell accountable for the human rights impact of its operations in the Niger Delta. Please  sign up with Amnesty International to help fight social injustice, not only in Nigeria, but wherever in the world it rears its ugly head. United we stand, divided we fall.

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