Wednesday 20th November 2019
Wednesday, 20th of November 2019
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Niger Delta: Earth’s most polluted place

Oloibiri is a small community in Ogbia Local Government Area in Bayelsa State, in the eastern Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Oloibiri is a historic town to the oil and gas industry as the first commercial oil discovery was made there (at Otuabagi/Otuogadi) by Shell Darcy on Sunday, January 15th, 1956 after about 50 years of exploration.

Indeed, Oloibiri has many firsts to its credit in the nation’s oil and gas industry: Oloibiri-1 well is the first commercial oil well in Nigeria; completed on June 1956, Oloibiri-1 well is the first completed commercial oil well in the country; Oloibiri oilfield is the first commercial oil field in Nigeria; Nigeria’s first crude oil export came from Oloibiri field in February 1958; and Nigeria’s first crude oil pipeline was laid from Oloibiri oil field to Port Harcourt (in River State) on the Bonny River (Bonny Export Terminal).

In fact, the development of the oil and gas industry in the Nigeria will be incomplete without a mention of Oloibiri where it all started. The Oloibiri field launched Nigeria into the limelight of petro-dollar state.

Nigeria joined the ranks of oil producers in 1958 when its first oil field came on stream producing 5,100 barrels per day (bpd). After 1960, exploration rights in onshore and offshore areas adjoining the Niger Delta were extended to other foreign companies. In 1965, the EA field was discovered by Shell in shallow water South East of Warri.

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In 1970, the end of the Nigerian civil war coincided with the rise in the world oil price, and the country was able to reap instant riches from its oil production. Nigeria joined the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1971 and established the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) in 1977, a state-owned and controlled company which is a major player in both the upstream and downstream sectors.

By the late sixties and early seventies, Nigeria had attained a production level of over two million barrels of crude oil a day. Although production figures dropped in the 1980s due to economic slump, 2004 saw a total rejuvenation of oil production to a record level of 2.5 million barrels per day.

Petroleum production and export play a dominant role in Nigeria’s economy and account for about 90 percent of her gross earnings. This dominant role has pushed agriculture, the traditional mainstay of the economy, from the early 1950s and 1960s, to the background.

But the joy of oil production and wealth has been blighted by large-scale environmental degradation in form of pollution of water bodies and farmlands by spilled crude oil as well as flared gas. The Niger Delta is now adopted as a crime scene that equals ecocide or action from human agency resulting in the extensive damage to, or destruction of ecosystems that endangers people’s life.

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The restive, ecological disaster region is no longer one of the most polluted areas in the world but now regarded by the international community as the most polluted inhabited place on earth. Here, human rights violations are rife.

The average Nigerian would love to forget incidents such as the Shell’s Bonga spill which spilled over 40,000 barrels on December 23rd, 2011 and Chevron’s North Apoi rig explosion offshore on January 16th, 2013. Till date, there are over 4,000 oil spills in the Niger Delta and not one has been adequately cleaned up, making the region suffer from oil spills that equals one Valdez oil spill annually.

Observers are frowning at the unsavoury development, saying that urgent steps need to be taken to address the situation from further deteriorating.

Dr Godwin Ojo, an environmental activist, wants government to recognise the Niger Delta as an ecologically devastated environment and to, as a matter of urgency, declare a state of environmental emergency for restoration and compensation.

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“So far, militarisation strategies through military Joint Task Forces (JTF) have proved a fiasco time and again,” he says, alleging that oil companies are substituting corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes for environmental remediation and compensation.

“We reject the oil companies’ CSR that is subject to manipulation and abuse. Until environmental health is restored, we call for the immediate suspension of all forms of oil companies’ corporate social responsibility that is weakening and dividing the people than providing any net material benefits,” demands Ojo, who is of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).

Similarly, attacks including kidnappings and bombing of oil installations by groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) cut more than 28 percent of Nigeria’s oil output between 2006 and 2009. The violence declined after thousands of fighters accepted a government amnesty offer in 2009 and disarmed.

But the rebel group is threatening to resume assaults following the recent imprisonment in South Africa of its leader, Henry Okah, who was jailed 24 years after he was found guilty of 13 counts of terrorism, including a bombing that killed 12 people in Abuja on October 2010.

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