The Nigeria Natural Resource Charter, NNRC has warned that unless issues of environment protection are taken seriously, the Niger Delta might suffer immense negative consequences and abandonment when global attention shifts away from fossil fuel.

The Program Coordinator, NNRC, Ms Tengi George-Ikoli, who made this known during a webinar titled: ‘Nigerian Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, Amendment Bill: Reducing environmental degradation through improved oil spill response,’ also disclosed that the Niger Delta region is currently suffering from poor response to oil spill.

George-Ikoli, stated that NOSDRA, the agency set up to address some of the grave consequences of oil exploitation, mandated to respond to oil spills, was currently hampered by an almost debilitating lack of capacity.

However, she explained that the capacity gaps in NOSDRA were not due to a lack of expertise but instead lack of funding and punitive powers.

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George-Ikoli lamented that oil exploitation had always presented a huge negative impact on the ecosystem of the Niger Delta region, giving rise to intense land degradation, rapid agricultural decline, fisheries depletion, rampant and destructive oil spillages, continuous gas flaring and toxic water contamination among others.

This, she added, had negatively affected the health, environment and livelihoods of the Niger Delta people.

She said, “Oil exploitation is now ongoing in the Lagos-Badagry region and now we have discoveries in the Northern part of Nigeria. All over Nigeria, oil exploitation grows, but we must note that as the benefits grow, the resultant negative externalities grow as well.

“The oil age like the coal age and the stone age will at some point set. States that contributed to the coal age in Nigeria are now left to their devices with the shift to oil.

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“What happens to the Niger Delta region with the shift towards alternative energy sources or to other regions in Nigeria where oil is being exploited? The Niger Delta will be left with its diminished livelihoods, health and environment.

“This is no longer theoretical, as we saw with the COVID-19 health crisis that swept the globe. The Niger Delta concerns were not as high on the priority list. This is the reality that the Niger Delta will face with the zero oil scenario.

“In April 2010, the entire world watched in awe as the 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion on BP’s Deep-water Horizon drilling rig unfolded.

“The seriousness of the issue was underlined with the numerous visits of the former United States President, Barack Obama and Congressmen to the spill sites.

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 “In less than two months after the spill, the American government was able to extract a huge sum of $20 billion from the spiller to mitigate the immediate impact of the spill on the environment.

“However, there were spirited efforts to clean the environment and stronger indications that the $20 billion may only be preliminary appeasement. “What would be and what has been the computation of the penalties for similar spills in Nigeria?

“Will NOSDRA be able to address similar large scale spills effectively?” She further called for the speedy passage and assent to the reviewed NOSDRA Amendment bill, stating that the Bill would ensure that NOSDRA was well equipped to tackle all tiers of oil spillages in the Nigerian environment in line with global best practices.

“As we seek to understand the NOSDRA Amendment bill, President’ concerns, the address of those concerns, we will encourage the government to collaboratively resolve any outstanding issues to ensure the interests of the Niger Delta people and all other exploited regions are protected,” George-Ikoli appealed.

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Also speaking, Dr Sam Kabari, a Lecturer in Environmental Management and Pollution Control, Nigeria Maritime University, Okerenkoko, Delta State, stated that the country needed a NOSDRA which functions as an environmental regulator in the issuance of guidelines and standards and able to address all manner of spills, noting that at the moment, NOSDRA can only detect oil spills but cannot respond.

He further stated that at present, NOSDRA lacked powers to respond to Tier 3 spills, which is between 250 barrels onshore and 2,500 barrels offshore; was dependent on oil companies for logistics, among others.

Kabari said: “As a nation completely dependent on oil and gas, we need an environmental management umpire. The current regulatory framework restricts NOSDRA from achieving that function.

“The NOSDRA Amendment Bill will empower NOSDRA to respond to all manners of spills within Nigeria. We have to empower NOSDRA now, or live with pollution even after oil.”

By Peace Obi

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