By Henry Umoru
ABUJA — THE Senate, yesterday, disclosed that Nigeria has the highest number of oil spill incidences among oil producing countries with no penalty regime attached to such oil spills.
It noted that the level of spills in the country was a reflection of the total disregard on our environment and the dignity of our people.
Declaring open a public hearing on National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, Amendment Bill 2012 in Abuja by Senate Joint Committee on Environment and Ecology, Chairman of the Committee, Senator Bukola Saraki, said oil spill had become an irresponsible environmental behaviour and reckless waste of the people’s wealth and benefit, adding that it was high time multinational oil companies in the country stopped oil spills.
Saraki said the move had become imperative against the backdrop of its devastating effect on the environment and livelihoods of the people, even as he lamented that the statistics of oil spills in the country was “shameful” while the impact on the environment is “offensive.”
He said that the Bill titled: “An Act to amend the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) establishment, etc, Act 2006 and for other matters connected therewith” was designed among others to redress the legal loopholes in the existing Act.
He said, ‘’Oil spill is ravaging our environment and has become one of the greatest threats to our sustainable development. This amendment Bill is a clarion call to us all, to put a stop to this.
‘’The statistics of oil spills in Nigeria is shameful; the impact on the environment is offensive. It can no longer be business as usual. Without a doubt, oil spillage is dealt with all over the world as an environmental issue and a human right issue that goes to the quality of the environment and the value of life of those impacted by spills.
‘’It is erroneous to continue to view oil spills as a necessary consequence of oil exploration.”
Senator Saraki who stressed that the Act setting up NOSDRA was presently deficient to meet current challenges posed by oil spill and at such a better legal framework was required, said, ‘’this bill seeks to cure the observed deficiency in the previous law by
tweaking the institutional framework for oil spill management and regulation to make it more efficient.
‘’Our objective is to reverse the ugly trend of endless spilling and devastation of our environment and the repugnant impact on our people.
‘’This bill seeks to make business more peaceful, the regulatory and governance system much clearer and predictable for all and achieve a more livable environment for our people.
‘’This bill also seeks to provide specific powers that will help deal with the regulatory confusion in the sector, which has pitched certain government agencies against one another and inhibited effective regulation.
‘’It is in the interest of all that we streamline this jurisdictional challenge and make it more economical for everyone involved in the causative chain of oil spill management to prevent spills as much as possible and where there is a spill, that our people are protected from bearing the economic and opportunity cost arising from same.
‘’Internationally, where there is a spill, the polluter pays for the cost and damage. But it is worrisome that in Nigeria whether an oil spill has been as a result of accident, operational failure, deliberate sabotage, negligence to take adequate measures or refusal to act there is as yet no legal mechanism or structure for determining mode of paying compensation or recovering damages.
‘’Rather we heap the brunt of the spill on the necks and shoulders of our citizens, whose livelihoods and opportunities are severely impacted by refusal to cleanup and remediate the environment.
‘’It is reprehensible to neglect or refuse to pay compensation for loss or damage from oil spill.
“It is irresponsible to characterize the damage to our country’s invaluable coastal economies, wildlife habitats, and overall coastal livelihoods from oil spills as collateral damage. This bill has as one of its objectives that must be met, to create a realistic framework for compensation for damages and cost.”
Senator Saraki who noted that because of lack of penalties and cost framework, much of the spills in the past have been largely been “ignored, neglected and in most cases never cleaned up or the sites remediated. “Little wonder then that several expert report and testimonies have acknowledged that some of the spills of over 40 years ago had not been cleaned or remediated till date.
“To continue to allow this to persist will be a major dereliction of duty on our part. This bill represents our statement of intent that we will no longer tolerate this state of affairs; responsible parties will no longer be allowed to pass the bulk.”
Declaring open the Public Hearing, Senate President David Mark who was represented by Senate Minority Whip, Senator Abu Ibrahim, Katsina said that it has become crucial to pass the bill as that would put in place a holistic framework to manage the environment, adding that that the country cannot afford to down play the impact of the oil spills.