Nigeria’s Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, said the pollution caused by the Nembe oil spill in Bayelsa State, Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, is “massive” and could only be compared to the impact of atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during the World War II.
“It was like a Hiroshima site,” she told reporters on Thursday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The spill has put Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Exploration Company, an indigenous oil company, on the spotlight, as well as raised questions over the continuous devastation of the environment in the Niger Delta through oil exploitation.
Toxic fumes were released into the environment and thousands of barrels of crude oil spilled into the waters for more than 10 days as Aiteo could not contain the leak which occurred on November 5 in its oilfield in Nembe.
Ms Ikeazor said she has been receiving briefing on the spill from The National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA).
“What I saw in terms of the pollution, the devastation of the Niger Delta is massive,” she said. “As we are cleaning up, what we are cleaning up is minute compared to the devastation going on.”
Saghir el Mohammed, a director in charge of press affairs, Federal Ministry of Environment, said on Tuesday that 3,000 barrels of emulsified crude oil have been recovered so far from the waters and held in a recovery barge, after the leakage had been stopped.
Ms Ikeazor is calling for a review of the law establishing NOSDRA so that oil companies could face stiffer penalties for pollution. “You will see that they will give maybe N100 fine, anyone can pay that and go back and re-pollute (the environment),” she said.
“It goes beyond the oil companies giving out palliatives, they must put measures in place to prevent such accidents from happening.
“We need to put stiffer penalties, build the capacity of NOSDRA which is the regulatory agency in the oil sector to be able to have the teeth to bite. Without enhancing their capacity and reaffirming the legal framework, getting it stronger, they can’t do much. These are areas we are looking into,” she added. Ms Ikeazor also spoke on Aiteo’s claim that the spill was caused by sabotage.
“They are also claiming that the spill was due to sabotage by the local communities. We are going to have a targeted approach to illegal bunkering, tampering with oil installation and artisanal mining in the Niger Delta to get alternative livelihood for the young people of the Niger Delta, so that they would desist from this because it is further polluting the environment,” she said.
Aiteo Will Account for the Destruction – Bayelsa Government
The Bayelsa State Government, last week, said Aiteo would be made to “account for” the destruction caused by the spill.
“The governor is gravely concerned that if the high volume of crude being spilled continuously is not stopped immediately, it will spread to many more communities.
“This will undermine the economic life of residents, who are predominantly farmers and fishermen.
“(Governor Douye) Diri warned Aiteo not to assume that this criminal neglect of its facilities and disregard for human life and the environment, as demonstrated by its conduct will not be accounted for,” the Commissioner for Information in the state, Ayibaina Duba, said in a statement.