WHEN WILL NIGERIA CLEAN THE ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION IN THE OIL REGION?
igeria has the potential of becoming a great nation on Earth. It has a very dynamic and resourceful population and sufficient natural resources to rise up as an industrial and economic power. Unfortunately, it has not been able to grow up as expected by Nigerians and peoples all over the world. The reason is that at critical moments in its life, the country's leaders made grievous mistakes that have retarded its ability to effectively utilize its dynamic population and natural resources to grow up and become truly the giant of Africa. So, in all sincerity, Nigeria remains merely a nation with a great potential and nothing more.
Two of the most important mistakes Nigerian leaders have made, and continue to make are: 1) turning the country into a one-commodity economy and refusing to diversify since the discovery of petroleum, and 2) their lack of foresight or disinterest or unwillingness to pay attention to the region that has been laying the golden egg (petroleum) to sustain the country's economy for about forty years since they turned the country into a one-commodity economy.
By turning Nigeria into a one-commodity economy, they forced the South-South and portions of the South East and Southwest zones, otherwise, known as the OIL REGION, to become the most strategic region in the country. Consequently, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers States are the most strategic states in Nigeria because they make up the oil region. It is necessary to add Anambra State to the list because it is now an oil producing state.
Indeed, the oil region is the most strategic region since the country depends greatly on oil wealth to sustain the economy and generate foreign exchange. As a result, any reduction in the quantity of oil produced daily can drastically affect the country's economic wellbeing. Similarly, the slightest drop in oil price can drastically affect the budgetary blueprint for running the government. This fact has been clearly corroborated by the recent drop in oil prices. President Muhammadu Buhari's administration is now grappling with a deteriorating economy as oil prices continue to plunge below a projected level. Increasingly, many states in Nigeria are finding it difficult to pay the salaries of their employees. Some states have momentarily stopped paying retirement benefits to retirees as a result of the unpredictability of oil price.
Obviously, being the most strategic region in the country, for the past forty five years, Nigeria supposed to have paid a special attention to the region and its needs but military and political leaders repeatedly failed to do so. Instead of treating the oil region as the most strategic zone in the country, various leaders systematically neglected the region while taking from it to develop and sustain other parts of the country. Due to the neglect, the oil region is now highly environmentally polluted and the continuing unwillingness to clean the pollution is leading to a gradual rise in anger among the inhabitants of the region.
It might be necessary to point out or show some circumstances or actions or inactions that constitute neglect and unwillingness to pay attention to the oil region. Therefore, the following is a brief description of the manner in which the country's military and political leaders have neglected the oil region by treating it as merely an economic plantation and the inhabitants as merely internal colonial subjects of Nigeria:
Of all the mineral resources in the country, only oil and gas are the most nationalized, due to the Petroleum Act of 1969. This means that no form of private exploration and refining are allowed and the citizens of the region are totally deprived of the right to make any decision concerning oil and gas exploration in their territory. On the other hand, minerals in other regions of Nigeria are less nationalized the way oil and gas are. The laxity in the enforcement of national authority in other regions allows individuals in those regions to explore for gold, tin and other minerals. This means that Nigerians in those regions can make a living through the exploration of minerals in their territories. In the oil region, the military patrols regularly to stop any private oil and gas exploratory or refining activity.
Even though the inhabitants of the oil region have been very generous by allowing Nigeria to explore and manage the oil and gas wealth to the betterment of all Nigerians, they have been the least rewarded for their generosity. They are treated as colonial subjects of Nigeria, hence, very little attention is paid to their needs and concerns.
The high rate of unemployment and poverty in the oil region is not compatible with the high degree of wealth generated by the region for the entire country. Thus, the region that produces the national wealth is also one of the poorest in the country. Ijawland is the most deprived and neglected due to its riverine nature.
The Multinational Oil Companies (MNOCs) prefer to hire most of their employees from the non-oil producing regions, especially from regions that exercise substantial political power in the country. As a result, the unemployment rate of university and secondary school graduates in the oil region is very high. This leads to restlessness and anger among the youths as they read about some individuals becoming millionaires and billionaires through oil block ownership and being affiliated to the oil industry through political connections.
The oil companies also prefer to locate their administrative headquarters in the non-oil producing regions. This tactically prevents the youths of the oil region from gaining employment in oil companies that operate in their communities. Thus, the message from the oil companies is that "we do not care about you but we want the oil and gas from your lands." The message from Nigeria is that "we do not care about you but we want the wealth from the oil and gas in your territory. We will take it whether you like it or not."
Most of the oil blocks are owned by Nigerians from the non-oil producing regions of the country. The citizens of the oil region have the least amount of oil blocks. The citizens of the oil region wonder how they can produce so much wealth and yet, are the least owners of oil blocks in the country.
A vast majority of the private wealth accumulated in the country in the last forty five years has been through the embezzlement of the oil and gas wealth. Most of the beneficiaries of the private wealth generated through embezzlement of the oil wealth are from the non-oil producing regions of the country. Here again, Nigerians who are not from the oil region benefit the most from the wealth generated in the oil region while those from the oil region get very little in return for their generosity. This is why Oloibiri, where the first oil was struck in 1956-57 remains an abandoned and forgotten oil location while the people continue to suffer from the pollution generated.
Most of the infrastructural development and modernization projects that have taken place in the country have been in the non-oil producing regions. The oil region always lacks behind in national development projects, even though most of the funds used for the development and modernization originate from the oil region. The modernization of the City of Lagos and the development from scratch of the modern city of Abuja are very good examples of how the Federal Government spends the oil wealth. Not until the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta were established before the Federal Government started to pay attention to the region that lays the golden egg. Even this small attention came as a result of armed opposition by the youths of the region. If the youths had not resorted to militancy, many inhabitants of the oil region argued, the Federal Government would have not done anything. After all, the Federal Government did not pay much attention to the Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB).
Nigeria has a very clear track record in either intentionally or unintentionally ignoring the oil region. For instance, most of the projects carried out through the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) benefited the non-oil producing regions. The oil region barely benefitted from the PTF. There are some citizens in the oil region who argue that even the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) tends to benefit Nigerians from the non-oil producing regions more than those from the oil region.
Whenever a major educational or industrial program that relates to the oil and gas sector is to be developed or established, the national tendency is always to locate such a program in a non-oil producing region. For instance, even though the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) was already operating in Effurun, Delta State, the Petroleum University was intended to be built in Kaduna. Those Nigerians from the oil region wondered why such a higher educational institution which specializes in petroleum and gas technology could not be sited in any of the ten oil producing states in the Oil Region.
Due to lack of strategic foresight, Nigerian leaders even refused to build a security infrastructure in the most strategic region of the country to protect oil and gas facilities. Hence, when the oil war erupted between the youths of the oil region and Nigeria, the national government was taken by surprise. In reaction, it created the Joint Task Force (JTF). However, this force is increasingly being viewed by citizens of the oil region as an instrument of occupation.
Even though the oil region contributes greatly to the funds used for political campaigns and electoral activities in the country, the politicians of the region are treated as mere side-kicks to the politicians from the non-oil producing regions. Politicians from the oil region are only to be seen but not heard of. Their impact on national policy is very negligible even though they represent the most strategic region in the country.
Even though the oil region is responsible for generating the wealth that is used to run the country, the inhabitants of the oil region have little or no influence in determining the leader of Nigeria, whether through military rule or democracy. They are mere onlookers while others make the substantive decisions about who should become what. This is why when the late President Umaru Yar'Adua was incapacitated, the powers-that-be refused to allow the vice president to take over the mantle of leadership. It took a grueling political effort before Dr. Jonathan was allowed to become the president. Similarly, when he decided to run for reelection, the powers-that-be openly declared that they would make the country ungovernable. Here again, an individual from the most strategic region of the country was threatened with violence, thereby, indicating that the oil region has no political influence in the country, apart from being a petroleum plantation intended merely to fuel the economic lifeblood of the country.
Of all the failures or lack of interest by Nigerian leaders in paying attention to the region that lays the golden egg for the country, is the national unwillingness to clean the environmental pollution that has been generated through decades of oil and gas exploration. It is incredulous that while Nigeria depends so much on the oil region to fund the economy, no Nigerian leader, starting from the early 1970s, ever thought of it as a matter of strategic national importance to clean the oil region. Due to constant gas flaring and frequent oil spillage, the people in the oil region are choking agriculturally, economically and medically as the pollution makes life unbearable. Nigeria's nonchalant attitude towards the citizens of the oil region creates a very "hostile environment" since their right to live a fulfilling life is threatened.
For about four decades now, the country allows the oil companies to roam free and explore oil and gas without putting pressure on them to clean the region. This means that Nigerian leaders have been more interested in taking from the region and not caring about the environment, ecology and the people that inhabit the region. In fact, the utmost desire to take from the region without caring about the consequences of oil and gas exploration enabled various regimes and administrations to postpone the deadlines for stopping gas flaring. Oil pollution and gas flaring have caused enormous damage on the region's ecology and the health of the people. A region that used to be very rich in agricultural and marine resources prior to oil and gas exploration is increasingly becoming barren, thereby, adding to the rate of hunger in the oil region. Before oil exploration, the inhabitants of the region did not know what hunger was as the region was very bountiful. Today, oil and gas exploration has created hunger in the midst of plenty.
Despite the fact that the oil region is part of Nigeria and the inhabitants of the region are Nigerians, the Federal Government of Nigeria always support the oil companies against the interest of its citizens in the oil region. Nigerian security forces are always mobilized to collaborate with the oil companies against the citizens of the oil region. Nigeria rarely penalize the oil companies for oil spillage, gas flaring, and pollution of farm lands and fishing waters. Nigeria does not even put pressure on the oil companies to pay appropriate compensation for oil pollution and destruction of the economic livelihood of the inhabitants of the oil region. In the United States, the government puts pressure on BP to compensate the victims of the oil rig explosion that took place in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. In fact, the oil company even set aside money to compensate business owners who lost their economic means of livelihood following the pollution of fishing waters. In Nigeria, who cares about compensation for the destruction of the economic means of livelihood?
Instead of paying attention to the concerns of the inhabitants of the most strategic region in the country, the country's leaders actually collaborated with the oil companies for decades to exploit the region and intimidate the inhabitants of the region. This is why security forces are constantly on patrol in the region and the slightest threat is dealt with maximum force. The most recent attempt to intimidate the citizens of the region is the warning that community leaders would be held responsible for any destruction of oil and gas pipelines in their communities. It should be recalled that in the immediate past, Nigeria even held entire communities responsible for the actions of the few that threatened oil and gas exploration in the region. This accounted for why Odi, Odiama and many South-South communities were invaded by security forces. Right now, people in Gbaramatu in Ijawland, Bori in Ogoniland and in Akwa Ibom State are restless because of the operations carried out by the security forces. They feel occupied by Nigeria.
Even though oil exploration began in 1956, Nigerian leaders remained voiceless on the issue of oil pollution and the need to clean the region. The voicelessness indicates that they generally do not care about the inhabitants of the oil region. Concerned about the plight of the indigenes of the oil region, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) intervened and made recommendations about cleaning oil pollution in Ogoniland in August 2011. The UNEP recommended: (a) the creation of Ogoniland Restoration Authority, (b) the creation of Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, (c) the coordination of multi-stakeholders efforts, and (d) the initiation of institutional and regulatory reforms.
Due to a disinterest or lack of a political will to pay serious attention to the issues that bedecked the oil region, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned Nigeria about the potential for another crisis erupting in the region in a report titled "Curbing Violence in Nigeria (111): Revisiting the Niger Delta. The report, issued on September 29, 2015, indicated that the problems of poverty, joblessness and environmental pollution continue to bedeck the oil region.
Indeed, the evidence supporting the nonchalant attitude of Nigerian leaders can be buttressed by the fact that even the government agencies established to deal with oil spillage and pollution in the oil region are mere instruments of political window-dressing. Therefore, it could be said that the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HPRP) and the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) exist mostly in name, otherwise, the Federal Government would have declared a national intention to clean the region by allocating sufficient funds in the national budget to the two agencies mentioned above. In addition, it would have equipped them with the latest technology for them to start work immediately throughout the oil region.
Increasingly, the citizens of the region are expressing concern that while the Federal Government has not made any effort to clean the oil region of the massive environmental pollution caused by oil and gas exploration for more than four decades, statements made by high public officials tend to create the impression that the Federal Government is going to embark upon the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Northeast region of the country with funds originating from the oil region. Those in the oil region who express this concern wonder how long does Nigeria expect them to sacrifice and suffer while the wealth from their region is constantly used to enhance the livelihood of others in the country. In other words, the citizens of the oil region wonder why the Federal Government expects them to keep "suffering and smiling" while suffering in other parts of Nigeria are being taken care of.
Indeed, the oil region is treated as merely a petroleum plantation to finance the country. As a result, whenever there is a shortfall in revenue, political pressure builds up to increase the level of oil production, regardless of the environmental consequences that might take place. Perhaps, due to the recent shortfall in revenue, following a drop in oil prices, President Buhari, speaking through the vice president, indicated at the African Petroleum Congress and Exhibition (CAPE VI), organized by the African Petroleum Producers Association (APPA) that Nigeria will increase the level of oil production from the current rate of 2.2 million barrels of crude oil per day to 2.8 million barrels per day. This is going to be a 30 percent increase in production. The question is, from what region of the country will the additional oil production take place, is it in the oil region or in the Lake Chad Basin or somewhere else? The reason for this question is because the oil region is already heavily polluted and the citizens are tired of sacrificing their territory to make everyone else happy in Nigeria while they suffer. What would be the impact of such a 30 percent increase in oil production in a region that has experienced many ecological problems? Some concerned citizens in the region are worried of a potential future catastrophe that might take place as a result of oil production. This follows speculation that some of the oil producing states in the United States are now experiencing frequent earth tremors, thereby, creating concern for future earthquakes. In particular, the story is that oil fracking is contributing to the earth tremors. Thus, will the Niger Delta/South and some parts of the South-East experience earth tremors in the future due to oil and gas exploration?
Nigeria does not only need to clean the oil region of environmental pollution, it also need to carry out an environmental impact study to find out the consequence of more than four decades of oil and gas exploration in the oil region. It is very dangerous to keep exploiting the region without taking precaution to make sure that there is no possibility of a major disaster in the future.
While the citizens of the oil producing region are concerned about the lack of national interest in engaging in massive cleaning of the oil region, the Nigerian National Assembly seems to want to increase regional anger by attempting to remove from the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the Host Community Fund. It would be a very strategic mistake for the National Assembly to remove the fund from the bill. It is a fact that if not for the UNEP effort, Nigeria will not even be talking about cleaning Ogoniland.
While the Host Community Fund is being removed from the PIB bill, effort is being made to pass the Grazing Reserve Bill that is intended to benefit only one ethnic group by grating cattle herders the right to have grazing lands throughout various parts of Nigeria. In other words, while there is no major desire to clean the environmental pollution that covers about ten states of the country, Nigerian wants to open up the territories of various ethnic groups, including the oil region, to cattle herders. For the first time in Nigerian history, one ethnic group would be technically given the territorial right to settle and do business in other ethnic group territories while the other ethnic groups will not have such a right in the territory of the ethnic group that is being considered to have grazing rights throughout the country.
Therefore, the one trillion naira question for Nigeria is, will the country ever take a decisive action to clean the oil region so that the inhabitants of the region can breathe a sigh of relief? For now, the signs are that Nigeria is not interested in such a project, even though it continues to take from the region. President Buhari made a statement indicating a willingness to clean the pollution in Ogoniland, as recommended by the UNEP. However, there is no public statement indicating a willingness to clean the entirety of the OIL REGION of the massive pollution that is wrecking the region.
Apparently, it does not pay to come from an oil region in Nigeria. This is why the richest Nigerians are also the poorest Nigerians. Is this surprising? No. The reason is that globally, in most parts of the developing world, those who originate from resource-rich regions are often the most marginalized and deprived. In this regard, the citizens of Nigeria's oil region are treated as the Shiites and Kurds during Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, Native Americans in Bolivia and Ecuador in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the inhabitants of the Aceh Region in Indonesia and the Shiites in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. In all of these countries, it is those who originate from the non-oil producing regions that control the oil wealth and the inhabitants of the oil regions are rendered powerless. Similarly, like in Nigeria's Niger Delta/South-South, security crackdowns are also a common facet of life in those countries. The situation in Indonesia has gotten better due to a peace deal Aceh militants and the government.
It is very sad that Nigerian leaders and Nigerians from the non-oil producing regions unequivocally agree that oil and gas are "national" resources but they do not want to bear "national" responsibility for cleaning the mess originating from oil and gas exploration. This means that they want the wealth but they do not care about the people that suffer from the side-effects of the "national" resources that produce the "national" wealth. It is fervently hoped that President Buhari would pay a closer attention to the matter and initiate a proactive pollution cleaning plan.