The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Federal Government of Nigeria to put in place a legal framework to ensure that oil and gas companies would recognise Niger Delta people’s right to a healthy environment.
SERAP made the advocacy in Lagos at an interactive session with journalists on: “Promoting Transparency and Accountability in the Use of Public Funds in Nigeria With Focus on Niger Delta”.
A lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Dr Bunmi Afinowi, who spoke on the topic, urged the government to ensure actualisation of the framework first in Niger Delta and later in the entire country.
Afinowi said that this had become necessary in order to ensure that when violations of the rights of Niger Delta people would occur, individuals, communities and civil society organisations would be able to seek redress in both local and international courts.
According to her, there was no reason the Niger-Delta region, which produced much of the resources on which the country was dependent, should be poor and the rights of the people violated by oil and gas companies.
Afinowi recommended periodic engagements of legal and environmental experts and policymakers to review and strengthen existing laws, regulations and policies related to the oil and gas sector in terms of resource management and extractive activities.
She also urged the Federal Government to create a platform or avenue for sharing information related to oil and gas activities, revenue distribution and environmental impact assessment with local communities.
“There is need to also develop and distribute educational materials to raise awareness about the industry’s effects on communities and the importance of transparency,” Afinowi said.
The President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr Eze Anaba, in a goodwill message, said that there was need to ensure that resources from the Niger Delta were used to develop the region.
He reteirated the need for transparency and accountability in government at all levels to promote good governance and respect for the rule of law.
Anaba said that the media had roles to play to achieve the objective.
“Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, stated the roles that members of the profession are expected to play in contributing to efforts in promoting transparency and accountability in Niger Delta in particular,” he said.
The Director-General, Bureau of Public Service Reform, Dr Dasuki Arabi, said that the strategic importance of the Niger Delta could not be overrated.
He noted that different administrations had taken bold steps to ensure development of the region.
According to him, one of the bold steps to address the issues in the region was the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission to drive sustainable development.
Mr Solomon Funkekeme Solomon, who represented Rivers Gov. Sinminalayi Fubara, said that protection and safety of the region was important.
He added that the terrain in the region was different and difficult, saying that the amount spent on constructing a road in Abuja, for example, was lower that what was spent in the Niger Delta.
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare, in his welcome address, said that about 122 million Nigerians were living in poverty.
Oluwadare said that corruption contributed in making Nigeria one of the poorest nations.
He urged that the administration of Bola Tinubu should demonstrate the political will to fight corruption by going after the “big fish” in government circles.
He also urged the administration to guarantee freedom of expression and uphold the rule of law.
By Adenike Ayodele