Restore N’Delta To Pre-exploration Era Before Selling Off Assets”, ERA/FoEN Tells Divesting IOCs

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Following the decision of some International Oil Companies (IOCs) to sell off their assets to local oil companies, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has expressed concern over the lack of plans by the IOCs to address the environmental impacts of oil exploration in the Niger Delta region before exiting the country.

 

 

ERA/FoEN demanded that the International Oil Companies take immediate action to restore the devastated environment in the Niger Delta to its pre-oil exploration state, before proceeding with their divestment plans.

The Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Barrister Chima Williams who made this known during a virtual press briefing, alleged that the decision of the IOCs to divest their companies was not in good faith and interest of Nigerians.

When asked about the current status of the divestment by IOCs, Chima said despite reports in the press claiming some oil companies had left the country, “no oil multinational has totally divested its asset from Nigeria,” hinting that the divestment plans are being slowed down partly due to concerns raised by host communities over decades-old exploration impacts and the call for compensation to ameliorate the suffering of locals.

To ensure host communities are not short-changed with the IOCs’ divestment, the environmental activist urged the National Assembly to enact legislation that would outline step-by-step action to be taken by oil multinationals before selling off assets. He stated that the legislation should map out how “environmental remediation funds should be set up by both the divesting and investing entities” to address all concerns raised by oil-bearing communities.

Williams observed that the ongoing divestment plans stem from the realisation by multinational companies that Nigerians are no longer tolerating their excesses following a slew of legal actions challenging the despoliation of the oil-rich region by the oil majors. He argued that the companies are divesting their assets to avoid scrutiny, claiming the real intention that IOCs have in mind is to “shift their activities from onshore to offshore exploration where they can operate covertly without being monitored by Nigerians.”

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Williams referred to several cases where ERA and other concerned Nigerians got court judgments against International Oil Companies like Shell.

It would be recalled that a Dutch Appeal Court had unequivocally ruled that the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria LTD (SPDC), is liable to pay compensation to four Nigerian farmers for the two oil spills that occurred in the Goi Community of River States and Oruma Community of Bayelsa State.

The four farmers alongside Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie), had filed a suit against the parent company of SPDC, the Royal Dutch Shell, and other subsidiaries over two oil spill incidents in Rivers and Bayelsa states.

According to Williams, instances like this have made multinational oil companies to look elsewhere upon realizing that Nigerians have begun to fight back against the negative impact of oil exploration in the country.

Williams made it clear that for the successful implementation of the divestment plan, the multinational oil companies “need to return the Niger Delta to the status quo. Restore our environment, our source of livelihood, remove the problems in the environment, compensate our citizens for all the problems they caused throughout the years and also pay the Federal Government all the backlog profits. The multinational oil companies have been evading some payments to the Federal Government. The gas flair penalty that is imposed by the constitution mandates oil companies to pay a certain amount of money, but they have been short-changing Nigerians. They evade taxes or when they pay, they don’t pay in full.”

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He stressed that the International Oil Company’s plan to sell its assets to local oil companies is not an entirely beneficial move as against what is being portrayed in certain quarters. He passionately argued that if the divestment plan was implemented without taking concrete steps to address the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, the region and Nigeria at large will undoubtedly suffer dire consequences.

The ERA/FoEN boss questioned how the local oil companies planned to takeover and continue their exploration activities without causing even more damage to the already devastated Niger Delta communities, emphasizing that even multinational companies, with all their financial prowess, have failed to tackle the problem. According to him, some of the local oil companies lack the necessary technical know-how to manage issues like oil spillage.

“Multinationals with all their wealth are not able to tackle the problems of the Niger Delta, how will the local corporations take care of the problems that will happen and the ones that are already there? To the best of my knowledge, they don’t have the technology power and the know-how to handle issues of oil fallout in the Niger Delta. Domestic operators cannot stop the spill and other problems that even multinationals couldn’t stop. Nigeria would be the worse off in this divestment issue,” he added.

Toeing a similar line, the Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Research and Development Center (SERDC), Mr. Tijani Abdulkareem, cautioned against oil exploration in the North without the implementation of proper structures to address the social and environmental hazards associated with such ventures.

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Abdulkareem warned that the recent discovery of oil in Bauchi state, Northeast Nigeria, might become a curse if necessary structures are not put in place in local communities to stop a re-occurrence of problems currently plaguing the Niger Delta.

He pointed out that the northern region had been seriously impacted by insecurity and banditry prior to the discovery of oil, warning that the negative impact of oil exploration could escalate the crisis in the state as well as the region, including issues surrounding boundary disputes between Bauchi and Gombe states following oil discovery there.

He said: “It is sad that the perception of people in Bauchi communities is that the oil boom is a blessing rather than a problem which causes social degradation and other vices.

“The oil discovery is capable of adding to the tension in the Bauchi and in the North. The social impact of oil exploration has already been showing some people in the community that it is not really a blessing.

“The same issues in the Niger Delta region are also prevalent in Bauchi. Issues like agricultural activities being grounded are being experienced in the communities. Beyond the environmental hazards, their lands are being taken by some of these multinational oil companies without proper compensation and the crisis is already building up.”

 

‘Dotun Akintomide

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