The UK Minister for Africa and Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Tobias Ellwood, has pledged to support Nigeria end oil vandalism and environmental pollution in the Niger Delta.
Mr. Ellwood, who toured the creeks in Rivers, told journalists in Port Harcourt on Friday that it had become imperative to help provide solutions to some of the challenges hindering the development in the country.
He said that he was tasked by his prime minister to have a broad knowledge of the security challenge in the North East and those of oil theft which had negatively impacted the country’s economy.
The minister said that his tour of Nigeria was expected to avail him the opportunity to recognise areas for which the UK could intervene to restore security and economic stability in the country.
Mr. Ellwood, however, expressed dismay with his findings in the Niger Delta region, saying that the level of environmental degeneration was overwhelming.
He called on the government and the oil companies to take urgent steps to restore sanity to the region.
“The amount of money that is being wasted because of the oil that is being stolen, which the Nigerian people are denied because it is not going through the government, is in hundreds of millions of dollars every single year.
“If we have better preventive measures to stop stealing of oil, that money could be invested into all kinds of livelihood schemes, scholarships, training in education, to allow people legal forms of occupation, jobs.
“This is why we need to be clever about understanding what is happening in the Delta.
“I flew up in a helicopter (over the creeks) to see the devastation that is being caused, the wide damage, lots of footprints of disaster.
“This means no fishing can take place and even if you wanted to go fishing, you couldn’t because there is oil leaks everywhere. It is really sad to see,’’ he said.
Mr. Ellwood stated that “we all have a duty and responsibility” to save the situation, adding that a British company brought to the area made it clear that it was trying to resolve the matter.
On the use of the military to solve the problem, the minister said that it would not put a permanent solution to the problem.
He said that if the military was used it stop the boats from coming in to steal the oil, they would devise another means of doing that.
He recognised that militancy was not an easy thing to resolve since ”once there is criminality, they are using it to create the black market to sell.
”We need to recognise that what governments are doing is not enough; we need to protect the environment, to have great control over the area.
”I don’t have all the answers now but I am moved by what I saw and I am very keen to work with both the federal and state governments but I understand there is a lot of politics in the country.
Mr. Ellwood, however, observed that ”perhaps, collectively we are not doing enough to take full advantage of the prosperity opportunities that the region is providing.
“We have also failed in our responsibility to tackle the negative impacts of oil exploration on the environment,” he said.
He called for a total overhaul of surveillance on oil facilities, repair and pipeline maintenance to avoid oil leakages.
He said that Nigeria could only effectively gain full economic potentials in the oil rich Delta if safe exploration mechanisms were adopted.
Ellwood, however, commended the Federal Government as it took steps to implement the UNEP Report.
He urged the government to kick-start the implementation to give succour to the residents of the affected area in Ogoni land. (NAN)