Environmental degradation: Review of NOSDRA ACT now

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By Rotimi Ajayi

Every time Nigeria goes to the international negotiation table on climate change, one of the limitations it has always carried is its inability to determine the amount of its carbon footprint.

This limitation is borne not out of the fact that the officers at the Climate Change unit did not know what to do but continuously, Nigeria has refused to do exactly what is needed to carry out its carbon inventorization.

Several reports and advisories in respect of carrying out this sensitive and imperative work needed to put Nigeria in good stead to benefit from the Green Fund of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were said to have been submitted by experts and consultants to the ministry in recent years.

“In the usual tradition of the Federal Ministry of Environment, these were left to bureaucracy, nothing was done about on the ground that there was no enough money to carry out this important work,” said one of the consultants.

The importance of this carbon inventorization lies in the fact that it would make Nigeria’s efforts at combating climate change abide with the international standard through its measurability, reportability and verifiability. This requirement is a must for any nation to benefit from whatever international aid to shore up mitigation projects.

Although, Nigeria, alongside other Africa and non industrialized nations, is wont to claim that it contributes less to the global Green House Gases (GHG) responsible for the Climate nuke, one notorious ailment that has always plagued Nigeria whenever talks about GHGs come up is the reckless and seemingly intractable manner associated gases get flared in the costal belt of the country as a result of oil exploration.

Ministers after ministers have played to the gallery on this rather than helping to contain this. Yet, gas flaring, according to experts could account for high significant percentage of Nigeria’s carbon footprints when the computation gets done.

Flaring of gases

Closely related to the damages done to the climate by the flaring of gases is that of damages arising from oil spill. Although majority of the spills in the country occur in the coastal communities, the incidence have since assumed a national dimension.

Recently after years of agitation and controversies as to who caused what spill, the remediation and compensation needed, the United Nations Environment Program detailed that with the level of pollution in the Ogoniland of Rivers State, not less than 20 years would be needed to restore the integrity of the environment in Ogoniland. UNEP went ahead to make far-reaching recommendations on how to go about cleaning up over 50 years of spills.

Among these recommendations is the need to review the Act establishing the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agencies (NOSDRA) to expand its mandates and capacity to deal with the oil companies on issues of spill and allied matters. Closely related to the Ogoniland findings by UNEP is the work being done by the Presidential Committee on Niger-Delta. The report of this Committee is still being awaited .

NOSDRA was established by the Federal Government when the issue of oil spill became a national problem. Since its establishment in 2006, the Agency has been tracking spill dynamics in Nigeria . In the last four years, the agency has put together the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP), the Nigeria Environmental Sensitivity Index Map of the Coastal land stretching 55 kilometers inward and put in place a number of equipment and machines to monitor spills and facilitate clean-up and remediation.

Although the Act establishing NOSDRA specifies that it would among other things ensure compliance of oil companies with Nigeria Environmental legislation and exert penalties when there is a default, the Agency has been unable to find its feet in this area in the last four years. Between January 2006 and July 2010, the Agency has on record spills totaling about 3,725 times. Out of this, 495 spills occurred between January and July of 2010 alone.

According to information available, Shell, Agip and PPMC are the worst culprits in terms of number spills. It was learnt that since July last year, the volume and frequency of spills have gone up dramatically and interestingly within the period, NOSDRA has only imposed fines two times on three organizations, Shell, PPMC and last week Agip.

Last week in a statement issued by the Agency, a fine of one million Naira was imposed on the Nigeria Agip Oil Company for spilling in Obrikom Omoku in Rivers State.

The statement read “the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) has imposed a fine of one million naira on Nigeria Agip Company Ltd (NAOC) over failure to immediately contain, recover and clean-up oil spill impacted sites at its OB/OB Gas Plant in Obrikom Omoku, Rivers State.

In a letter to NAOC over the incident, dated 19th September immediate clean-up and remediation so as to prevent further degradation of the environment, the Director-General notified the company of the issue of quantum of compensation to the victims of the oil spill, which will be determined by the outcome of the damage assessment to be conducted by NOSDRA

.The letter, which directed NAOC to pay the statutory fine in the sum of one million naira into the account of NOSDRA within 14 days from the date of receipt, advised the company to act upon it with all seriousness and the highest ethical standard expected of an establishment of repute.”

The one million fine which is the usual ceiling of NOSDRA and the best it has ever imposed on any polluter drew the flaks of Senator Bukola Saraki, the new Senate Committee Chair on Environment last week.

Speaking at an event in the National Assembly, the Senate Chair lamented that the fine imposed was not deterrent enough for such an offence that has the potential to cause degradation of the environment and inflict long lasting damage to the health of the people living in the community.

He said that his committee in the Senate would review the enabling act establishing the agency to reconfigure and strengthen its ability to deter bad behaviours and protect the environment while living up to world best practices on prevention of oil spillage in the country.

‘’Imposing more stiffer penalty on oil spillage will serve as a needed check to curb oil spillage in the country, as the one million Naira fine is not commensurate with and can’t curb oil spillage in the country,” he said.

According to an insider in the Federal Ministry of Environment, if the Senator makes good his promise to review NOSDRA law, his Committee may be on the way to unearthing a lot of things that had happened in the Agency in recent years.

It was learnt that one of the negative happenings in the Agency was an effort that had reached an advanced level on rejuvenating NOSDRA laws to meet with the expected role of being the Police in charge of spill control in Nigeria recently. The effort was said to have been endorsed by the former Minister of Justice, Micheal Andoakka. The Minister was said to have okayed the draft review of the laws of NOSDRA forwarded to him in January of 2010.

The file containing the draft review as approved by the former Minister was said to have been returned to the Agency in April of 2010 with a comment that the Federal Ministry of Environment should draw up a Federal Executive Council Memo which would enable the President to forward the draft review to the National Assembly.

The source revealed that after receipt of the file in 2010, nothing was done in respect of the review so far. The file which contained the recommendation of the former Minister of Justice was said to have been withdrawn from the Federal Ministry of Environment headquarters by NOSDRA on May 16, 2011, after it stayed there for over 12 months.

This delay was said to have almost crippled the functions of the Agency in addition to the delay in appointing a substantive Director General to head the Agency after the death of the former Director General. It was learnt that the Agency had not been able to effectively deliver its mandate because of the lack of legislation and resources that would make it function at par with the oil companies.

Although the new Director General of the Agency, Mr Peter Idabor has good experience in pollution control having served in the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC), he will certainly need to shore up the corporate image and capacity of the Agency.

He should take advantage of the willingness of the new Senate Committee Chair to carry out the necessary change in the Agency. As the new man in charge of the Agency, he should know that he runs an Agency that will be critical to the success of President Goodluck Jonathan’s transformational agenda. If NOSDRA can effectively control spills on the ground, then Nigeria would be moving closer to reducing flares in the air.

 

 

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