By Hugo Odiogor

Villagers in Niger Delta looking for water in polluted river (click to zoom in).

Efforts at managing oil spill in Nigeria may come under bureaucratic intrigues as the Ministry of Petroleum has initiated a move to jettison the existing National Oil Spill Contingency Plan endorsed in 2003, by the Obasanjo adminstration.

Acting on the memo by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation on the need for National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, the Federal Ministry of Petroleum is making a case for the creation of such a plan which Environment Watchers said in Abuja last week “is a misplaced intervention”.

Informed sources told Vanguard Environment watch that “the SGF had acted on a request made by Cameroon on the need to ensure cooperation among members of West Africa subregion and members of the Gulf of Guinea for combating oil spillage and pollution in the contiguous waters. But you must recall that Cameroon as a country, is a late comer to the league of oil producing countries and their concern is genuine, but it will take them time to catch up with the other countries in many areas of managing issues relating to the oil business, but what the SGF was calling was an advise or perhaps request for information to know whether such plan exists in Nigeria.Said Source: “The attempt by the Ministry of Petroleum to create the impression that Nigeria has no such plan is misleading, and mischievous to say the least”.

The National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP), is an international initiative of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), an agency of the United Nations, which was concerned that the movement of oil and gas is a major maritime activity and any accident on the high seas causes severe damages on maritime resources. Consequently, such spills as the Exxon Mobile and Mexican Gulf oil spills must be combated through cooperation and preventive policies. The National Oil Spill Contingency Plan was therefore in response to international convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC) 90, which recommended for setting up of “procedures and guidelines for management of oil spills”. It also requested that governments must “ensure that the best is always expeditiously done to protect the national environment from damages both from long and short term, arising from improper practices and the effect of accidental spillages. ”

This was the bases for the series of negotiations that began from 1981 to 1999 with no fruitful result, but Dr. Ime Okopido as the then Minister of State on Environment, spearheaded the setting up of the NOSCP and the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency. The Federal Executive Council gave its approval to these actions in April 2003, and the Ministry of Petroleum through the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), took part in the negotiations. Said source, it will interest you to know that the DPR provided the secretary to the Sub Committee on Oil Spill, in the Person of one Mr. Dozie Irechukwu while the Federal Ministry of Environment provided the Chairman in the person of Dr. Victor Fodeke. The other stake holders namely the major oil companies as well as members of the academia participated in the process of the negotiation of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan before the Federal Executive Council approved it in April 2003, under the presidency of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency was set up to ensure coordination and implementation of NOSCP within Nigeria and within 200 nautical miles from the baseline from which the breadth of Nigeria’s waters is measured. The agency was also the take surveillance, reporting, alerting and other response measure relating to oil spillages.

Officials of NODSRA would not want to respond to the move by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources saying “that government works through bureaucracy which has record keeping as one of its cardinal principles, we believe that at the right time the facts will be clear, what we can do now is to continue with our work”. Watchers of the unfolding development wonder why some civil servant would want to duplicate a process that has already been concluded or reverse it, Nigeria is not only active in managing oil spills within nits shores but also an active participant at regional and international levels.

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