27 July 2014

Nigeria: How Environmental Interests Are Being Served in the Niger-Delta Region - Adedeji

Afolabi Adedeji is a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers(NSE).In this piece,he examines the level of environmental degredation in the Niger-Delta Region.

Preamble:

Energy in general and that sourced from Hydrocarbon Fuels (Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene, Liquefied Natural Gas, various Oils & Greases utilized as Lubricants, etc.) in particular have become increasingly important over the last 100 years for sustaining Transportation Networks, Industrial Development, keeping people warm in Temperate Climates (Northern Hemisphere Countries), driving Military Hardware on the Land, Sea, and in the Air, etc.

Despite all the "hype" about the discovery of SHALE OIL from Rocks by some of the major Buyers of Crude Oil and the threat, which this poses to Members of the OPEC Cartel, i.e. the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, including Nigeria, those 'in - the - KNOW' have said "no SHAKIN", ('Ba Damu' in the Hausa Language spoken widely in Northern Nigeria) . . . because of the very high cost of extracting Shale Oil as well as the near astronomical environmental costs associated with it, unless and until the process is further perfected!

Little wonder then that wars have been fought and regime changes effected, because of energy sources, and the protection of routes (over land & sea) by which this vital product is transported to the end users whether in its crude form or refined state.

Suspected examples of the foregoing are the "Annexation" of Kuwait by late Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, followed by Gulf War I when Mr. George Bush, Snr., was President of the U.S.A., allegations of the amassing of 'WMDs' (i.e. Weapons of Mass Destruction) against Saddam Hussein and Gulf War II when Mr. George Bush, Jnr. was President of the U.S.A. with active support from the Western Allies notable among whom was Great Britain when Mr. Tony Blair was Prime Minister.

Nearer us in the African Union, people are wondering whether Egypt is a regular recipient of such generous military aid from the United States of America, because of the former's control of the Suez Canal a vital Sea Route and "short - cut" for maritime transportation especially merchant vessels and oil tankers from the oil rich Middle-East countries (comparable to the Panama Canal on the American Continent).

Southern Sudan has succeeded in her secessionist bid and gained Independence, but despite this the government of Sudan, based in Khartoum is still exacting her Literal 'Pound - of Flesh' because the Oil-endowed Southern Sudan is Land-Locked with a need to pump her Crude Oil through Pipelines passing over Sudanese Territory for it to get to ocean going vessels at the Port.

Let us not 'over - digress' and thereby risk losing the attention of readers.

Oil was discovered in commercial quantity at Oloibiri in Nigeria's South - South Region sometime in the 1950s.

It has since then replaced the groundnut pyramids and cotton from the North, palm produce & rubber from the East, and cocoa from the West as the main stay of Nigeria's economy and our chief source of foreign exchange earnings.

But the question has been asked again and again about whether this discovery of oil and later natural gas, has indeed turned out to be a blessing or a CURSE in view of the adverse environmental consequences being borne by host Communities, loss of traditional livelihoods (such as fishing and farming). and very sparse social services like schools, hospitals, telecommunications, road Networks, etc.

What is it like to live with the effect(s) of oil pollutio?

This is a 'Million Dollar' question and is at the very crux of my contribution in this write-up.

My undergraduate Programme in Civil Engineering at the University in Akoka, Yaba, Lagos, required me to pass certain compulsory courses with some Modules on Engineering Geology, Water Treatment and Waste Water Treatment.

I also had exposure between 1985 and 1986 to the 'WATSAN' [i.e. Potable Water Supply & Sanitation] Programme of a United Nations Agency, during the NYSC Service Period. Despite this privileged access to knowledge beyond that of the average (wo)man in the street, Environmental Pollution remained a near abstract, theoretical, if not esoteric concept to me until my interaction with colleagues from Rivers State, Bayelsa State and Delta State, at a Federal Government of Nigeria owned Development Finance Institution, where I worked between 1992 and 2001.

There is gas flaring in oil communities, which lights up the skyline at night and generates intense heat. When there are problems of crude oil spillage from pipelines that got ruptured due to the effect of corrosion or the activities of oil thieves it 'corrupts' drinking water sources, kills the fish, shrimps, etc. in the creeks, and damages arable land for farming to such an extent that when cassava, yam, maize, etc., is planted and germinates, in a matter of a few days/weeks, the leaves & shoots get yellow in colour followed rapidly by wilting and dying off of what was planted. How will you feel if you are served a Legally Enforceable Notice that you need to leave your hometown because oil has been discovered therein, including the re-location of all places of worship (churches, mosques, traditional shrines), cemetery / burial sites of your ancestors and so on and so forth, without any commensurate alternative? Problems at flow stations also lead to oil spillage, not forgetting 'Force Majeure', i.e. acts of God such as a major "Blow Out" on an Oil Rig.

Deliberate sabotage from militants, including members of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force in applying explosives to oil installations also cause long term environmental problems. Health problems become rampant among residents of such places.

The picture of the situation is now becoming more graphic and real to life for the reader, I will like to believe.

Chief Ken Sarowiwa (of blessed memory) and MOSOP, i.e. Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People started with a near 'innocent' environmental campaign. We all know or can check Reference Texts about what happened to the 'Ogoni - 4' and later the 'Ogoni - 9'!

The aforementioned environmental campaign led by Ken, metamorphosed into a campaign for 'RESOURCE CONTROL', and eventually "POWER SHIFT", which actualized in year 2011 with the Presidency of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Ph.D.

The UNEP Report (i.e. United Nations Environmental Programme) on the activities of Shell Petroleum Development Company in Ogoni Land has become a frequent reference, especially aspects pertaining to compensation and cleaning up of oil damaged locations.

I will ask once again, rhetorically ... . 'how well are environmental interests being served in the Niger - Delta region under the Presidency of a South - South Minority Citizen'? Charity begins at Home and we are at the eve of a major Election year.

Conclusion and recommendation:

We should not rely entirely on foreign expertise for cleaning up Ogoni Land.

Every effort should be made for local capacity building. We should commend our Leaders since the 4th Republic commenced in 1999 for establishing the Oil Spill Detection and Monitoring Agency (please check for the precise name). The real panacea for peace is equity and social Justice to all persons, without exception or discrimination.

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