Between September 26-27, 2013, Spaces for Change -S4C staff visited sites degraded by oil spill and recurrent environmental pollution in Ibeno and eight other local government areas in Akwa Ibom State, looking specifically at the impacts on traditional livelihoods, water, food and environmental quality in general. Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN) Unlimited and Total Nigeria Plc are the two major oil companies engaged in oil exploration and production in the state. The site visits were followed by series of consultations with clan heads, traditional and youth leaders of the affected communities, representatives of state and federal ministries and regulatory agencies involvedin pollution control and environmental sustainability.
Onsite observation from rivers, streams and beaches visited in Eket, Esit-Eket, Ibeno and Mbo villages show that recurring oil spills have devastatingly contaminated water and local food sources, destroying fisher folk and aquatic life across 9 local government areas where hundreds of thousands of indigenous populations live. Between August 13 and December 16 2012, no less than 10 incidents of massive oil spills have been recorded, resulting in adverse environmental impacts on the ecosystem and loss of traditional livelihoods. Findings show that the November 9 spillage in particular, was caused by a rupture in one of the MPN-operated pipelines. The lack of credible regulatory investigations, inaccessible information about the causative factors of oil spills, including the dearth of consequences on offending companies has continued to obscure accountability; preclude independent public scrutiny of clean-up operations, and the development of satisfactory monitoring methods and procedures for such operations.
Our contact with, and interviews with the indigenous people living and operating businesses in and around the affected areas reveal surging local discontent fuelled by a range of issues such as the recurrent mystery spills, non-disclosure of the actual volumes spilled by oil companies, unpaid compensation, non-inclusive negotiation methods and widespread community exclusion in many aspects of industry dealings. To compound the situation, comprehensive clean-up and remediation of various sites of oil spills do not take place several months after the spills occur. Overwhelming evidence shows that the volatile situation in the Niger Delta is in large part, attributable to the large-scale environmental degradation linked to weakly-regulated oil exploratory and production activities, which continue to increase indigenous communities’ vulnerability to food shortages, health hazards, loss of land and livelihood resources, forced migration, unemployment and so forth.
SPACES FOR CHANGE-S4C has worked closely with Niger Delta communities affected by various natural and man-made environmental hazards, especially oil pollution, to find sustainable ways to meet their social, economic, and cultural needs and to improve the quality of their lives. Accordingly, we have mobilized grassroot participation in oil policy development; campaigned vigorously for improved governance of the environment; and for increased respect for community rights to benefit from natural resources within the context and framework of Nigeria’s latest oil regime, the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Among other objectives, the PIB introduces new provisions and initiatives aimed at increasing the participation of oil producing communities in the oil and gas sector, as well as promoting environmental sustainability in the areas where oil exploration and production take place.
We proceed upon the premise that all stakeholders have a unique role to play in the struggle for environmental justice and social responsibility. With a special focus on the PIB provisions on community participation and environmental protection, S4C is deploying its convening power to sensitize and capacity of stakeholders in the oil and gas industry to understand and implement their differentiated roles and obligations outlined in the PIB. The main goal of the multi-stakeholder capacity-building activity is to bring together traditional leaders and representatives of various interest groups within the affected communities, state and federal industry regulators, international oil company representatives operating in the state, the civil society and the mediato build sustainable consensus and undertake necessary joint action towards transforming local agitations into opportunities for peaceful change, environmental justice and corporate responsibility.