By Clara Nwachukwu & MICHAEL EBOH
LAGOS — The Federal Government, yesterday, said it will cost about N160 trillion ($1 trillion) to restore the environment in the Niger Delta, following the devastation brought upon the region by crude theft, illegal bunkering and oil exploration activities.
Speaking at a conference on Oil Theft and Illegal Bunkering in the Niger Delta, in Lagos, Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, said oil theft had attained a worrisome dimension and had become a problem of urgent and strategic national importance.
He said that while several estimates have been made regarding the cost to the national economy in lost revenue and pipeline repair, no one had calculated the cost to the environment and the livelihood of the people of the Niger Delta.
Kuku said: “Its impact on the communities of the Niger Delta, on our environment, our health and our livelihood is even more serious.
“In many communities, fishing and farming are no longer possible because of the damage to the environment on which our people depend for their livelihood.
“No one has calculated the cost of restoring the environment. But extrapolating from the cost of restoring aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico, following the BP Gulf Coast spill of 2010, the cost to the Niger Delta will amount to more than $1 trillion.”
He added that the incidence of illegal oil activities was attaining a dangerous trend and was already undermining social structures, noting that if allowed to fester, it could turn the Niger Delta into a gang land, as perpetrators of the crimes are feared, revered and commended in some communities.
Kuku said: “Like most illegal economic activities, it hardly takes time before arms, drugs, gangs and other anti-social activities become part of the deadly mix.
“I am not sure we are there yet. But if we, the community leaders of the Niger Delta, and governments at all levels do not act decisively, we will unfortunately get there soon.”
‘Oil companies are involved’
Speakers at the conference organised by the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta, also accused oil companies operating in the region of collusion.
According to them, the government, through the Joint Task Force, JTF, cannot cover all the pipelines in Nigeria.
They said that it was the responsibility of the oil companies to monitor their facilities with advanced information communication and technology equipment.
Elder Timi Ogoriba, a prominent Niger Delta activist, said it was time perpetrators of crude theft and illegal bunkering were identified and brought to book, adding that this will help address the issue.
Also speaking, Mr. Patrick Akpobulokemi, Director-General, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, branded some of the oil majors as hypocrites, displaying double standards in their operations in Nigeria.
He said the problems in the Niger Delta were as a result of greed and insincerity on the part of the oil companies and other stakeholders.
He said the oil majors were made to be responsible in their home countries and in other countries where they operate.
On Bonga spill
Akpobulokemi, citing an incidence, said: “There was an oil spill in Bonga and Shell was fingered for the spill since the ruptured pipeline belongs to it.
“Instead of accepting the responsibility for the spill, Shell resorted to arguments and denials, saying the spill was caused by a third party and not its fault.
“These can not happen elsewhere. In the West, BP has been barred from oil contracts in the United States, following the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. These things can only happen in Nigeria.”
Similarly, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Dele Ezeoba, also accused oil companies of thievery, saying that the larger incidents of crude theft take place at the various export loading terminals in the country.
He said: “What you see in the creeks is child’s play compared to what happens at the terminals. The biggest crude theft takes place at the export loading terminals.
“Nigeria is the only country where vessels load with plus five percent, and this should not be.”
He said the oil companies must redefine their processes and also adopt practices and measures that will put a stop to the menace.
‘Evils of oil’
Speaking further, Akpobulokemi, noted that but for the efforts of Mr. President, he would have concluded that oil was a curse to Nigeria.
He argued that oil discovery had brought about mental laziness, numerous environmental and health problems as well as societal ills.
He said: “Oil is the cause of numerous problems in this country. It is the reason people are engaged in underage marriage; it is the reason for the numerous politicking; the talk about zoning is because of oil; in some local governments, things are not done as they should be done.
“The officials receive their allocations and share it among themselves; then you see them in Abuja, instead of in their local councils. This is because there is free money to be shared and all these is because of oil.
“The distortion in our thinking is because of oil. Marriages are breaking up because of oil. Nigeria would have grown bigger and we would have excelled more than this if not for oil.”
On the way forward, Ezeoba said the oil majors should adopt scientific practices and the use of advanced technology in their production activities, while also clearly establishing a right of way for their pipelines to ensure proper surveillance.
He further called on the oil companies to revisit their Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR, practices, making sure that the socio-economic imperatives of the community within which they operate are fully respected and taken care of.
Ezeoba said: “The mentality of handouts must stop. The community must have a hand in deciding what constitutes CSR.
“Also, the oil majors should ensure that their CSR is tilted towards human capacity development. That is, their CSR should empower people to fend for themselves.
“This will make the people become change agents and drive development in the region.”
He urged the oil majors to have a rethink in their approach towards securing their economic assets such as the pipelines, noting that if the pipelines were adequately secured, incidences of oil theft will be reduced.
He said: “Make products available to the people of the Niger Delta. It is a shame that although oil is obtained from their domain, the people hardly see it, and when they do, the products are sold for thrice the official prices.”
He emphasised the need for enhanced collaboration between agencies of government, the communities, oil companies and other stakeholders.
The former chief executive of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Mr. Timi Alaibe, called for proper diagnosis of the number and volume of oil being spilled, adding that appropriate technology will help address the issue.
Akpobulokemi argued that military approach cannot stop the menace. He called for a robust surveillance system, while youths will be actively engaged by the oil companies, especially by creating employment opportunities for them.
The Commandant-General, Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC, Dr. Ade Abolurin, said modern scientific equipment were necessary, while oil companies should give communities avenues for manpower development.
Other personalities at the conference were Professor Gabriel Darah, who chaired the panel during the discussion segment; Elder Timi Ogoriba, a prominent Niger Delta activist and Reverend Nnimmo Bassey, Coordinator Oil International.
Others are Major-General Bata Debiro, Commander, Joint Task Force, codenamed Operation Pulo Shield; Che Ibegwura, community leader from Rivers State; Mr. Bayo Olowoshile, General Secretary, Petroleum and Natural Gas Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, among others.