For over a decade or two, the Niger Delta environment which has suffered pollution and environmental degradation occasioned by long years of petroleum exploration and production has been in the news for planned clean-up and remediation of its polluted environment – both the vegetation, lands, water, flora and fauna; air/atmosphere livelihoods like fishing and farming. This is especially so in the Ogoni areas like Bori, Gokana, Khana and Tai.
Most of these communities have long experienced pollution and environmental degradation before the United Nations (U.N) through its special agency UNEP, the United Nation Environmental Programme undertook a study of the affected communities and locations and in its findings made recommendations for its total clean-up by both the federal government and the major oil companies.
The environment is nature and man’s greatest resource, home to plants, animals-both birds and insects. The wetlands, water bodies, microorganisms, microbes anywhere on the planet are nature and God’s greatest resource and gift.
To all intents and purposes, the world in the 21st century is going towards cleaner energy, cleaner fuels and cleaner environment to mitigate climate change. That’s why fossil fuel-hydro carbons are gradually being phased out in many countries of the world as an energy source or provider. To that extent, the world and Nigeria in particular ought to toe this line and embrace this new paradigm shift.
For all the exploration and production being carried out by all the major international oil companies (IOC’s) for over six decades in the Niger Delta and the environment and air/atmosphere being polluted and degraded, nothing has been done about it.
There has been gas flaring in Niger Delta even though the federal government and international oil companies have been setting targets to end the menace. This practice is one of the worst forms of environmental degradation to our environment and health. It causes health hazard as skin lesion, causes acid rain, pollutes the air/atmosphere and the water as well as depletes the ozone layer.
Continuous exploration and production of crude oil in these communities over the years with obsolete and outdated equipment and network of pipelines across the producing communities and Niger Delta has caused some of these equipment, platforms and pipelines to corrode. And due to the effect of the vagaries of the weather and the salinity and alkaline nature of the terrain, be it swamp, land or rivers, these make it easy and possible for rupture or failure of these network of pipelines, equipment and platforms which are begging for replacement and overhaul.
In modern times and in other climes especially Europe, the Americas and Asia etc., international best practices does not permit gas flaring of any sort. There’s zero tolerance for gas flaring due to its hazard to health and environment. Also equipment, platforms and pipelines/facilities are tested routinely for its integrity and replacement. Nowhere in the world do you see some of the flagrant and brazen abuses of the environment as noticed in the various oil producing areas in the Niger Delta.
The Ogoni clean-up which has lingered for some time, after series of postponements, has finally commenced and is ongoing. The federal government through its agencies like HYDREP,NOSDRA and other international partners are carrying out the campaign exercise which is described as one of biggest and ambitious clean-up programmes in the world.
This onerous project and exercise entails reclamation process to restore the land, vegetation, water, sub-soil microbes and micro-organisms. As well as the polluted and contaminated underground water table.
For these communities and producing areas and locations, most of their livelihoods like farming, fishing, hunting and setting of traps to catch games have been destroyed due to these dastardly practices and acts to the environment.
On that premise, the exercise should be detailed, thorough and effective because the extent of damage and destruction is of gigantic proportion. International best practices, standards should be applied as indeed the UN and UNEP requirements and quality. The affected communities will only see the injustice and damage to their environment, air atmosphere, rivers, creeks and vegetation etc. reversed when their environment is fully and truly restored to its original state and condition.
Experts and specialists in the environmental field have proffered solutions and recommendations as to how to curb this menace and avert future occurrence since it is unacceptable, disgusting and very destructive to people, communities, livelihoods and the environment as a whole.
To see this extent of harm and monumental damage done to the environment occasioned by environmental degradation and pollution, making it almost impossible and very difficult to regain or restore green and cleaner environment in the affected communities, locations and the Niger Delta, both land, water, air/atmosphere and livelihoods, a perfect and thorough clean-up exercise must be carried out.
Going forward, the federal government, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation NNPC, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and other relevant regulatory bodies, should routinely conduct quality and integrity test on the (IOCs) operations and facilities. And vet not only their operations and facilities but also their contractors or third parties. Regulating and setting/maintaining standards must be in the purview of the environmental agency and the NNPC. When communities report cases or incidences of environmental pollution, prompt and immediate actions/investigations must be carried out and sanctions should be meted out on the defaulting organization to act as a deterrent.
Lastly, international best practice, cleaner energy, cleaner fuels, cleaner environment as obtained in Norway, Finland, USA, Malaysia, Kuwait etc. particularly in mitigating climate change and the ozone layer depletion must henceforth remain the standard. Also in a changing world that is becoming more complex and more interdependent coupled with globalization of livelihoods, environmental rights must be protected at all costs.