The House of Representatives has proposed stiffer sanctions against multinational oil firms who pollute the environment in the course of their operations in Nigeria.
The lower chamber has also proposed a new regime of taxes for the oil firms to enhance the funding for the National Oil Spill Detection and Regulatory Agency (NOSDRA) and boost its capacity to police the environment.
A new legislation in the making prescribes criminal prosecution for firms that contravene environmental laws in the country. The chairman, House Committee on Environment, Hon. Uche Ekwunife, who disclosed these at an interview with THISDAY, expressed concern at the massive degradation of the environment by these oil firms and vowed that the parliament was desirous of a change.
Ekwunife stated that the most glaring aspect of the environment degradation was the issue of oil pollution in the Niger Delta region.
According to her, the devastation of the environment has not only impacted negatively on the land, water and air but has reached a point where the lives of people living in these oil bearing communities have been altered and the local economy destroyed.
"While oil spill incidents have continued to reduce significantly in other parts of the world, they are rather assuming a frightening dimension in our nation. Regulators all over the world are strengthening their regulatory instruments to effectively counter the ills of oil spill devastation, but the reverse appears to be the case in Nigeria where the occurrence of oil spills are still very frequent.
"The oil industry operators claim that seventy per cent ( 70 per cent) of all oil spill incidents are as a result of sabotage, but authenticated statistics suggest that 50 per cent ( 50 per cent) of all oil spills in Nigeria are due to corrosion of oil infrastructure including pipelines that are over 40-50 years old and therefore above their live integrity value.
"Twenty per ( 20 per cent) of these spills are determined to be as a result of sabotage, while twenty ( 21 per cent) is attributed to production operations.
It is obvious that negligence is responsible for most oil spill incidents recorded in Nigeria," Ekwunife said. She said that unless Nigeria strengthened her oil spill management laws through the amendment of the NOSDRA Act, the nation may not record any progress in the fight against environmental degradation resulting from the activities of oil exploration and production companies.
Recalled that the House Committee on Environment recently convened a public hearing on a bill to review the NOSDRA Act to bridge the gaps and deficiencies in the existing legislation.
Section 6(2) (a) and (b) of the existing Act provides for a meagre penalty of N500, 000 for spills not reported within twenty four (24) hours and the sum of N1 million as penalty for failure or refusal to clean-up an impacted site. The proposed amendment is expected to address this gap and enhance the capacity of NOS DRA to regulate the activities of oil firms in relation to environmental degradation as a result of oil spill.