By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Nigerians and particularly the people of Niger Delta-a region with increasing social difficulties and laced with no good survival record in 2015, thrusted upon President Muhammadu Buhari an important destiny.
First, to complete the process of democratization of the nation which has taken over 16 years, as at the time he assumed office. And to bring about speedy development of the Niger Delta region in such a way that will help the region enjoy economic and social progress that flows from stability and sincere infrastructural development that are sustainable.
But, contrary to Nigerians expectation, the crisis in the region and of course the South East got escalated in the mid-2015. A development which analysts believe was in some ways attributable to President Buhari’s remark shortly after assuming office that he would treat those who gave him 5 percents votes differently from those who gave him 97 percent votes is one of the very potent factors that fuel the raging Biafra agitation, and the return of militancy in the South-South as well. Obviously, Mr. Buhari’s ‘hate’ speech was targeted at the two zones which together did not give him up to 10 percents of votes during the 2015 presidential election.
Although, the nation has since overcame the hostility appreciably advanced in some areas to solve the pressing problems and bring into full realization the ideals and dreams of our democracy. There are, however, two striking indications/commentaries/events about the Niger Delta that recently portrayed government efforts as insufficient in scope to achieve sustainable development and did so well to convince Nigerians with critical minds that the challenges in the Niger Delta region is far from being solved.
The most fundamental of such is Mr. President’s Claim during the Democracy Day broadcast that the Federal Government has restored peace in the Niger Delta Region and maintained oil production levels through sustained engagement of youths, opinion leaders and other stakeholders. An assertion many development experts, Civil Society Organizations and residents of the region view with skepticism-describing such ‘peace’ as fake.
Mr. President claim came at about the same time when there is an opposing indication/source of worry from the Director-General, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, (NOSDRA), Idris Musa, who recently declared that findings by his agency showed that an average of five oil spills was recorded daily in Nigeria. Musa, who spoke to journalists in Abuja, said, “In 2018 we had about 600 oil spill incidents and in 2019, we had over 700 oil spill-impacted sites across the country. What is most troubling in his submissions is that majority of the spills that occur are as a result of oil theft by those who go to pipelines to install valves. We had a similar incident about two weeks ago.
Under this condition, how did President Buhari arrive at the acclaimed peace in an environment were oil theft by those who go to pipelines to install valves are still very high? Is it possible for the people under sustained engagement to steal and vandalize pipelines? Or is it in the first instance possible for this people to operate if the environment was peaceful? How can President Buhari be talking about existence of peace in a region where communal rights to clean environment and access to clean water supplies are being violated? Where by its admission, the oil industry has abandoned thousands of polluted sites in the region which need to be identified and studied in details? Where Aquifiers and other water supply sources which are being adversely affected by industrial or other activities needed to be recovered? Where communities are not adequately compensated for their losses?
Is such peace claimed by Mr. President possible in an area where the chunk of the large army of professionally-trained ex-militants is currently without a job? How can PMB contemplate peace in a region where going by reports is littered with over 139 Gas flare locations that wantonly destroy the environment and ecosystem, thereby spreading hardship, underdevelopment, poverty, sickness and disease in the region? How did President Buhari envision Peace in a region where International Oil Companies (IOCs) consider Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and call for public-private partnership in the area as a dangerous fiction created as an excuse to impose an unfair burden upon the wealthy and powerful? Where lackadaisical handling of the environment and lack of compliance with implementation of the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU) daily fuel crisis and government’s regulatory agencies is enforcing compliance? Is peace possible in a region where most of the multinationals find it more convivial getting entangled in legal battles with the host communities as against imbibing good corporate citizen’s attributes?
How do we explain this paradox or is it co-incidence that Mr. President is talking of peace in the Niger Delta at a time when, some concerned groups are calling on the Federal Government to stop the reckless destruction, auctioning and exploitation of resources of Niger Delta region and its environment? Can one describe as baseless the recent claim by a group that the ecosystem and resources of the region had been unjustly destroyed and exploited for over 60 years?
What about the case of Poloububo in Delta State where residents say that their ecology and natural water courses and occupations have been altered permanently by the oil companies in creating artificial canals to access oil wells, causing annual floods and the unnatural mixing of salt and fresh waters, in addition to the repeated oil pollution? What about the ordeal suffered by Erovie community in Ozoro, Isoko North Local Government of Delta state, in the hands of oil giant that operated in their locality?
While these questions have spread out some of the things that the Federal Government needs to do, it is important to underline that there exists legal and moral issues surrounding the Niger Delta debate. So, the question is how can Mr. President build on this new awareness?
To explain these points beginning with the first challenge, it is worth commenting on that the business of crude oil exploration and issues of oil production in the country is regulated by multiple but very weak laws and acts of which most of these laws are too old-fashioned for the changing demands of time. Thereby, creates loopholes for operators, especially the International Oil Companies (IOC) to exploit both the government and host communities.
Examples of such laws/Acts that are currently not achieving their purpose includes but not limited to; the Petroleum Act of 1969, The Harmful Waste(Special Criminal Positions etc), Act 1988, Mineral Oil Safety Regulation 1963, Petroleum(Drilling and Production) Regulation 1969 (Subsidiary Legislation to The Petroleum Act), The off-shore Oil Revenue (Registration of Grants)Act 1971, Oil in Navigable Act 1968, Petroleum Production and Distribution(Anti Sabotage) Act 1975, Associated Gas Re-injection Act 1979, Associated Gas Re-injection(continued Flaring of Gas) Regulation, Associated Gas Re-injection(Amendment) Decree 1985, Oil Pipeline Act Chapter(CAP)338, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria(L.F.N.) 1990, and Gas Flare prohibition and punishment) Act 2016 among others.
Using the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Positions etc), Act 1988, to prove how defective these laws have become, and the urgent need to have the new Petroleum Industry Governance Bill as passed by the outgone 8th National Assembly signed into law, it was described somewhere, as insufficient the definition of harmful waste by the Act based solely on its impact on human beings, and does not include its impacts on the environment and animals.
Detailedly, the Act only focuses on the commission of any action or omission by persons without lawful authority. Thus, where an organization has a licence to store waste resulting from production, they are seemingly omitted from the ambit of the Act, but the law failed to take into consideration the inadequate storage or inadequate waste management system by licensed firms or groups.
The above defect is by no means unique to the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Positions etc), Act 1988 as similar oversights or omissions cuts across all others listed above.
As the nation wishes Mr. President a happy democracy day celebration and pray for more wisdom to help navigate the day to day administration of this great country, it is urgent that as a nation we must not fail to remember that sustained engagement of youths, opinion leaders and other stakeholders, Commissioning of the Niger Delta Development Commission Head Office, the Funding of sections I–IV of the East-West Road, and Forensic Audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission, can attract attention but can neither earn Mr President power nor glory.
I believe that crisis in the region would instantly fizzle away and true peace naturally restored, if Mr. President signs to law the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill(PIGB),as passed by the out gone 8 Assembly as it has components that will give host communities a sense of belonging in the management of their God given resources.
Jerome-Mario Utomi(firstname.lastname@example.org), is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant