Itsekiri, Ijaw, and Urhobo ethnic nationalities and groups in Delta State, impacted by the massive spill of thousands of barrels of crude oil from an oil vessel, MT. J. S Amazing, Lagos Oil, over 13 years ago, have bitterly complained that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited [NNPC] Ltd and Nigerian Pipelines and Storage Company Limited [NPSC] Ltd, abandoned them, since the unfortunate saga.
Representatives of the affected 245 communities and groups, who spoke to Saturday Vanguard, said the spill from the said vessel, registration number, IMO 7304443, at the NNPCL, then Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, [NNPC], Refinery Jetty, Ijala, Warri, Delta state, polluted and damaged their creeks, farmlands, fishponds, sources of drinking water, sacred grounds, aquatic lives and mangrove vegetation.
The communities and groups impacted by the spill are in Warri South, Warri South-West, and Udu Local Government Areas in Delta State.
Saturday Vanguard gathered that the consultant estate surveyors and valuers, Paul Osaji and Company, later on engaged by the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency [NOSDRA] quantified the damage caused the communities and groups at N28, 332, 268, 895.19.
However, NPSC Ltd, then Petroleum Products Marketing Company PPMC] has, mostly, overlooked the letter, even when the director general of NOSDRA wrote to a letter of compliance; reference No, NOSDRA/OFA/211/Vol 1/30, dated June 16, 2020, to the minister of state for petroleum resources.
PPMC, indifferent until communities protested -Brown-Dibofun
The environmental coordinator of the affected communities/groups, Mr. Eyitemi Brown-Dibofun, who spoke extensively on the travails of the communities, said at the outset, they wrote the presidency, federal ministry of environment, National Oil Spill Detection, and Response Agency [NOSDRA], over the June 6, 2009 incident. He, however, said they did nothing until the affected residents laid siege to the PPMC Area Office, Ekpan, March 23, 2010.
“It took the intervention of traditional rulers from the impacted ethnic groups and the Joint Task Force on the Niger-Delta to quell the protest, after which they set up the NNPC corporate committee on MT J, S Amazing LPFO Spill at Warri PPMC, Warri area office.
“They also appointed an accredited valuer to handle the assessment of damages and payment of compensation,” he said.
Chairperson of the affected communities, Adolphous Tosanwumi and Secretary, Michael Biayeibo, hinted: “Save and except the payment of a paltry N25 million made available as payment for monetized relief materials to 245 communities and groups by PPMC, nothing else has been done to assuage the very bitter feelings of our people. The communities have now exhausted their patience.”
In their words: “More than 13 years after the said LPFO spill, the matter is yet to be resolved and no cleanup, remediation, and restoration of the impacted sites have been undertaken by the PPMC, a subsidiary of NNPCL, despite directives to that effect by NOSDRA.”
NOSDRA’s audacious/shocking actions
Findings showed that NOSDRA after establishing the blameworthiness of PPMC imposed a sanction of N1million fine on PPMC in December 2009, but the action did not produce any result because PPMC refused to comply with the environmental laws.
Former director general/chief executive of the agency, Dr. B.A. Ajakaiye, in a letter, “Re-J.S Amazing Spill of 6th June, 2009 on Warri River – Notification of Sanction”, said, “Your company (PPMC) in flagrant violation of the extant provision of the NOSDRA Act, failed, neglected and refused to contain, recover, and clean the impacted areas since the incidence referenced above.”
The agency said it carried out a joint investigation visit with all parties concerned, including officials of PPMC, on June 9, 2009, to about 12 communities in the vicinity and in compliance with its Act, directed PPMC to contain and clean up the affected areas.
NOSDRA in a follow-up letter, on April 2, 2010, accused PPMC of not complying with extant environmental laws and regulations in the nation’s petroleum sector.
Permanent secretary, federal ministry of environment, Dr. B.N. Olorunfemi, told his supervising minister in another letter, April 1, 2010. “Particularly worrisome, was the refusal of PPMC to clean up low pour fuel and oil spillage in the Warri river and Chanomi creek, all in Delta state.”
“Equally disturbing was the disregard of PPMC to the assessed damage valuation reports forwarded to the Agency since September 2009. The above complaints have caused serious agitations among host communities in the operation area of PPMC in Delta state,” he added.
NOSDRA sued PPMC at the Federal High Court, Asaba, for a direct breach of Section 6(3) of its Establishment Act regarding LPFO spill by MT. J.S Amazing vessel spill of June 6, 2009.
PPMC in breach-Fed High Court, Appeal Court
In a landmark judgment, March 22, 2012, Justice I.N Buba of the Federal High Court, Asaba, found PPMC to be in breach of the NOSDRA Act by allegedly refusing to clean up the LPFO spill, which affected the tidal Warri River, its associated creeks and communities.
Justice Buba stated pointedly in his judgment, “Defendant (PPMC) was in direct breach of Section 6 (3) of the plaintiff (NOSDRA) enabling act when it failed to carry out its directives to clean up the impacted site of the J.S Amazing oil spill of June 6, 2009.”
The court not only gave a compelling order, asking PPMC to pay the N1 million penalty imposed by NOSDRA, it also ordered it clean up and remediate the impacted site as directed.
Justice Mudasiru Nasiru Oniyangi of the Court of Appeal, Benin City, in a judgment, CA/B/330/2012, June 21, 2016, affirmed the judgment of the Federal High Court, Asaba.
The communities and groups noted, “Flowing from the two judgments, it is expected that NOSDRA, as trustee, should take over the matter and relieve us of the burden of negotiation for compensation, but regrettably, NOSDRA abdicated its responsibilities tot eh communities and individuals, who have now been left at the clemency of NPSCL.”
In a letter dated August 22, 2016 to the director general, NOSDRA, the impacted communities urged the agency to” intervene and direct the group managing director [NNPC] to reconstitute the NNPC corporate committee on MT J.S Amazing LPFO Spill at Warri.”
Chairman, Prince Samson Uwanikone in a letter signed with seven others, said the committee should negotiate with NOSDRA and or with the coalition committee for the payment of fair and adequate compensation to the impacted communities and individuals,” cautioning that the leadership of the communities would not be liable for the spontaneous reaction of their people.
Saturday Vanguard reliably learned that NOSDRA, which was originally accommodating to the impacted communities, developed cold feet after a change of guard in the top management, with the leaders no longer disposed to the demand of the communities.
NNPC maneuvers communities
NNPC represented by the group general manager, corporate social responsibility, Mr. Ohi-Alegbe met with the Coalition committee of the impacted communities, on January 26, 2017, on the unresolved issues of the 2009 spill, but over five years after the meeting, the communities have received no feedback from both NNPC and PPMC as assured.
On March 11, 2019, the impacted communities, especially pleaded in a letter, to GMD, NNPC to direct the PPMC to pay adequate compensation as computed by NOSDRA or as estimated by their estate surveyors and values at N26.725billion and embark on the cleanup, remediation, and restoration of all the impacted sites.
Brown-Dibofun told this paper: “Our plea is that the group managing director of NNPC Limited and managing director of the NPSCL take action to pay fair and adequate compensation as aforementioned to the impacted communities/groups and embark on the required cleanup, remediation, and restoration of all the impacted sites caused because of the LPFO spill.”
“How can we describe a situation where the NNPCL/NPSCL massively polluted 245 communities, rivers, creeks, and estuaries with thousands of barrels of LPFO since June 6, 2009, and have refused to clean up, remediate, and restore the LPFO spill sites to its pristine condition, and adequate compensation to the impacted communities, groups, and individuals until date? Is this not clear impunity and travesty of justice?
“The message being transmitted by NNPCL/NPSCL is that they can operate with impunity like have always done with the refusal of the GMD, NNPCL and managing director, NPSCL to honor the invitation of the highly revered House Committee on Host Communities to the investigative hearing on this matter,” he added.
Residents on edge
Saturday Vanguard gathered that residents of the aggrieved communities were becoming more restless over the matter, as many residents lost their means of livelihoods since then.
A fresh crisis appears to be looming over the matter, as angry youths of the affected communities have threatened to carry out massive protests against NNPCL and NPSCL if the authorities do not take steps to remedy the situation.
According to Brown-Dibofun, the communities and groups had besides earlier petitions to the PPMC and NNPC, written to the Presidency, Senate, House of Representatives, Minister of Justice/Attorney General of the Federation, minister of state for petroleum resources, minister of environment, governor of Delta state, speaker, Delta state House of Assembly and director general, National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA.
In a letter, August 17, to the chief executive, Nigerian Midstream, and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority [NMDPRA] the communities urged the authority, as statutorily mandated in the Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, to investigate all issues they raised.
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Host Communities, Hon Dumnamene Dekor, in 2021 scheduled an investigative hearing that the relevant authorities boycotted. The committee is planning a fresh hearing.