"The Niger Delta is an occupied territory. Citizens raise their hands in the creeks each time they see the military."
The question of whether or not the 1956 discovery of oil by Shell D’Archy in Nigeria’s Niger-Delta region has been a blessing or a curse remains a relevant topic in contemporary Nigeria, although most environmentalists believe that the discovery and exploration of oil in the region has been more of a curse than a blessing. The argument of these eco-activists is that oil exploration, which has led to oil spillage, has caused the region and its people environmental degradation, extinction and death of their sea animals and loss of their economic source of income (fishing and farming).
In order to have a better understanding of this highly topical issue, HEDA, through its weekly #MondayTango tweet chat session, hosted Mr. Nnimmo Bassey to discuss the topic, ‘Oil Spillage, State Response and Implications for the Environment’.
Bassey is a Nigerian architect, environmental activist, author and poet. He was the Chairman of Friends of the Earth International from 2008 to 2012, and, is currently the director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation. Bassey is also a 2010 co-winner of the Right Livelihood Award.
Bassey stated that although the discovery of oil is ‘neither a curse nor a blessing’, but the major problem with oil activities ‘starts when men decide not to leave it (oil) underground’. He further explained that due to the country’s sole reliance on oil, its exploration has greatly affected the ‘politics and socio-economic progress’ of the country. He listed the oil companies, the Nigerian government, oil contractors, oil subsidy scammers and oil thieves as the major groups that have benefitted from oil exploration activities in the Niger-Delta, overtime. According to him, "without security breaches no one can successfully steal and transport crude in the creeks."
Given this background, Bassey defined oil spillage as ‘the release of crude oil into the environment from compromised pipelines or related facilities.’ He proceeded to explain the effects of oil spills, and stated that oil spillage is highly ‘damaging to the eco-systems,’ and poses great hazard to ‘water, land and even air.’
On the question of the major perpetrators of oil spill cases in Nigeria, Bassey stated that the oil companies are mostly responsible for the number of oil spillages in the Niger-Delta region. He explained that the problems of poor standards, poor maintenance and expired pipes used by the oil companies are also responsible for the cases of oil spills in the region. He added that although, there is a connection between oil theft and oil spillage, but the connection is not as major as that of the oil companies. Bassey mentioned that Shell’s recent admittance of responsibilities in the Bodo oil spill was a step in the right direction and that the oil company still has to admit other major oil spills that it was responsible for. He charged the oil companies to also ensure they clean up the affected areas. According to him, military presence is an intimate part of the problem. They bomb crude laden boats, burn bush refineries.
He explained that in order to ensure that compensations paid by oil companies get to the affected communities and individuals, proper documentation of the compensation payments must be made. He added that ‘compensations can never pay for environmental harm,' as he believes that the effects of oil spillage are not limited to humans, but also extended to the entire eco-system as well.
On the question of how effective the Nigerian government has been in prosecuting perpetrators of environmental injustice caused by oil spills, Bassey said he is yet to see any prosecution by the federal government, and he added that, ‘the government and the oil companies are joint venture partners.’ He also said, "The Niger Delta is an occupied territory. Citizens raise their hands in the creeks each time they see the military."
On his stance on the recent reduction of the fuel price to N87, as announced by the federal government, Bassey stated that the reduction should also be extended to other petroleum products, and should not be limited to only fuel.
The chat session ended with Bassey explaining that he, like other eco-activists, isare actively clamoring to save the Niger Delta region from further degradation. He stated that part of their strategies include restrategising, exposing the spills and demanding cleanups of areas affected by oil spills.
Communication Officer, HEDA