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Despite legislation, oil-damage continues to haunt Nigerians

October 11th, 2021
topic: Conservation
by: FairPlanet Editorial Team
located in: Nigeria
tags: Niger-Delta, Nigeria, oil drilling, Shell

For decades, oil extraction and production in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria - one of the world's most precious wetlands - has had deadly effects on local communities and on the environment. Now, the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is aggravating hosting communities in the region that feel their needs and interests have been largely ignored by the country's legislators. In their eyes, oil companies were given the green light to continue to plunder their resources with little to no repercussions.

FairPlanet spoke to, Fyneface Dumnamene, a Nigeria-based environmental justice and human rights activist, who is also the executive director of an NGO called Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), about his view of the unfolding tension surrounding the passing of the PIB. 

Dumnamene also addressed crises unfolding in the country's Ogoni region, where a failed clean-up process raises questions about the viability and effectiveness of the authorities' crackdown on oil-damage,

FairPlanet: There is anger among some stakeholders in the Niger Delta region over the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). How do you view the signing into law of the bill by President Buhari and people’s reaction to it?

Fyneface Dumnamene: Some stakeholders in the Niger Delta are not happy over the signing of the PIB into Law by President Buhari. The anger is not because the people are not happy that the PIB has passed, but because after many years at the national assembly, their interest was not properly captured in the Bill. 

For instance, the focus of the people is on the percentage of oil companies’ profit shared with the communities for management through the trustees. To this end, the anger is over the 3 percent allocated for host communities signed without consideration of the demand of the people, including of the southern governors, that it should be at least 5 percent. Considering the environmental pollution, oil spillages, gas flaring and associated black soot, among others consequences, that the people have suffered from the 1950s till today, they had expected a better deal out of the initially proposed 10 percent. 

The people are also not happy that the initially proposed 10 percent to the host communities in the PIB has been reduced to 3 percent and signed into the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), while 30 percent of NNPC profit, which belonged to all Nigerians, would be set aside for oil prospecting in the frontier basin. 

As an environmental justice activist, human rights defender and executive director of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), I have been advocating and sensitising the people regarding the PIA over the years and, of course, agitating for a better deal for the oil-bearing, oil producing and host communities, considering the negative impact of crude oil mining on them.

However, with the signing of the PIA by President Buhari, a bird at hand is better than thousands in the bush. The people of the Niger Delta should accept the 3 percent host community fund provided in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), 2021 while continually agitating and demanding for better percentages, considering the responsibilities that the 3 percent places on them, such as being the ones responsible for the provision of security for the pipelines in their communities (otherwise the 3 precent would be withheld), among others.

Even a 3 percent profits share can improve conditions in Niger Delta

The crux of the contention is the 3 percent set aside for the host communities and the 30 percent allocated for exploration outside the region, which the FG says is favourable to the host communities. You are from Ogoni, which has a sad history of oil extraction. What difference would the 3 percent make in Ogoni and other Niger Delta communities? 

The 3 percent is not enough for the host communities if the government is determined to make significant differences, considering the negative impact of the oil mining on the people over the years. However, while hoping for a futuristic improvement and increment in that meagre percentage, the amount can already make a big difference in Ogoni and other Niger Delta communities, if properly utilised. 

We have been told that the 3 percent may amount to about $500 million (about N205 billion). While this is not too small for a start, the problem is that the PIA had failed to outright define in black and white what portion of the 3 percent host communities that are not oil-bearing but merely have pipelines cutting through them would would be entitled to at the end of the day; the money would be reduced and not be sufficient in order to achieve significant impacts after deducting the costs of administration and management of the Trust and its staff, pipeline security costs and others. 

Thus, the net amount after these deductions may make the funds left for community development, which the 3 percent targets, insufficient, and crises are likely to erupt in communities as a result of this. 

What stands in the way of modular refining of petroleum products?

There used to be hope that Modular Refining of petroleum products would kick up and spell the end of environmental pollution associated with artisanal refining as well as of crude oil theft in the Niger Delta region. What do you feel has hindered the take off of Modular Refineries in the region?

There is still hope that Modular Refineries for artisanal crude oil refiners would kick off in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Artisanal refining is associated with pipeline vandalism, crude oil theft, pollution, health issues, deaths in the process, black soot, loss of revenue to government and oil companies’ profits, proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) as well as insecurity as a result of the interplay among and between these factors. 

Thus, the Federal Government proposed the Modular Refineries for artisanal refiners to help address some or all of these issues. This proposal made in 2017 through Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had made some of the youths involved in artisanal refining to stop doing so. This, in turn, encouraged them to embrace Modular Refineries, especially those that we have been sensitising since then. 

Judging based on my experience on this Modular Refinery Project at Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), which I joined in 2017 and where I serve as the National Facilitator of Project with Artisanal Crude Oil Refiners (PACOR) in the Niger Delta, there is nothing explicitly hindering the take-off of the Modular Refineries in the region. 

I won’t blame the Federal Government, for now, that the Modular
Refineries have not taken off yet. This is because after the process
started in 2017, we have been asked to form the artisanal crude oil
refiners into co-operative society, which we have done in addition to the creation of their database.

We have also been training them on guidelines for the establishment of modular refineries, and are now forming
them into co-operative societies as directed by President Buhari, who was represented by the Minister of State for Environment, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, on 10 January, 2020 during the inauguration of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) in Port Harcourt.

So, with the formation of three Modular Refinery Multi-Purpose Co-operative Societies Ltd in each of the Niger Delta states, and that of the Delta State inaugurated on 11 August, 2021, the stage is now getting prepared for us to approach the Federal Government and get licenses for the artisanal refiners. Thus, it is when the government fails to give the license when we approach them that we can blame them for the delay.

Experts have argued that Modular Refinery will create employment opportunities and also prevent scarcity. Is there anything your organisation is doing to convince the Federal Government to quicken the process of local refining?

Yes! Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), as one of the few non-governmental organisations registered to campaign on artisanal crude oil refining in Nigeria, has been at the forefront of this advocacy since 2017. 

Our objectives include achieving environmental protection and sustainability through the provision of alternative means of livelihoods for youths involved in artisanal crude oil refining in the Niger Delta. Thus, we have been advocating and hitting the media hard to send convincing messages to the federal government, urging them to speed up this process. 

Part of what I have also proposed to the Federal Government as part of the measures to create alternative employment opportunities for artisanal crude oil refiners and prevent scarcity of petroleum products in the Niger Delta is the establishment of a Presidential Artisanal Crude Oil Refining Development Initiative (PACORDI). This proposed initiative is similar to the “Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMI)” in parts of the North and South West. 

The doctrine and anatomy of PACORDI, as I conceived it, was popularised and sent to the federal government for creation and implementation. 

Mismanagement derails Ogoni clean-up exercise

Despite the huge sums of money pumped into The Ogoni clean-up, the initiative is showing very few concrete achievements on the ground. Are you aware of any steps taken to improve this clean up exercise?

From my perspective, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) of the Federal Ministry of Environment, which oversees the Ogoni clean up, seems to be aware that the process isn’t going smoothly and is taking steps to address it. 

First, HYPREP has not renewed the contract of the project coordinator, as they were not satisfied with his performance. Secondly, it has rejigged the Board of Trustees, removed some persons and injected new blood into it to make the clean-up and implementation of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Report 2011 move smoothly. 

What do you believe is the core problem with the Ogoni clean-up process, then? 

The real problem with the Ogoni clean-up exercise, as I see it, is that it failed to implement the UNEP report as recommended. The report recommended certain emergency measures, on which the project’s implementation should have been premised. Notable among these measures are the provision of portable drinking water for the people, an audit of the health of the people and provision of alternative livelihood opportunities for youths who are involved in artisanal crude oil refining in order to prevent re-pollution. 

The report had also recommended the construction of a Centre of Excellency to address manpower needs around the project, as well as the construction of an Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre where soil from the clean-up areas would be treated. However, the pioneer managers of the clean-up decided to put the cart before the horse by starting the clean-up without adopting these recommendations. Hence, they ran into problems. 

In terms of the huge sums of money you mentioned as having been pumped into the project, I can say that HYPREP seems to be the only project of any ministry, department and agency (MDA) of the Federal Government of Nigeria today for which money is not an issue; rather, it is how to spend it that is the problem. This is despite the existence of budget items in the UNEP report on how the money should be applied. 

What kind of effort or direction should HYPREP take to achieve concrete results? 

HYPREP should go back to its drawing board and implement the project in line with UNEP recommendations, with little innovative modifications, because it has now been over 10 years since the release of the Report on 4 August, 2011. 

While some modifications are recommended in the area of approaches to the actual clean-up, seeing as the pollution would have penetrated the soil in the time period since the report came out, those other static recommendations should receive the needed attention for concrete results. Those include the provisions of water for the people, an audit of the health of the people, and using the $10 million estimated by UNEP in the report for artisanal crude oil refineries to address their alternative livelihood issues. 

Other recommendations include the immediate construction of the Centre of Excellence and Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre. With these efforts in place, the youths would be busy and stay away from activities that create insecurity issues around the clean-up exercise, among other benefits to the local communities that would earn HYPREP the social license that had so far eluded the project. 

To me, the periods between 2017 and 2021, during which HYPREP completed its first five years of work, were wasted years. The first five years were, however, experimental periods that those left behind after easing out the pioneer project coordinator would work with the new management and incoming project coordinator to achieve the project as expected for the Ogoni people and restore the environment. 

However, if the new management tow the part of the outgone leadership, then we are on track to take about 60 years to complete the Ogoni clean-up, in contrast to the 25-30 years estimated by UNEP in the 2011 Report.   

Back in August, gunmen stormed two Khana communities and killed about six people. What should be done for Ogoni communities to be peaceful and prosperous?

The leaders of Ogoni need to rise to the occasion of these problems plaguing the land. Companies and institutions in the area have roles to play by working with the leadership of Ogoni. HYPREP should release and use part of the $10 million earmarked for alternative livelihood opportunities for artisanal crude oil refiners to engage some of the youths and keep them busy from social vices for the prosperity of Ogoniland. 

Since no meaningful development can take place in an atmosphere of unrest and threats to security, peace is the panacea for development, investment and prosperity of the land. 

talking about resumption of oil production - like adding salt to injury

The Federal Government is planning to resume oil exploration in Ogoniland through the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). How would you react to that?

I heard a report that the case between SPDC and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was decided in favour of the latter, and thus their oil mining subsidiary, the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), was authorised to operate the OML 11 in the Ogoni area. 

Recall that oil mining stopped in Ogoniland 28 years ago, following the unrest by MOSOP and Shell’s declaration as persona non grata. In 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others were killed for daring to demand environmental justice. The crisis that ensued between 1993 to 1995 and beyond saw the death of over 2,000 Ogoni, apart from the four chiefs and elders killed in Gokana earlier. In 2015, the Ken Saro-Wiwa memorial bus, an artwork donated to the Ogonis by Platform London, got confiscated by the Nigerian Government and is held by the Customs Service till today. 

So, with all these wounds not yet healed, and the implementation of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report of 2011 recommendations not yet in shape, talking about resumption of oil production at this point in time is like adding salt to injury. When you commence oil mining and create new pollution when the first pollution has not been cleaned up, the problem of re-pollution that we are trying to address through the provision of alternative livelihood for artisanal crude oil refiners would not be solved. 

Besides, NPDC does not have the resources needed to take over from Shell in Ogoni; it does not have enough funds to address the liabilities of Shell (like being able to manage court cases of compensations) as well as contributing to environmental cleanup
efforts. I doubt that NPDC has the capacity to simultaneously handle the existing problems while carrying out oil production operations based on the best international practices and standards. Allowing NPDC to take over from Shell for oil production in Ogoniland is like moving from the frying pan to the fire.

The people must be engaged and free, prior and informed consent obtained from all Ogoni before the process can commence. I am even surprised that the NNPC is celebrating crude oil mining resumption when the world is moving away from hydrocarbons and closer towards clean and renewable energy production. 

Only time will tell what will pan out in Ogoni over this planned resumption of oil production for which NPDC is already making mistakes in their spontaneous visit to Ogoni to engage with the wrong stakeholders, as I heard and observed.   

Image by: Charlotte Faith

Article written by:
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Abandoned fishing boats sit on the ground as crude oil pollution covers the shoreline of an estuary in B-Dere, Ogoni, Nigeria.
© George Osodi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Crude oil pollution covers the muddy ground of a shoreline in B-Dere, Ogoni, Nigeria.
© George Osodi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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