"Oil and gas exploration and extraction has had an incalculable impact on the people and environment of Bayelsa State. It has threatened local livelihoods and economies, impeded agricultural development, fuelled health disorders and caused tensions in the social fabric of our communities. The people of Bayelsa State have paid too high a price for the growth of Nigeria’s oil sector, without reaping any significant benefit."
The Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, has set up the State Environmental Degradation Commission of Inquiry to investigate the years of negative impact of oil exploration of the waterways and lands of the State by Oil multinationals.
The newly inaugurated Commission of Inquiry is made up of foreign experts, diplomats and forensic experts, including the Arch Bishop of York; Dr. John Sentamu (Chairman); former President of Ghana, John Kufuor; a former member of the British Cabinet and House of Lords, Baroness Valerie Amos Brondesbury; and a Principal at the Fydow Forensics, Daniel Onifade.
Also on the commission are the former Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, Barr. Wodu Kemesuode, who is to serve as legal counsel to the commission; Head of the School of Law, University of Bradford, Prof. Engine Emeseh; Prof. Of Public Economics, University of St. Gallen, Prof. Roland Holder and Dr. Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dohou among others.
Dickson, who inaugurated the commission on Wednesday at the State Executive Chamber of the Government House, said it has a life span of nine months to submit its report and such duration can be extended on request.
Dickson also said the commission has the powers to conduct private hearings, both within and outside the country.
"The terms of reference of the commission include the conduct of investigation the facts and current circumstances surrounding oil spills and their environmental and human impact," he said. "To that end, the commission shall (a) establish the facts; (b) quantify the impact of oil spills; (c) determine responsibilities and, where possible, identify those responsible; and (d) make recommendations, including, in particular, on a suitable accountability framework.
"As Governor of the oldest and largest on-shore oil producing state in Nigeria, I represent people that have been unduly affected by this corporate negligence. It is on behalf of the people of Bayelsa State that I have set up this Commission.
"Oil and gas exploration and extraction has had an incalculable impact on the people and environment of Bayelsa State. It has threatened local livelihoods and economies, impeded agricultural development, fuelled health disorders and caused tensions in the social fabric of our communities. The people of Bayelsa State have paid too high a price for the growth of Nigeria’s oil sector, without reaping any significant benefit.
"The work of the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission, I hope, will transform the lives of the people of Bayelsa and the environments in which our citizens live. These are our lives. This is our future. We will work together to restore all of Bayelsa, for ourselves and for the next generations. Thank you for being part of that mission.
"Once again, I would like to thank everyone here today, for the work undertaken thus far and for the work yet to be done. Your input and contribution to the Commission are invaluable.
"I hope the next few days are beneficial and by meeting the people of Bayelsa and hearing their stories you are able to fully understand the impact of oil company on our communities and help us to make a difference to the lives of the people of Bayelsa."