The Federal Government penultimate week, announced plans to clean up more than 2,405 oil spill sites in the Niger Delta with the assurance that the impacted sites will undergo proper remediation and sustainable restoration as part of the implementation of the amnesty programme.
The project, Government explained, will cover 252 pollution sites reported in 2006, 598 cases in 2007, 927 in 2008, and 628 recorded in 2009.
As a first step towards fast tracking the process, the government recently set up a 16-member sub-committee made up of officials of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), representatives of oil companies operating in the region, non-governmental organizations, host communities, representatives of impacted local governments and security agencies.
Inaugurating the sub-committee in Abuja, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Environment, Dr Biodun Nathaniel Olorunfemi, expressed worry that a significant proportion of the spills were attributable to vandalisation and other illegal oil bunkering activities. According to him, “there were numerous cases of illegal bunkering activities and the operations of illicit local refineries, both of which impacted negatively on the fragile ecosystem of the Niger Delta region”.
Worrisome, costly and alarming as they are, we are under no illusion that all the spills were accidental. Some are, many others indeed man-made. That is why, The Tide joins government and other well-meaning Nigerians to unite in condemnation of the near frequent cases of sabotage of crude and sometimes, refined petroleum products facilities, in the region. We say so because the nefarious activities of these criminals have without doubt unleashed untold hardship, destruction and pollution on the Niger Delta environment and entire ecosystems, resulting in monumental drawbacks in not just the revenue profile of the communities, states and Federal Government, but also mortgaging the future of the people.
But beyond all that, the long neglect and abandonment of these impacted sites has subjected the affected region to incalculable damages.
Although the delay in granting approval for the clean up of the sites, more than five years after, depicts total indifference on the part of the Federal Government, to the health, environment and safety needs of the people of the region, we feel the need to commend the latest discretion, no matter how belated.
It is, therefore, necessary for the government to make sure that the negative impact of oil and gas exploration and production does not drag on any longer. The sub-committee should move swiftly into action, and ensure that a good job is done. It must also ensure that the steps towards remediation and restoration of the sites meet international best practices, even as we advise against similar long delays on issues of this nature, in future.
Even so, The Tide insists that in addition to the planned clean up, Government, must ensure that impacted communities are adequately compensated for the wanton destruction and pollution of their, flora and fauna. We consider it most instructive to make this case because we know that some agencies of government and oil companies would trump up the issue of sabotage as grounds to evade compensation payment to impacted communities.
Further more, we also recommend that critical issues of infrastructural and human capacity development in the region should be addressed decisively if the post amnesty package is to make any meaning.
Now perhaps, is yet another opportunity to advocate, even for the umpteenth time, the speedy implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Niger Delta Technical Committee. We say this because we know that the clean up of the region is only a fraction of the numerous demands of the people.
The time to start positive action and give the Niger Delta people a renewed sense of belonging, is now.