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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Tinubu’s 100 days in office: Mixed messages on environmental front – ERA/FoEN

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has taken a copious view of the policies and programmes of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu since it assumed office on May 29, 2023.

Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, President of Nigeria

Speaking on existing and emerging issues in the environment sector under the present administration, Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Chima Williams, stated that several initiatives have been introduced by the new government with varying degrees of impact on Nigerians, and these issues have a connection with the environment.

Commenting on the fuel subsidy removal, he stated that the President’s announcement of the decision in his inaugural address was hasty and obviously not well-thought out, adding that the necessary engagement with critical stakeholders in the Nigerian project including representatives of labour, civil society and community representatives, was not carried out prior to this decision.

“The implication was immediate and has resulted to spiralling inflation, high cost of food and transportation with Nigerians at the grassroots feeling the pinch more. The subsequent announcement of $500 billion in palliatives which targeted N8,000 per household was a continuation of the confusion in policy before it was withdrawn in favour of N5 billion for palliatives per state, which has failed to address the real plight of ordinary Nigerians.

“We restate that the solution to the high cost of fuel remains local refining. The rehabilitation of the refineries as promised by the President must be prioritised even as we also demand a probe of the trillions of naira that have gone into turn around maintenance for the nation’s moribund refineries. We equally demand that individuals and companies that have scammed this nation through the subsidies are held accountable,” he stated.

While speaking on the divestment of oil companies in the Niger Delta, Williams explained that the International Oil Companies (ICOs) have escalated their rhetoric about divestment from the Niger Delta region without reversing the environmental harms caused by oil exploration and extraction in the region.

According to him, over six decades of oil exploration in the Niger Delta region has left the region degraded, with frequent oil spills and gas flaring with grave impacts on man and the environment. These hazards continue to shorten the lifespan of the people of the region, he observed.

His words: “Unfortunately, national companies have been buying off the oilfields left by the oil majors, without clear provisions about who is liable for historical contaminations and related socio-ecological issues.

“We are disappointed that, after providing incentives, conducive environment for business operations for the IOCs, the Nigerian government does not know the quantity of what is being extracted from their communities, let alone how to quantify the supposed royalties and taxes.

“The over 30 million people who live in the oil and gas producing Niger Delta have not benefited from the huge amounts of resources pumped from beneath their lands, rivers, and creeks.”

Further elaborating on the environmental issues of the burning of crude oil vessels and the setting up of the Ministry of Gas Resources, Marine and Blue Economy, the ERA/FoEN boss said the current administration still condones the ecological assault being perpetrated on land and sea by the Nigerian security forces in the Niger Delta.

“Apart from the recent NNPCL interception of an 800,000-litre vessel, MT Tura II, conveying stolen crude offshore while heading to Cameroon which was later set ablaze, there have been many others. The sad outcomes have always been the burning of the products by the military allegedly to serve as deterrent to oil thieves. This is unacceptable.”

He added that the announcement of a Ministry of Gas Resources, Marine and Blue Economy is a novel development in the history of Nigeria but is one that will further pollute Nigeria’s waters and impact negatively on ocean resources and on the livelihoods of coastline communities.

“While the analysis of the government is that the ministries would boost the economic development of Nigeria and create massive employment for the youths, government has remained silent on concerns that the ministry is one that will give licence to the continuous gas emissions which are a major cause of climate change and the livelihood and health challenges faced by the communities in the Niger Delta and many far from the extraction front. It is our conviction that the new ministry will commodify our waters with terrible consequences like over-fishing, pollution from habitat destruction; sea mining and other activities are ecologically harmful.”

Drawing attention to the present administration’s disinterest in environmental issues, Williams pointed out that the current Minister of Environment is a medical doctor who was once a Commissioner for Health, Agriculture, and Housing in Ogun State, and does not have any experience in the environment sector.

He called for the setting up of an environmental remediation bond that will set aside funds to tackle environmental issues when such needs come up without waiting for a budgetary approval, as well as the release of the Ecology Fund earmarked for environmental remediation in communities that have suffered pollution, deprivation and other abuses caused by divesting IOCs.

He also admonished President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to repurpose his policies in the environment sector and start exactly from where his predecessor, former president, Muhammadu Buhari, stopped in the Niger Delta, by ensuring the accelerated clean-up of Ogoniland, adding that all bureaucratic bottlenecks to the clean-up should be removed, followed by an environmental audit of the entire Niger Delta.

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