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Group seeks legislative action to hold divesting IOCs in Niger Delta to account

The Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has said that the international oil companies (IOCs) operating in Nigeria have lost the right to simply divest in Nigeria, as they cannot be allowed to leave the communities they have subjected to environmental and human right abuses, without addressing the issues.

Chima Williams
ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Chima Williams

ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Chima Williams, stated this at a webinar discussion themed: “Time for a legislative Pathway on IOC Divestment in the Niger Delta”, which was attended by civil society groups and media practitioners across the country.

Speaking on the topic, Williams stated that the divesting IOCs are not totally leaving Nigeria as they want the public to believe but are only moving their operations offshore where their operations cannot be monitored, and their environmental crimes can remain hidden.

According to him, ERA/FoEN is leading the campaigns against IOC divestments in the Niger Delta in its current form, due to the impacts of oil exploration on the local people in host communities, even as he added that ancestral lands have been taken away from the people, waters polluted, farmlands destroyed and livelihoods eroded in these communities, subjecting them to untold poverty.

“Oil companies are at liberty to dispose their assets as permitted by the law, but, as they have caused damage to the people and their environment, there are requirements that must be met. The environment must be returned to status quo, and the livelihood of the people restored before divesting.

“They must settle the crisis they have caused with the divide and rule style they introduced to the communities, as one of the antics they used to overshadow the voice of the people. Rather than being a blessing to Nigeria, oil has become a curse to the people of Nigeria, unlike other oil producing countries in the world.”

While reacting to questions of the benefit of divestment to the country as the assets are being sold to domestic oil companies, Williams opined that the oil multinationals could not manage the environmental issues caused by their operations, despite their financial war chest and technological muscle, stressing that this questions the ability of these indigenous companies to handle the environmental crisis with their limited financial power and technological strength.

He called on the National Assembly to start a legislative process that will hold IOCs accountable for the environmental damages they have caused. He also called for the establishment of an environmental restoration fund, to tackle the issues of environmental pollution before proposals for divestment are concluded.

Also speaking at the meeting, the Executive Director of Socio-Economic Research and Development Centre (SERDC), Tijani Abdulkareem, drew attention to the euphoria about the discovery of oil in Bauchi and Gombe states, revealing that tensions are already building up in the local communities, as they bicker over where the oil is actually located.

Abdulkareem stated that a recent town hall meeting organised by ERA/FoEN which held in Bauchi state has exposed to the people the social impacts of oil exploration, even before the environmental impacts begin.

“The discovery of oil is already creating tension between Bauchi and Gombe states because the oil wells are within the boundaries of both states. Because of that, there is already a conflict going on among the border communities on who really owns the oil wells.

Because of the oil derivation funds at the federal level that has been sold to the commoners, the people are seeing oil as a blessing but are ignorant of the effects of oil exploration on human rights. If you go to these communities in Alkari and some parts of Adoh in Gombe, the idea of oil as a blessing is changing every day because of the social impacts on the people, rising from the attitudes of the oil workers in the community, immorality of the oil workers, slave burden on community youths, kidnapping, boundary tensions, land grabbing and other issues.”

Abdulkareem called for more engagements from the civil society organisations, community-based organisations and the media to ensure that the human rights and the environment of the people are protected.

He also called for the establishment of a national guideline that looks at the issues of divestment in the oil and gas sector.

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