Rights groups stir government response to spill-impacted communities

More than a month after January 15 report of the fire that occurred aboard a jack-up offshore oil drilling rig, K.S. Endeavor, operated by FODE Drilling Nigeria Limited, a contracting firm working for Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL), the Federal Government finally responded to cries for help by communities impacted as a result of the incident.

Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, on Friday undertook an helicopter overfly of the eight affected communities, which spread across Southern Ijaw and Brass Local Government Areas of Bayelsa State, including Koluama 1, Koluma 11, Ekeni, Foropa, Fishtown, Ezetu 1, Ezetu 11 and Sanga.

At the end of the visit, Mrs. Alison-Madueke, told the people of the commitment of the Federal Government to provide lasting solution to the incidents of environmental pollution caused by the exploration and production of oil and gas in the Niger Delta.

The minister said the Petroleum Ministry would work with oil companies and their host communities to make the operating environment safe, in line with international best practice.

 “We have done the aerial survey, we have seen, and also heard from the community leaders and youths, the next thing is to report back to the President and within the next one week to provide response to the community leaders,’’ Mrs. Alison-Madueke said.

The Minister’s belated visit may have been instigated by a barrage of attacks by civil society groups that gathered in Abuja the previous day to accuse government of gross insensitivity towards the people of the communities impacted by several incidents of oil spills reported in the Niger Delta region in recent times.

The CSOs came together at the instance of Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) and African Centre for Leadership Strategy & Development (Centre LSD) to discuss the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and issues affecting the oil and gas industry.

In their communiqué at the end of the meeting, the groups took a swipe at President Goodluck Jonathan and Mrs. Alison-Madueke for their silence over the devastation of the people’s livelihood as a result of the spate of oil spills in the region in recent times.

They recalled the December 20, 2011 spill incident from the Bonga offshore oil facility by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO), a subsidiary of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC)’ involving about 40,000 barrels of crude oil, saying government has failed to demand that the company pays compensation to the people of the affected communities.

“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 flag to the PDP candidate in the governorship race in the state.

“When BP had its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Barak Obama virtually relocated his office to the spill site, visiting the impacted communities more than four times, with a pledge 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.”

The groups expressed surprise that despite that both the President and the Minister are from Bayelsa state, they have not found it necessary to visit and identify with the plight of the people.

Environmental activist and National Coordinator, Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Celestine AkpoBari, said government’s handling of the two spill incidents fell below acceptable international standards, pointing out government’s failure to always demand that the companies live up to their social responsibilities to the people has been the only reason the degradation of the Niger Delta environment has continued.

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