Posted by Stanley Nkwazema | 19 May 2019 | 1,459 times
According to Sheikh Zaki Yamani, the stubborn Arab strategist, and one-time Saudi Arabian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources from 1962-1986, “The Stone Age did not end for lack of stones, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” The compelling logic of this position expressed three decades ago, remains true.
Going forward, clearly something fundamental has shifted in strategic calculations in the world’s hydrocarbon sector. Clearly, advances in technology are beginning to offer a way for economies, especially those of the developed world, to diversify their supplies of energy and reduce their demand for petroleum, thus loosening the grip of oil and the countries that produce it.
But from the facts on the ground, these fundamental changes and logic have no place in the oil sector exploration and exploitation practices in Nigeria’s Niger Delta regions where death and environmental despoliation remain grim facts of life as both the national and regional leadership watch. The level of environmental degradation, loss of human lives and nonchalant attitude of past leaders both in the Niger Delta region and at the national level are becoming extremely worrisome. The physical environment is polluted and the seas are no longer a safe place for fish and human lives to exist side by side. Past governments cannot deny the fact that the problems have been in existence but as well as to not paying adequate attention or deaf ears to the problems associated with the activities of the major players in the area. It is against this grim background that the Bayelsa State Governor, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson, who leaves office in February 2020, recently brought together a team of world leaders including the former President of Ghana, Emmanuel Kuffour, the Archbishop of York Dr. John Setanmu who is expected to retire from his post on June 7, 2020, as well as notable academicians to address the harrowing issue of environmental despoliation as well as related challenges in the oil industry.
It would be recalled that the Archbishop of York chaired an independent Commission on the Future of the Living Wage. This flowed from his work as the sponsor of the fairness commission in York for the Commission on the Degradation of the Environment
As governor of the oldest and largest on-shore oil-producing state in Nigeria, Dickson strongly feels he is representing people that have been unduly affected by the corporate negligence which he said inspired him, on behalf of the people of Bayelsa State, to set up this commission.
With little question, oil and gas exploration and extraction has had an incalculable impact on the people and environment of the Niger Delta. It has threatened local livelihoods and economies, impeded agricultural development, fueled health disorders and caused tensions in the social fabric of the communities. Bayelsa has paid too high a price for the growth of Nigeria’s oil sector, without reaping any significant benefits; though it was in the state oil was discovered first in Nigeria.
The work of the commission, according to the governor, will transform the lives of his people the environments in which her citizens live. His words: “These are our lives. This is our future. We will work together to restore all of Bayelsa, for ourselves and for the next generations”. More so, there have been several commissions at both the states and federal government levels to get the oil companies to face the issues positively.
The aim of Dickson’s commission, however, is to develop a set of informed recommendations that will lead to the development of a new legal framework that ensures accountability and an action plan for implementation to ensure a healthy environment by ensuring appropriate clean-up and remediation of impacted sites and that host communities receive sufficient compensation for the impacts of environmental pollution and degradation and reap the benefits from the production of oil within their communities.
While inaugurating the commission which also includes Prof. Engobo Emeseh, Head of the School of Law, University of Bradford, Professor Anna Zolik, Dr. Anna Zalik, Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, Dr. Catherine Nwajoku-Dahou, an international independent consultant, Dickson read out the commission’s mandate: “The Commission on Oil Spills in Bayelsa State shall investigate the facts and current circumstances surrounding oil spills and their environmental and human impact. 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.”
The Dickson Vision
The former attorney general and commissioner for justice who mounted the saddle as the executive governor of Bayelsa State seven years ago, said: “First of all, the environment is a collective heritage of all mankind. There is no isolated Bayelsa or Nigerian or Ijaw or Nigerian environment. The environment is for all. God made our environment special and it is for the use and benefit of all mankind. Unfortunately, we have not paid much attention and care to the environment as we ought to do and we are already beginning to see the signs, and we are equally beginning to pay the price for abandoning the environment.
“I always say that English playwright and poet William Congreve who wrote these lines in his play The Mourning Bride, 1697, Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turned, Nor Hell a Fury, like a woman scorned, was right when he said that hell has no fury comparable to a woman scorned.”
Dickson may have referred to the play but he was furious as theatre-goers of the day would have understood the meaning of ‘scorned woman’ as something more specific than the present day meaning. Observers of the oil industry in Nigeria and other countries will explain the great difference in operations and community relations, vis-a-vis the double standards, being applied by the oil majors and their affiliates/associates.
Dickson believes that “where Shakespeare to be alive today, he probably would have said “hell had no fury than the environment abandoned” because the environment has been abandoned for so long that we are already beginning to see the signs.
He added: “We are taking up the challenge of the environment; we are taking up the challenge of calling for all those who have contributed to our degraded environment to account. I call it environmental terrorism. That is simply what the oil companies and their collaborators and the Nigerian state in a way have done in the Niger Delta. We are calling on all people of goodwill to rise up for Bayelsa, rise up for the Niger Delta environment; rise up for our collective heritage.”
On the level of degradation
The former member of the House of Representatives believes that “what is going on in Bayelsa and the Niger Delta is very well known; it is almost as we say, the law of res ipsa Loqito, the facts in the Niger Delta speak for themselves. If you go to every oil producing/bearing community in the Niger Delta, the facts there stare you in the face. The facts are proof of terrorism itself”.
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