Civil society groups in the country on Thursday rose from a one-day meeting in Abuja, accusing the Federal Government of being insensitive to the plight of the Niger Delta people, whose means of livelihood has been devastated by the spate of oil spills from the facilities of multinational companies in the region.
Last month, Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO), a subsidiary of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), spilled about 40,000 barrels of crude oil from its 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) capacity Bonga offshore facility, located about 120 kilometres off Nigeria’s coast.
Despite reports by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) that the spill , described as potentially the worst in the history of the country, and that it massively impacted neighbouring communities, the group noted that neither President Goodluck Jonathan, nor his Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, has visited the spill site.
Similarly, despite that the two of them hail from Bayelsa state, none of them has visited Koluama communities to assess the extent of damage to the area almost a month since fire broke out from an oil production facility operated by another multinational oil company, Chevron Nigeria Limited.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the insensitive attitude of the President and the Minister over the handling of these two incidents”, the groups said. “This falls far short of what is expected over a serious incident as these ones. We are aware that since the incident the President has visited Bayelsa state at least once when to hand over the PDP flag to the governorship candidate.
“When BP had its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Barak Obama visited the spill site more than four times and pledged to hold the oil company responsible and accountable for the damage to the environment. Obama even ensured that full compensation was paid to the communities over the incident.
“We share in the agony and hardship of the people Koluama 1&2 communities,” the communiqués said. “We frown at the insensitive attitude of government towards addressing the problem of oil spillage in Koluama. Government, oil companies and other relevant stakeholders need to take urgent steps to address the issue of oil spill that is presently ravaging and other parts of Nigeria. Government must show responsibility and concern for the people and take steps to address the situation to serve the people from untold hardship.”
During the meeting, the groups said they were throwing their weight behind its representative in the ministerial task force on Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), Peter Esele, pledging to support the President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Nigeria succeed in the assignment.
The groups said during a one-day strategy meeting on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) on Thursday organized by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) in collaboration with the African Centre for Leadership Strategy & Development (Centre LSD).
Executive Director, ANEEJ, David Ugolor, said the meeting was to provide the forum for CSOs to meet with Mr. Esele and other members of the organized labour, and to review recent efforts by President Goodluck Jonathan, through the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to address the decay and corruption in the oil and gas industry.
The meeting, chaired by the National Coordinator of Publish What You Pay (PWYP), Faith Nwadishi, also had representatives from the academia, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the international development agencies.
Mr. Esele, who earlier opted not to participate in the activities of the committee, said his decision to go back on his earlier stance followed concerted pressures from well-meaning Nigerians and the leadership of the various CSOs as well as the organized Labour that have pledged to stand by him to provide effective representation.
“Since the task force was inaugurated, I have not attended its meeting for once,” Mr. Esele said. “I was not even there during the inauguration. They have met about three times, but I was not there. I could not understand why the task force had to be a ministerial committee, when the original OGIC (Oil and Gas Industry Committee) that handled the draft PIB had a presidential mandate.
“It appears the PIB, which is the most important law, guiding operations in the industry that sustains the country’s economy, is not being accorded the importance it deserves. It is difficult to know whether that is not a ploy to ensure that the Presidency can easily deny responsibility if something goes wrong in future.
“I have, however, decided to join the committee in their next meeting and participate fully in subsequent meetings, because I am convinced the best way to effect change in any system is not to fight from outside. One must be inside, even if one does not like the system, to be able to protect the interest of the teeming population of Nigerians that supported the Labour movement agitation for better conditions for the people.”
While commending the federal government for the renewed effort towards reforming the oil and gas sector, participants thanked Nigerians for believing in organized Labour and heeding its recent call to participate in the last nationwide protests that culminated in the current steps by the Presidency, the National Assembly and other stakeholders to pass the PIB into law.
They expressed the hope that the law, which they described as one of the most important that could influence positive changes in the Nigerian oil and gas industry and the society at large, would be passed pass into law this time around.