12 December 2012

Nigeria: Stronger NOSDRA for Better Environment

Last weekend, hundreds of environmental and human rights activists met in the beautiful city of Doha, Qatar, to brainstorm on the most strategic thematic area of climate change and how to minimize the devastating consequences that it poses to humanity. This global environmental summit was an attempt to establish a binding United Nations framework convention on climate change.

Report has it that in 1992, countries joined an international treaty-the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with whatever impacts were, by then, inevitable. Big member nations of the UN, that are the biggest culprits, have so far frustrated this global effort.

By 1995, countries realized that emission reductions provisions in the Convention were inadequate. They launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change, and, two years later, adopted the Kyoto Protocol.

Even as the world takes up the issues around environmental rights serious, Nigeria is not left out in the crusade to build better environment. At the level of legislation, the National Assembly recently shifted attention to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and how to transform it to play greater role towards protecting Nigeria's environment from oil spills and gas flares.

Tuesday 13th November 2012 will linger for a long time in the memory of all real lovers of the environment in Nigeria and for all those who have rightly shown their displeasure at the reckless abandon with which multinational crude oil exploration companies in the crude oil rich Niger Delta region abuse our pristine environment through crude oil spillages and gas flares.

On this day, the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology headed by Dr. Bukola Saraki, summoned the courage to host the public hearing on a proposal to amend the enabling Act setting up the National Oil spill Detection and Response Agency [NOSDRA] with the aim of further empowering the body to combat these wanton destruction of the environment by serial abusers.

As expected, the multinational crude oil firms who abuse our environment with reckless abandon came with strong teams including officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Petroleum ministry to oppose this noble objective of strenghtening NOSDRA. What a country to have officials paid with tax payers money conspire with foreigners to wantonly destroy our environment?

The civil society community is backing the amendment of the Act setting up the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (Establishment Act) of 2006 to reflect the realities of our time and to empower the body to protect our environment.

The Nigerian federal government in line with global best practices has established the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) under the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (establishment) Act of 2006 to handle the critical environmental consequences of oil spill and enforce relevant laws guiding against oil spillage in the oil producing communities.

We have independently verified from different documented sources that since its establishment, the body has effectively discharged the fundamental mandates embodied in the enabling Act which are to among others establish a viable national operational organization that ensures a safe, timely, effective and appropriate response to major or disastrous oil pollution; identify high-risk areas as well as priority areas for protection and clean up and establish the mechanism to monitor and assist or where expedient direct the response, including the capacity to mobilize the necessary resources to save lives, protect threatened environment, and clean up to the best practical extent of the impacted site.

Government is statutorily obliged by Section 20 of the constitution to protect the environment from oil spill. Section 20 of the Constitution provides that "The State SHALL protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air, and land, forest and wild life of Nigeria".

The international convention on Civil Liability For Oil Pollution Damage (1992) and the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds Convention (IOPC), (1992) are major global legal framework that specifically prescribe measures on how to ensure environment that is relatively free of oil spill.

As stakeholders in the organized civil society community in Nigeria in the last two decades, we are aware that over the years, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme have been active in promoting regional agreements, aimed at the developing countries ability to deal with a major marine pollution emergency.

The National Oil Pollution Management Agency in Nigeria as contemplated in the proposed amendment of the enabling Act setting up NOSDRA is imperative and is indeed an idea whose time has come. There are three quick comments we made on the proposed bill which we have endorsed and these observations are that the proposed re-designation of the name from National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency to National Oil Pollution Management Agency is very scientific and all encompassing and therefore should be given positive consideration.

- Onwubiko is the Head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria

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