Business

CLEANING UP OGONILAND REQUIRES GREAT SYNERGY, SAYS IDABOR

WITH GROWING CONCERN OVER ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION ACROSS THE COUNTRY, SPECIFICALLY, OIL SPILLAGE IN THE NIGER-DELTA AND OTHER PARTS OF THE COUNTRY; THERE ARE CONCERNS THAT NIGERIA’S ECOSYSTEM IS HEADING TO THE ABYSS. THE NATIONAL OIL SPILLAGE DETECTION AND RESPONSE AGENCY (NOSDRA) ENTRUSTED WITH THE RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE REDUCTION IN CASES OF OIL SPILLAGE HAS OF RECENT ATTRACTED PUBLIC ATTENTION DUE TO CONFLICTS FROM ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION. IN THIS ENCOUNTER WITH PAUL OBI AND KASSIM SUMAINA, THE DIRECTOR GENERAL, MR PETER IDABOR, SPEAKS ON SEVERAL ISSUES IN THE SECTOR, INCLUDING TACKLING OIL MAJORS, THE UNEP REPORT ON THE CLEAN UP OF OGONI LAND AMONG OTHERS
 
NOSDRA’s efforts so far in reducing environmental pollution…
 
Well, I will like to start by saying that our primary responsibility as an agency of government, especially as an enforcement arm of the Federal Ministry of Environment on issues concerning oil spill is to create relevant awareness both to the oil operators, the host communities on the negative impacts on our environment. Constantly, the environment is being polluted, and it’s getting worse everyday. We, in the industry need political will, we’ve been able to do much to steer the tide of pollution of our environment because, our environment remains a constant factor both to you who are Journalists and us who are the government.
 
If our environment is polluted, then the food we eat will be bad and at the end of the day, life expectancy will be negatively impacted. So, what we are trying to do as much as possible is to create that awareness and also, to make sure that the policy of government is put in the forefront in matters relating to the control of oil pollution in the country.
 
Squaring up with multinational oil companies on oil spillage…
These are big the fish but, that is not our business. Whether the company is big or small, the environment is for all of us. So, it is a constant thing and we were taught over time, where I worked—NDDC, OMPADEC—and one of the things that we were taught was that the mainstay of the country’s economy is the oil, and we should learn never to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs because if the oil operators cannot work, then the economy of this country will be grounded. However, that is not to say that our country should be one of the most polluted countries in the world without much care. What we have observed is that they should give to Cesar what’s Cesar’s and to God what belongs to God. They should not do here in Nigeria what they cannot do in their own country, especially the international companies.
 
We also know that there is nothing like zero pollution, but at least, to keep it to a point where it will not negatively impact the environment. You see, one of the things that happened in the past 10 days, the spill at Lagos in Ijegun area, one of the communities, we saw so many fishes dead. That is the point we are making, if you spill oil in any of this quick sand areas where there have been no pollution, that’s what you get. But, in other areas of the country where there is spillage everyday, there is no more fish to kill. So, that gives you a relative comparism of the dangers people are facing. The pipeline networks are all over the country, you see people transferring crude oil from the South-South to the Southwest, to the North and Northeast and people are polluting, people are breaking the pipeline and the impact is getting across the whole country.
 
It’s not even the Niger Delta; we try to tell them that it is not good. It is never good enough for you to go and puncture a pipeline in your own community whenever you no longer see any natural resource to depend on. There is Norway, they are only five million people, but you won’t believe the quantity of oil they have.  Yet, their fish is the best in the world. They produce this fish called the Cord (Okporoko). They are the world greatest exporter of that fish because they make sure that their waters are not polluted by anybody for any reason. So, it is very important for us whether we are farming or fishing, we should keep our environment clean so that we have enough food.
 
Challenges of Vandals, oil Spillage and bunkering…
The problem is quite big. Even though there is oil spillage now, or even when the spill is in our environment now, they are being overshadowed by the actions of these vandals. Because our own people too are also involved in illegal refining and vandalism of oil pipelines and it is affecting us. Don’t blame the oil companies. A situation whereby what they are doing would have come out in the forefront is over-shadowed by all these other negative activities. And that is why I said we should leave all these things so that the coast will be clear for all to manage what the oil companies are doing. In any case, it is not good enough for anybody to think about it.
We know that there are several projects going on now world-wide, if you plant trees, it will earn you what is called carbon-credit, because, the trees help to reduce carbon dioxide from the environment. So, there are many projects that are ecologically friendly. One of the projections is to see how we can create awareness and educate our people on the impact of crude oil theft and vandalism of pipelines. Only recently, NNPC reported that they repaired the punctured gas pipeline and that will give so much energy back to the development of power infrastructure the country.
 
Overlapping functions between NOSDRA, NESREA and NIMASA…
You know, there are several areas where we have this duplication of services and functions, but, it is not something we should be shouting about or emphasising. A situation where a man has two masters, what do you expect? Who is the better master? Of course the one that makes things easy or comfortable for me. That is the one that he will be concentrating on. You see, to our mind, the Directorate of Petroleum Resources, which is an arm of the NNPC, and Ministry of Petroleum are concerned with the issue of license to the people who want to establish oil wells and facilities. That is their job. We believe that the Ministry of Environment is responsible for anything, any kind of operation that will negatively affect our environment. That is why it is called the ministry of environment and that is how it is in every part of the world.
 
Any matter concerning pollution of water, soil and air should be situated in the ministry of environment. It is very clear. You know, in Nigeria, the ministry of environment was only set up in 2000, while the oil industry started in 1956 or 58.  Because there was no ministry of environment as at the time, they were forced to do some of these jobs including handling environmental issues. It was only when some people from overseas were suspected to have dumped toxic wastes in Koko, Delta State that led to the set up of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is called FEPA. FEPA gave birth to the Ministry of Environment.
 
It is a very simple thing but as much as possible, we don’t want this matter to be escalated. This is an important thing. It is not nice to be seen fighting each other on the pages of the newspapers. That is why I don’t like to say some of these things. The essential thing that we are saying is that, NOSDRA Amendment Law, which is currently in the National Assembly should be passed to give the body the energy, to give it the bite to be able to sanction these companies that pollute the environment. The Ministry of Environment should manage the environment and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources should manage petroleum. You cannot do the two at the same time. That is what President Barak Obama did in America. So, in the PIB, we have sections which if you want to set up a company, you will do what is called Environmental Impact Assessment  (EIA), DPR will ask you to do an EIA, Ministry of Environment, will ask you to do an EIA to the same company. Then the company will be complaining and say, how can we do it here and there. You see, when we asked Shell to carry out both impact assessments on the BONGA spill, three months after it happened, DPR said no. They have to give their approval and this dragged on till 15 months later before it was done. So, all these duplications cost more money to the Federal Government because, the federal government is only a member in any of these partnership.
 
Commitment to implement UNEP report on Ogoni…
As part of the Federal Government, we in the Federal Ministry of Environment keep saying that we believe that government is very sincere in trying to see that the problem of Ogoniland is tackled. It is not a very easy programme or problem so to speak, that you can just embark on. So many times, in response to these reports by UNEP, the government has set up a body, which is one of the recommendations by UNEP that will lead in the real vision that will impact on this. So, without prejudice, with what the Federal Government has done, you know it is not easy to manage a business that is close to billions of dollars. I believe that is why the federal government has set up a committee to handle some of these emergency programmes like providing alternative source of drinking water, closing up areas that are polluted and by telling people to stop going to these areas that are polluted and trying to see how people can generally change their behaviour towards polluting the environment. The other aspect of embarking on the programme requires a lot of synergy. The synergy will first of all come from the oil operators, from the government’s effort and the community. We believe that the federal government will provide the enabling environment for the committees to take over the whole process completely and once it starts, it will go to a logical end and we believe that there are other areas as polluted as Ogoniland. These people are waiting to see what will be done and, as soon as the Ogoni own takes off.
 
The Niger Delta is not an easy place; it is not an easy terrain. I don’t need to mention other places to you that are equally polluted and these are some of the places that are as bad as  Ogoniland. So, government needs to take its time.
 
Looking at the future…
My prayers is that NOSDRA Amendment should be approved and that will help us to do our work more effectively. Our proposal for 2014 is to ensure that, we are looking at how to stop the downstream sectors from polluting our environment. We pray that all environmental considerations that are currently in the PIB should be expunged, and are put back into our programmes in the ministry of environment so that our work would be properly done both now and in the future.

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