Poison Fire

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“THE NIGER DELTA THE RICHEST POOREST REGION IN THE WORLD”

The World Bank in 1995 released an evidence based report highlighting how the rich extraordinary biodiversity and natural resources of the Niger Delta is under serious threat due to major pollution problems such as gas flaring and oil spillage which arises as a result of oil and gas exploration activities. However, up till this very moment, the Federal Government of Nigeria has still not done anything significant to change the status quo.

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A region which is supposed to be one of the largest wetlands in the world, the largest mangrove swamp in Africa and the second largest delta in the world and provides over 80% of foreign exchange earnings and about 65% of budgetary revenues for the Nigerian Government has not in any way benefited from its resources. Rather a series of environmental degradation issues is what the region has to show for it.

The Niger Delta is now known as one of the worlds most polluted places. Home to over 130 gas flaring sites which have been burning constantly for over 50years, releasing toxic gases to the atmosphere in villages that produce so much revenue for the Nigerian Government who then use this monies to build comfortable places, while the inhabitants of such villages are faced with the hazards of the gas flared coupled with abject poverty. Research has also shown that the Niger Delta has more CO2 in its atmosphere than any other region, and this influences the regional climate which also has its corresponding impacts.

Another, cause for alarm is the incessant oil spills in the region. A total of 6,817 cases of oil spills have been reported to have occurred between 1976 and 2001 by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with an estimated loss of three million barrels of oil. Annually this amount to 262 cases, spilling over 115,000 barrels of oil. In 2012 alone 619 spills were reported. Skeptics are even of the opinion that these figures are far under estimated. The effects of oil spillage are far reaching. They extend from reduction in soil fertility, water pollution, depletion of aquatic animals, and impairment of human health to vegetation degradation. There are no clean water bodies in the Niger Delta anymore. In one of my last visits, I could practically see that the fisherman’s net was black (stained with crude oil) and with very little fish in it.

This environmental contamination is so enormous. This is evident from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report on the Ogoni land, where some areas were declared environmental disaster zones, and restoration of heavily-impacted mangrove stands and swamplands will take up to 30 years.

What is most saddening is that the Federal Government of Nigeria seems not to be interested in saving the region from this disease. This can be seen in the non-implementation of the UNEP report and also the recent 2014 budget were there was nothing on environmental clean-up. The PIB which in its present does not address environmental issues fairly, but at least would give a sense of ownership to host communities has almost died a natural death in a seriously skewed National Assembly.

What is more worrisome is that the inhabitant of the region, especially the locals in the creeks most times do not benefit from products of crude oil exploration as they lack access to petroleum products. Floating NNPC stations are empty without products. Moreover, if at all products can be found, they are sold at prices 400% more than what other Nigerians buy in cities.  This in addition to other factors, have led to the rise of a new phenomenon, called “Artisanal refinery”. However, the Federal Government of Nigeria and other private sectors are giving no attention to the environmental damage caused by this activity, rather they are more interested in the financial loss and petroleum supply problem caused by it.

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To add salt to an already open and bleeding sore, is the height of insensitivity by the current political class to the woes of the inhabitants of the region. The polity is looking more like what Frederick Douglass said “where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe”, because everyone seems to be interested only in the revenue generated from the region and not whether its citizens have equal say on governance in Nigeria or the loss of their livelihoods occasioned by oil and gas exploration activities.

Also is the insensitivity of the Joint Task Force (JTF), as they wilfully destroy illegal bunkering vessels or artisanal refinery sites, by burning and discarding the products back into the environment, further worsen an already bad situation.

One would think that since the President and the Minister of Petroleum resources are from the region, that these issues would be addressed squarely, however that seems not to be the case.  What most of our leaders don’t realize is that until these environmental issues are addressed, we would continue to have and even worse security issues and all other corresponding socio-economic vices, as these are consequences of a degraded environment.

I conclude and leave my readers with this question “What then do you think would happen to a home when the bread winner of the family is terribly sick”?