The Federal Government has announced plans to institute stiffer punishments for companies involved in oil spillage in the country, according to the Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor.
Ikeazor disclosed this to State House correspondents on Thursday at the weekly ministerial press briefing organised by the presidential media team at the presidential villa, Abuja.
The Minister, who decried the latest oil spill from OML 29 in Nembe, Bayelsa State, said the ministry was engaging other relevant government agencies to ensure oil companies were held accountable for such incidents.
She said a Bill was being worked on to amend the law establishing the National Oil Spillage Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) to build its capacity and give it “the needed teeth to bite.”
She said the operating company of the OML 29 in Nembe had blamed the most recent oil spill in the country on sabotage by the locals.
She said: “On the Santa Barbara Aiteo oil spills, you remember the ministry of environment issued a statement stating what happened and the action being taken. It’s a collective action between the ministry of petroleum resources, the ministry of environment and the oil company involved.
“It goes beyond the oil companies giving out palliatives, they must put measures in place to prevent such accidents from happening.
“They are also claiming that the spill was due to sabotage by the local communities. We are going to have a targeted approach to illegal bunkering, tampering with oil installation and artisanal mining in the Niger Delta to get alternative livelihood for the young people of the Niger Delta, so that they would desist from this because it is further polluting the environment.
“The situation has been brought under control. I got a brief from the DG of NOSDRA who was out on the field. So, now, work has to start on the proper clean up.
“I got briefings through the director of NOSDRA, and what I saw in terms of the pollution either through oil refining or illegal oil refining and otherwise – the devastation of the Niger Delta is massive. As we are cleaning up, what we are cleaning up is minute compared to the devastation going on.
“So, it is something that the government needs to tackle headlong. I hope they would have put the picture on (slide show), it was like a Hiroshima site.
“So, is this something we must tackle headlong? We are beyond talking and having workshops. On the issue of penalties, I mentioned earlier the review of the NOSDRA bill. You know most of the Acts we have passed years ago. You will see that they will give maybe N100 fine, anyone can pay that and go back and re-pollute.
“We need to put stiffer penalties, build the capacity of NOSDRA which is the regulatory agency in the oil sector to be able to have the teeth to bite. Without enhancing their capacity and reaffirming the legal framework, getting it stronger, they can’t do much. These are areas we are looking into, it has to stop.
“Government is working on alternative livelihood for the communities so that we can move them away from illegal activities and further polluting of the environment.”
The Minister also lamented that the rate of deaths from smoke-induced illnesses especially among women in the country is the highest in the world, saying that government is hoping to reintroduce clean cook stove and the Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) cook stove initiative to ameliorate the problem and protect the nation’s biodiversity.
Speaking on the achievements of the ministry, Ikeazor observed that Nigeria has sent a strong message to the world with the signing of the climate change Bill into an Act by President Muhammadu Buhar
She said, measures taken so far affirmed the country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
“I would like to state that Nigeria has delivered the loudest statement after COP26, by the President signing the climate change bill into an Act and we have shown a very strong commitment.
“So, the next step now under the Ministry of Environment is the implementation of all these commitments and strategies as well as the national plans we have in place”, she added.
Ikeazor urged citizens to play their part in the effort to ensure a sustainable environment in the country, adding: “For an environment that we can be in harmony with, each and every one of us has to be a part of that sustainable environment that we all dream about. We must implement and accelerate the Great Green Wall project which is basically to review and reverse desertification and land degradation in the Northern part of Nigeria.”
On the Ogoni clean-up exercise, she noted that the work can not be completed in one or two years, and stressed the need to end artisanal refining of crude oil.
“We must accelerate also, the Ogoni cleanup, to make sure that the remediation is completed in time for the good people of Ogoni but at the same time, we must tackle the issue of artisanal refining because as we are cleaning, some are still polluting the environment and we ask that this must stop, for us to have a clean and decent environment.
“We have come up with strategies for addressing these challenges. These are strategies that we have developed. So, in the quest for a green recovery, the ministry recognizes the need to establish the necessary polity, strategy, policy and financial mechanisms that will enable Nigeria have in place all the appropriate environmental governance structure that we need and at the same time reduce carbon emission and pollution, enhance our energy resources efficiently and also prevent the loss of biodiversity in the ecosystem.
“For us in the ministry of environment, our major achievements have been in the area of flood and erosion control. We have a project being run under the ministry of environment, but with the World Bank Assisted programme.
“We have recorded a lot of successes on this and we have been able to install 27 flood early warning systems and we have restored hundreds of erosion sites because the issue of flood has been coming up especially in the southern part of Nigeria.
“We also have our Great Green Wall initiatives in the North. These initiatives have been helping our rural people to manage their land sustainably and also improve on land degradation.
“Government is working on creating alternative livelihood for them so we can move them away from illegal refining and further polluting the environment.
“For now, we have been able to train about 400 women in agri-business and entrepreneurial skills and also we have got them to form themselves into 20 cooperatives, through which they can be gainfully employed into project sites.
“We have created about 735 direct jobs and as the cleanup project continues at the complex sites, we will be able to employ a lot more of the youths”, she said.