SPECIAL REPORT: Lagos communities battle gas flaring impact amidst uncertainty over 2020 deadline

Ajido -WapgCo
Ajido -WapgCo

At the Ajido community river bank, a group of shirtless kids splashed water on one another with reckless abandon. It was in mid-September and the rains were still unpredictable in this part of Lagos. The wind blew gently against the flowing waters, signaling the possibility of yet another downpour. Some of the kids sat in a decrepit canoe abandoned at the river bank, unperturbed by the cacophony of sounds emanating from the skies.

“As you can see, the kids now have the river (bank) for themselves alone,” said Elijah Senayon, who declined to have his picture taken by this reporter for fear of victimisation. Mr Elijah sat with this reporter somewhere behind the river bank, his head placed gently on the outer bark of a nearby tree.

“The small kids have taken over our water, since there is very little left for the elders to do in terms of fishing like we did in the past,” he added in Yoruba, his words carefully chosen.

Ajido is one of the numerous communities surrounding Badagry, a coastal town and local government area in Lagos State. Badagry itself is situated between Lagos State and Nigeria’s border with Benin Republic. Apart from Ajido, other communities in that axis of Lagos include Ajara, Ikoga, Aradagun, Gberefu Island, among others. With a population of over 350,000, the Badagry people are predominantly involved in fishing and farming, with a few other traders occupying its numerous markets.

At Ajido, Mr Senayon told PREMIUM TIMES that they have had problems fishing in the community largely due to environmental concerns occasioned by gas flaring activities in and around the community. His friend who sat quietly beside him, Joshua Tosinhu, said his own family has had to endure severe heat due to the change in the environment.

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Both fishermen complained that there has been a sharp decline in their income since the gas flaring activities began, saying they have had to make do with other menial jobs to survive and feed their families.

“In the past, we used to have good fish catches. I made an average of N5,000 to N7,000 daily from my expedition and everyone lived happily,” Mr Senayon said, his voice a mixture of melancholy and nostalgia.

“But in recent years, we have had serious issues with our river and the entire environment. The fishes have disappeared; we no longer see some species of fishes anymore. Many of our people are now hopeless. And it all began when these oil and gas people came around.”

A History of Conflict

PREMIUM TIMES investigation revealed that the environmental challenge began in Ajido community sometime in August 2012, when gas flaring activities by the West African Gas Pipeline Company Ltd (WAGPCo) commenced. By 2013, the host communities alleged that about 170 million standard cubic feet of gas per day (MMscfd) was flared in Ajido, Imeke, Araromi and Agemuwo areas of Badagry Local Government Area of Lagos State by WAGPCo.

They, therefore, accused WAGPCo of violating environmental rules guiding flaring in the petroleum sector, adding that the flaring caused some environmental and health hazards within the community and environs.

In his reaction at the time, the company’s Station Supervisor, Agboola Olugbenga, was quoted by Vanguard Newspaper as saying that the flaring became inevitable as there was a loss of pressure, which led to water penetration into the pipeline causing severe contamination to the gas. He argued that in order to extract the excess waste and contamination from the pipeline, flaring became necessary.

Flaring is the process by which excess waste or processed natural gas is released from a hydrocarbon recovery or processing facility and thereafter burnt.

Mr Olugbenga argued that flaring is used to dispose of wasted gas, unrecoverable gases flashed off from waste hydrocarbon liquids, and also vented gases from vessels and other plant equipment, adding that flaring is the last line of defence in the safe emergency release system of the LBCS gas plant. He added that due to lean combustion at a very low pressure (0.05Barg), the greenhouse effect on the environment was minimized.

He said: “Thermal radiation specification is built into the flare stack design. This can be seen at the flare stack where a large area has been left around the flare due to this design. This ensures that the heat radiated from the flare does not affect personnel, equipment or the community.

“Also, due to the safety features mentioned above, the flare is friendly to people, the environment (plants, trees, water, air etc.), and the structures and equipment.”

But the development triggered protests among residents, with civil right groups intervening on behalf of the community. The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), for instance, condemned the action in strong terms.

“ERA sees the scandalous gas flaring by WAPCO at Badagry as an unacceptable escalation of environmental assault against the local people and Nigerians as a whole,” Environmental Rights Action (ERA) said at the time in a statement by its then head, Nnimmo Bassey, published by Guardian newspaper.

“We find it particularly objectionable because WAPCo had justified the construction of the pipeline to its backers, including the IFC of the World Bank, with the argument that the pipeline would lead to a reduction of gas flaring in the Niger Delta. Contrary to their claims, the pipeline in reality conveys less than 20 per cent of associated gas that would have been flared. The current flaring in Badagry has effectively increased gas flaring in Nigeria, pumping green house gases into the atmosphere and assaulting the health of the people through the release of a cocktail of toxic elements.”

ERA thereafter called on the Nigerian and Lagos governments to compel WAPCO to take immediate action to halt the gas flaring activity in Ajido and the Niger Delta.

PREMIUM TIMES investigations, however, show that more than four years after the incident, Ajido and other communities in and around Badagry still live with the devastating impact of gas flaring. This is happening as Nigeria hopes to end gas flaring by 2020.

“We Live Under Severe Heat”

On different occasions when PREMIUM TIMES visited Ajido community and environs, multiple residents confirmed to this newspaper that they sleep under severe heat occasioned by the flaring activities in the community.

Gafari Biliaminu, a motorcycle (okada) rider resident in Ajido, told PREMIUM TIMES that the gas flaring activities make life almost miserable for him and his family because they sleep in extreme heat during dry season.

“The situation is good now because it is raining every day,” he said. “But by the time the raining season is over and we move to dry season, it is hellish sleeping in our room with my family. The heat is unbearable.”

A 61-year-old trader, Grace Sewedo, told our reporter that she and her family barely sleep whenever the flaring activity begins. According to her, many of the community residents have given up due to fear of being victimized by those said to be “loyal” to the company in the community. Ms Sewedo also claimed that her family members developed “strange” health conditions within the period. However, PREMIUM TIMES could not independently verify this claim.

Johnson (Not real name), a civil servant who prefers to be anonymous, said the flaring activities may have affected the people more than has been reported as many prefer to suffer in silence due to government’s alleged negligence.

“Many of our people may be suffering from respiratory illness and other diseases and they wont know due to poor health facilities,” he said. “I can confirm that the environment is really not convenient especially whenever they begin flaring. It’s sad that government only said it would end flaring but the situation we have is still the same.”

But a man who identified himself simply as Baba Gabriel told PREMIUM TIMES all allegations against the company were not entirely true. According to him, the gas flaring activities cause no harm for residents of the community.

“They flare their thing and nobody can complain of any problem,” he said. “Gas flaring here is done mostly in the middle of the night and we don’t have any problem with that. Anyone who says there has been any problem is only telling lies.”

Wapgco In Ajido

The West African Gas Pipeline Company limited (WAPCo) is a limited liability company that owns and operates the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP), a natural gas pipeline to supply gas from Nigeria’s Escravos region of Niger Delta area to Benin, Togo and Ghana. It is the first regional natural gas transmission system in sub-Saharan Africa.

WAGPCo’s pipelines runs from Itoki area of Ogun State, through Ajido, passing through 33 Nigerian communities. The International Project Agreement (IPA) signed in May 2003 by WAGPCo and the governments of Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, and Togo, with the Secretariat of the ECOWAS as witness, provided that N-Gas be allocated a space in the pipeline that could transport up to 200million standard cubic of gas per day (200mmscf).

The company’s main mandate is to transport natural gas from Nigeria to customers in Benin, Togo and Ghana in a safe, responsible and reliable manner, at prices competitive with other fuel alternatives.

WAPCo is owned by Chevron West African Gas Pipeline Ltd (36.9%); Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (24.9%); Shell Overseas Holdings Limited (17.9%); and Takoradi Power Company Limited (16.3%), Societe Togolaise de Gaz (2%) and Societe BenGaz S.A. (2%).

On the two occasions when PREMIUM TIMES visited the company’s office on Ascon Road, Ajido, there were fierce-looking soldiers stationed at the gate. There were also conspicuous inscriptions warning passers-by against loitering or movement around the gate.

On the piece of land opposite the company’s structure stood a community health centre built by the company for community use. But the health centre remained closed and respondents who spoke randomly to this newspaper said that it rarely functions.

Experts say children are particularly vulnerable to the lowered air quality and there is increased levels of hypertension in gas flaring communities.

Some residents in Ajido who spoke under condition of anonymity, said that they simply keep quiet without complaining about the effect of gas flaring for fear of victimization. Others told this reporter that they remained mute and have not protested because of the presence of armed security personnel at the gate of the company.

More than three weeks after PREMIUM TIMES sent email messages to the company, there was no response. Similarly, the known telephone contact of the company’s information unit obtained by this newspaper did not connect.

Like Ajido, Like Gberefu

At Gberefu community, many kilometres away from Ajido, James Oluwaseun told PREMIUM TIMES that gas flaring remains a major problem for farmers and fishermen in the communities surrounding them.

“We don’t get fishes the way we used to get them before now,” Mr James began, his gaze fixated on his near-empty fish basket. “What we have now is barely enough to feed ourselves, from which we have to sell and generate income.”

In 2016, twenty years after it was discovered, the Aje field located in Oil Mining Lease 113 achieved its first oil, putting Lagos on the list of oil-producing states in the country. The milestone came after several missed targets for the achievement of first oil.

Yinka Folawiyo Petroleum Company Limited, a wholly-owned indigenous firm, is the operator of the OML 113 offshore Lagos. Other partners in the project are New Age Exploration Nigeria Limited, EER (Colobus) Nigeria Limited, Pan Petroleum (Panoro Energy) Aje Limited and PR Oil & Gas Nigeria Limited.

The YFP boasted at the time that it successfully pioneered the opening of the Frontier Benin Embayment, describing the Aje field as the first to record production from this part of Nigeria and the first production outside of the Niger Delta.

But since it began operation, residents of communities around Badagry said the project may have affected the environment and created ecological problems.

A trader, Joy, claimed that coconuts trees in Gberefu and other areas in Badagry are now producing “strange colours”, with a significant reduction in their quality. Another Okada rider who declined to have his name in print said the coconuts no longer come in good sizes.

Ayoola Taiwo, a fisherman, told PREMIUM TIMES that the effect of oil exploration and gas flaring may have driven fishes about 100 metres away from the river in Gberefu and environs.

Efforts to reach the company, too, was unsuccessful as telephone number obtained from its website failed to connect.

Weak Legislation; Shifting deadlines

In Nigeria, gas flaring is illegal. But beginning in 1969 (when then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, ordered that within five years of set-up, a company must cease flaring), various legislations put in place to curb gas flaring in Nigeria have failed largely because of the absence of political will.

Gas flaring causes acid rain, which impacts soil fertility and is associated with reduced crop yields. The Niger Delta is unarguably the most affected region in the country, witnessing massive decline in population of fishes and incessant pollution by oil companies. In addition, acid rain and sooth pose serious threat to the lives of inhabitants of the region, including metropolitan Port Harcourt.

Specifically, through the Associated Gas Re-Injection Act Number 99 of 1979, the Nigerian government required oil corporations operating in Nigeria to guarantee zero flares by January 1, 1984. The Act allowed some conditions for specific exemptions or the payment of a fee of $0.003 (0.3 cents) per million cubic feet. In 1988, the fee increased to $0.07 per million cubic feet and in January 2008, it shot up to $3.50 for every 1000 standard cubic feet of gas flared.

This is still considered insignificant and easy to pay. So, oil companies have continued to flare gas, paying the required fines for violating extant legislation. Even at that, fines are not strictly monitored and collected by relevant authorities, with the nation recording $14.298 billion of potentially uncollected fines between 2008 and 2016.

According to the World Bank, Nigeria had flared 76 per cent of its gross domestic production of gas by 1991. Between 1970 and 1997, a total of 23,261 trillion cubic feet of gas was produced out of which only 20 per cent was utilized, according to data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

“Deadline Unrealistic”

Nigeria is the sixth largest gas flaring country in the world, and the second largest in Africa after Algeria, according to the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership (GGFR).

While many other top flarers like Russia, Venezuela, and Algeria, have had decreased flaring levels since 2016, Nigeria’s flaring levels have increased exponentially with numerous flaring sites springing up across the country.

In 2016, Nigeria’s oil minister, Ibe Kackikwu, launched the National Gas Flare Commercialisation Programme to involve third-party investors or off-takers. This was heavily based on Nigeria’s petroleum law empowering the minister of petroleum resources to take flared gas and commercialise it. In April 2019, Mr Kachikwu said that 226 companies had submitted bids to participate in the commercialisation programme. There, however, have been concerns among stakeholders on how government would secure the investment of the off-takers.

On October 27, Ajuri Ngelale, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Public Affairs, said Mr Buhari has prioritised a very key adjustment in the oil and gas sector. “One of them is that he recognises like many developed nations that gas is the new oil; gas is the future,” he said. He also promised that the government was putting efforts together to end gas flaring and its devastating effects on the environment.

Meanwhile, as communities in Lagos and the Niger Delta groan under pollution and environmental degradation occasioned by gas flaring, Nigeria has continued to push back the deadline to end gas flaring.

The deadline was initially set for 2007, then 2008, then 2010, and now, 2020.

But Lanre Suraj, the Chairman of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), said that based on the reality on ground, even the new date chosen as deadline remains unrealistic.

“No, no, it is not realistic,” the HEDA chair noted in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES. “The companies have not been respecting the law governing gas flaring.”

Mr Suraj argued that there is a whole lot of corrupt tendencies on the part of the IOCs and government officials in the area of gas flaring as most of the sanctions leveled against the defaulters are often not paid as appropriate. He lamented that gas flaring is Nigeria’s major contribution to Ozone layer depletion, noting that it has had negative effect on the nation’s fulfilment of international commitments on the environment. He noted that weak regulation is a major factor affecting the nation’s drive towards ending gas flaring.

“We really can’t see potential for ending gas flaring (in 2020) even after several deadlines have been violated,” he said.

The former ERA head, Mr Bassey, also told PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday that the 2020 target as unrealistic.

“Government pledged to end gas flaring in 2020 and even issued a new regulation aimed towards making that possible,” he said.

“Now 2020 is upon us, we are hearing of 2030 target. The indication is that the date for ending gas flares remains a political game. There has been regular shifting of dates since 1984.

“The petroleum sector laws will remain a booby trap until thoroughly reviewed and the quality of life of our peoples as well as environmental health are taken seriously.”

A fisherman in Ajido, who identified himself as Johnson, confirmed that most of the species of fishes available in the waters in the years prior are gradually going extinct. He also called on the government to put an end to the effect of gas flaring on their communities and means of livelihood.

“They should do something; our fishes are disappearing,” he lamented, his head slightly bent.


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