States and communities outside the Niger Delta where oil and gas deposits have been found in commercial quantities in recent times will experience the same extensive environmental damage as the region if current legislative and institutional structures are not reviewed.
This was one of the major areas of consensus reached at a two-day webinar organised by the National Coalition on Gas flaring and Oil spills in the Niger Delta (NACGOND) to examine urgent issues around the escalating incidence of oil spills with regard to their impact on the environment and the long-term socio-economic health of the country.
The theme of the event in which over seventy media and civil society representatives from across the country participated was “National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Amendment Bill (2018): Framing Pathways to Presidential Assent”.
Participants focused on the urgent need for presidential assent to the Bill that will give additional powers and jurisdiction to NOSDRA, as the country’s major environmental regulator so that it can deal effectively with current and future oil spill incidents, including those outside the Niger Delta.
The serious environmental plight of the Niger Delta is underscored by the fact that there are over 2000 oil spills in different parts of the region, which have not yet been cleaned.
The presentations by two environmental scholar-activists – Dr Tubodenyefa Zibima of the Political Science Department of Niger Delta University and Dr Sam Kabari of the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) analysed the specific reasons for the president’s initial refusal to sign off on the bill, which include sections of the bill usurping the powers of the Minister for Petroleum Resources; conflicting roles and responsibilities of designated regulatory agencies in the oil and gas sector; and concerns that the financial implications of the legislation will over-burden the industry.
It was agreed that the passage of the NOSDRA Bill should be a critical priority for the country because the lack of a fully empowered agency to manage oil spills is the major cause of the environmental damage that has defined the operations of the industry since the first oil find at Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in 1958.
According to Father Edward Obi, Convener of the webinar: “Other countries which have effective mechanisms for tackling oil spills have fully empowered and resourced institutions to take charge of this important responsibility. Nigeria cannot be different. We need a NOSDRA with adequate teeth to do its job”.
It will be recalled that the previous effort to make the legislation a reality was truncated as President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent after the two chambers of the national Assembly had passed it.
The current NOSDRA Act gives the agency responsibility for “surveillance and enforcing compliance with “all existing environmental legislation and the detection of oil spills in the petroleum sector”.
But the agency is hamstrung because it has no powers to deal with some categories of spills and it has to depend on the equipment and logistics of the oil companies it regulates to access and remediate certain sites and spills.