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Niger Delta fishermen applaud Buhari on assent to PIB

The Artisanal Fishermen Association of Nigeria (ARFAN) has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law.

Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

Mr Samuel Ayadi, the Coordinator of ARFAN in the Niger Delta, made the commendation in an interview on Wednesday, August 18, 2021 in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital.

Ayadi noted that the new law had a lot of promises for the Niger Delta region.

He said that the Petroleum Industry Act  (PIA) 2021, which became law on Monday, amongst other provisions, made it statutory for oil firms to develop and involve communities where they operate.

Ayadi expressed optimism that the new legislation would be implemented to herald a new era in the oil communities and end the situation where oil exploration activities stifled the fishing activities.

The ARFAN coordinator however appealed to the President to prevail on Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) to pay the $3.6 billion fine imposed by the oil industry regulators over the 2011 Bonga oilfield spill.

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The fishermen noted that they were yet to recover from the adverse effect of the 2020 lockdown on the fishing sector, while lamenting their exclusion from the palliatives provided for the agric sector to guarantee food security.

Ayadi noted that ARFAN members had suffered untold hardship fishing at the nation’s territorial waters since 2011, when an equipment failure at the Bonga Offshore field operated by SNEPCO discharged some 40,000 barrels of crude into the waters.

On Dec. 20, 2011, during loading of crude at Bonga fields within OML 118, situated at 120 kilometres off the Atlantic coastline, the export line ruptured and discharged crude oil into the waters.

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The export line, according to a Joint Investigation Report by National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA} and SNEPCO, spewed about 40,000 barrels (6.4 million litres) of crude oil into the Atlantic Ocean.

Ayadi further appealed to the Buhari administration to resolve the Bonga spill incident by setting up a committee to address the issue of loss of income, while the clean-up exercise of the incident lasted.

According to him, the fishermen were advised by NOSDRA to stop fishing in the impacted waters for several weeks to avoid catching contaminated fish that could jeopardise public health.

He noted that having complied with a regulatory order by NOSDRA to stop fishing to avoid contaminated fish, they deserved to be indemnified for loss of income for the period the clean-up lasted.

NOSDRA had in March 2015 imposed the fine on SNEPCol for discharging 40,000 barrels of crude into the Atlantic Ocean on Dec. 20, 2011.

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The fine comprised a $1.8 bilion as compensation for the damages done to natural resources and consequential loss of income by the affected shoreline communities as well as a punitive damage of $1.8 billion.

Following a legal action instituted by Shell at a Federal High Court in Lagos, the trial judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, on June 20, 2018, dismissed the suit challenging the imposing of $3.6 billion fine on it by NOSDRA.

The fishermen impacted by the Dec. 20, 2011, spill from the Bonga Oilfields applauded the judiciary for the judgment which upheld the fine, but regretted that the judgment was yet to be complied with.

By Nathan Nwakamma

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