By Mallam Kabiru Yusuf
It is an indisputable fact that the hydrocarbon industry which powers human civilization is a complex, specialized, and strategic arena in the energy space all over the world. As such, incidents that arise in the course of crude oil exploration and exploitation need to be professionally managed.
Arguably the most unwelcome distraction in the serious business of incident and crisis management is irresponsible politicization of difficult and highly technical issues by entities or persons with poor or no understanding of the key issues. In doing so, these unwelcome and ill-informed distractions create nothing but divisions where none exist.
The recent Nembe oil wellhead blowout and spillage incident are a prime example of how genuine and expert interventions already deployed should not be politicized, discredited, or hobbled by hostile fringe industry interests.
The OML 29 Well 1 platform, which is operated by Nigeria’s largest indigenous oil firm, Aiteo Exploration and Production Company Limited (AEEPCO), a JV with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) experienced a wellhead gas/crude blowout.
On November 5, AEEPCO reported a major oil leak from its Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29, the Santa Barbara South field, in Nembe, Bayelsa State from a blowout which was spewing oil into the immediate water bodies and contiguous communities and fumes in the air. Following available information, the well in question is a non-producing well in respect of which no production had taken place before 2015 when the company assumed operatorship. Terminal.
Aware that the spill situation was time-sensitive and rightly so, Aiteo activated technical containment measures and quickly invited highly competent foreign based technical experts with experience of managing emergencies of this nature to help arrest the situation. The firm has since mobilized to ground zero and has fully deployed measures to contain the leak including an effective fast-track spill recovery programme. In addition to this has been high level, community targeted community-targeted measures that has been providing provide relief and health related support to those immediately affected.
But for some wholly incomprehensible reasons, several forces have equally deployed their armaments to smear and damage not only the image of Aiteo, but its quite considerable efforts. From peddling specious information that the spill has led to losses in excess off two million barrels, some have alleged that over 500,000 barrels were spilled, while some have suggested figure stupendous loss of some 200,000 daily.
According to the Director General/Chief Executive Officer, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Idris Musa, who spoke last week on a national TV show, “It is absolutely wrong and preposterous for people to make false speculations over the oil spillage in Nembe communities of Bayelsa State.”
This brand of speculative mumbo-jumbo continues to be circulated the fact that competent regulatory agencies exist that can provide the appropriate and correct information but are hardly approached to do so. To show the extent of mischief, few have asked how many barrels the well was producing prior to the blowout. Credible information confirms that before its shut-down prior to 2015, the well produced about producing 700 barrels daily. In the light of this disclosure, it is simply incomprehensible that there can be any truth to the volumes being misleadingly bandied about.
This wretched attack is, quite simply, a disgracefully organized conspiracy to put down Aiteo. Despite efforts by Aiteo to professionally contain the spill in Nembe, some see this incident as an opportunity to attack the company. Some interests are even, curiously, putting out old spill videos to create a negative false impression of the extent incident.
It certainly cannot be overstressed that what is playing out appears like well-choreographed intrigue at work to undermine Aiteo and besmirch ongoing efforts to contain the leak and mitigate the impact on communities around the location of the well. First was the exaggeration of massive oil spill, which some compared to Hiroshima Atomic Bomb catastrophe. Comparing the Nembe oil spill to the Hiroshima, is taking mischief to a dangerous level. Worse, it betrays crass ignorance. Clearly, it is scandalous to liken it to Hiroshima. Except one has a very bad motive – there can be no purpose to such a destructive allegation. Not surprisingly, after putting out this narrative, these same hostile forces of divisiveness who apparently have an axe to grind with Nigeria’s biggest indigenous oil company started circulating old spill videos to fuel to their plot and set the communities against the company. By circulating false videos to various social media platforms, they have sought to create the impression that there has been massive environmental damage to the ecosystem.
Even Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State who is not a petroleum engineer has demonstrated a disturbing disposition to his contributions to the public discussions by misguidedly alleging impossible scenarios. Douye Diri is a 1990 Bachelor of Education and Political Science graduate from the University of Port Harcourt with no previous knowledge, experience, or involvement in either oil production or the environment. Yet he has manfully opined that the Nembe spill is worse than the Gulf of Mexico spill. From a person in authority of such elevation, this is extreme misinformation stemming from willful ignorance or dark motive.
To place matters in context, the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico is considered to be the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry and estimated to be 8 to 31 percent larger in volume than the previous largest, the Ixtoc I Oil Spill, also in the Gulf of Mexico. Comparisons between the two or three scenarios with the Nembe incident bespeaks nothing short of a wicked, mischievous conspiracy..
More importantly, when journalists finally visited the location yesterday, they realized that the extent of spill had been greatly exaggerated beyond what the reality they met on ground. The questions are; Who are those behind this plot? Who is paying for it? Who benefits from these damaging stories based on ignorance and outright fake news?
The governor’s posture and utterances call for closer examination. By his own admission, the governor was outside Nigeria on holidays when this spill happened. He did not feel the urgency to cut short his trip to return to assess the situation for himself or play any role that he desired for more than 2 weeks. Whilst the problems, the governor, like the proverbial Nero from the Tragedy of Nero, “fiddled while Rome burned” frolicked in London as responsible leaders and government officials thronged Nembe to offer support, guidance, and assistance. When he belatedly returned, his major contribution was to offer threats and his absurdly twisted comparison of the incident with the Gulf of Mexico spill.
What was Diri trying to achieve by such wild incomparable comparison that had no basis in reality?. Why he now does he pretend to care for the impacted communities when he failed to demonstrate leadership early enough as the news of the spill was first reported by Aiteo. Whilst absent on his foreign junket, President Muhammadu Buhari deployed his Minister of State for Petroleum Resources to Nembe for an on-the-spot assessment and evaluation of the spill. The Minister attested to the work being done to contain the spill and pledge support to the company’s efforts. This bears little comparison to the tame efforts of Diri whose return to Nigeria is only noteworthy by his wild, ignorant, and unsubstantiated allegations. Indeed, it is not known if he has intervened in any way on behalf of his people.
What benefits could the governor possibly gain from a disaster that he should also be in the forefront of efforts aimed at genuine mitigation and stability? Granted it is within his legitimate rights to protect his citizens, but this must align with the scientific templates of managing spills as obtains elsewhere in the industry. Immediately, the blowout in question occurred, Aiteo followed professional procedure; alerted the regulatory agencies and activated critical technical and community-focused interventions. Journalists who visited the wellhead blowout ground zero this week saw for themselves the extensive efforts deployed to cage and remediate the situation. What they observed contrasted sharply with a lot of the misinformation being peddled by forces hostile to Aiteo for whatever reasons. According to the oil company, “Aiteo Officials are closely monitoring all activities related to the affected communities, viz. feeding, lighting, hygiene, drinking water and medical requirements with the help of local associations.” Further, “Aiteo Safety and security and HSE teams are monitoring the quality of air every six hours to ascertain the livability of the areas adjoining ground zero. Aiteo is mobilizing additional relief materials for the affected communities.”
The Presidency and relevant agencies, on their parts, have responded admirably in providing for guidance and support towards the efforts being deployed containing spill as well as providing stability. But from closer examination, it appears this conspiracy is an attempt to sabotage and rubbish both image and efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. All his efforts at reorganizing and reforming the crucial sector are being serially undermined by some forces whose motives are diabolical. It seems evident that those forces want to capitalize on this spill by exaggerating its impact beyond the scope of what is on the ground. Ultimately, they want to use it to undermine the federal administration and allege both lack of capacity and incompetence by the Buhari government in a major area of the country’s economy. They have already imputed that federal government officials are compromised on the issue. Compromised by who and for what purpose? Instead of acknowledging that Aiteo is working with government officials to clean up the spill and bring the situation under control as should be expected, these diabolical agents are very willing to cast aspersions on the integrity of these officials in furtherance of their dangerous obsession with Aiteo founder Benedict Peters. Incontrovertibly, this is driven primarily by the objective to target and destroy individual reputations and the integrity of cooperate concerns built over several years. This is nothing short of blackmail and its very common tactic deployed by hired mercenaries – blemish everybody in the chain activities with all sorts of allegations to hamper the clean-up efforts for as long as they can.
The hydrocarbon industry, with its peculiar hazards, remains very important to human civilization. When incidents like this occur, they must be professionally managed as is being done currently and not dangerously politicized or mischaracterized by forces with dark motives.
*MALLAM KABIRU YUSUF IS PRESIDENT, AREWA CONSULTATIVE YOUTH MOVEMENT AND CONVENER, ASSOCIATION OF NORTHERN YOUTH GROUPS