Think Nigeria and its crude oil production, and you probably envisage gas flaring, environmental degradation and poverty amid wealth. In earnest, Nigeria’s government past or present, is seen to be earnestly desperate in its desire to stop gas flaring and have a clean environment. But, sadly, no sooner than the government of the day make pronouncements and enact laws to end gas flaring, then the same government and its officials are consumed in the politics to achieve gasflaring deadline because of paltry penalty payment. After over five decades of oil prospects in the Niger Delta, gas flaring persists while poverty hunts as the environment is no longer able to sustain the livelihood of the people who are mainly farmers and fishermen. Therefore, the pain suffered by oil producing communities over the continued gas flaring is unimaginable. Yet, federal government’s penchant for peanuts collected as penalty payment for gas flare gives it so much satisfaction than putting its feet down and standing on a definite date to end gas flaring in the Niger Delta region.
The other day, the director general, budget office of the federation, Ben Akabueze was optimistic that the ‘huge’ increase in penalty payment by oil companies will help to alleviate the resultant budgetary pressure from the coronavirus pandemic that has caused businesses across the globe to either shrink or fold up and has subsequently resulted in the oil price slump. Akubueze said, “The government would tighten implementation of the 2018 revised gas flare penalty payment regime…of gas flare penalty for 2020 from N44.7 billion to N103.51 billion”. It would be just unwise for the federal government to sit back, collect gas flare penalty and complacently continue to shift the goal post to end gas flaring in the Niger Delta region. As far back as 1969, the federal government directed all oil companies operating in the country to end gas flaring within five years of operation even as it took steps to utilise the gas. But the lack of political will saw gas flaring unabated and Nigeria’s government known for its reeling out stern laws that can hardly bite, enacted the Associated Gas Reinjection Act (1979) to regulate or better put, stop gas flaring in the country. Notwithstanding, setting another goal post at the end of 1984 as the gas-flare-out deadline, government once again undermined its own order to readiness and looked the other way by adding fine to non-compliance.
From the writing on the wall, there is no denying the fact that, government’s own analysis suggests that gas flare penalty payment is better than having a clean environment. This is because the root of the continue gas flaring lie in the government prescription of greed and insensitivity to the plight of the Niger Delta people over environmental degradation. The devastating effects of gas flaring poses a potential catastrophe in the near future as the ruling government in its wisdom thinks multinational oil firms producing 10,000 barrels of oil or more per day could get away by paying a paltry 2 dollars per 1,000 standard cubic feet of gas as against 10 naira per 1,000 scf in the past. While oil firms producing less than 10,000 barrels of oil per day should cough out a ‘chicken feed’ of 0.5 dollars per 1,000 scf. The question is, who determines the volume of flared gas, is it not the same oil producing firms?
Even in the face of austerity and huge debt burden bedeviling the nation, Nigeria, remains by African standard a rich oil producing country. Its fortune has risen substantially since the discovery of oil in 1956 at Oloibiri. However, by the realities on ground regarding the living standard of Nigerians, it is crystal clear that despite being the seventh largest oil producer in the world, majority of the country’s citizens can hardly feed three square meals a day. It is, therefore, unfortunate to attribute the coronavirus pandemic as one of the factors that has driven the ruling government to see gas flaring as avenue to raise revenue through increased penalty payment. Of all government mistakes, the gravest was to think revenue is generated from gas flaring whereas, the effect of the damage on the environment and climate cannot be quantified with the so called penalty payment.
In the light of the foregoing, it is difficult not to suspect politicians’ behaviour towards gas flare end in the country as a filthy business. This fishy smell has grown even stronger when looking at the huge earnings from oil discovery since 1956 at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta. Yet, the country’s economic profile remains a shambles and the ruling government feels elated and relieved by what it refers as ‘huge’ gas flaring penalty. It is a shame. The failure of multinational oil companies to adhere strictly to best practices and stop gas flaring in the Niger Delta region has resulted in seeing farmers and fishermen being deliberately forced out of their traditional occupation. Of course, this ugly phenomenon has continued to raise unanswered questions: what are Niger Deltan youth to do outside their traditional livelihood means of farming and fishing? Did I hear you say they should embrace western education? Well, chew this up. The state of infrastructure in the Niger Delta region and by extension the entire country has been a source of shame to the people who lay the “golden egg”. Education that is generally believed to be a country’s competitive tool in the world space is in great jeopardy, while electricity, portable water, healthcare delivery, affordable housing and good access roads remain a far cry in the Niger Delta region. This has forced many to move to cities but that may not change their fortunes much, hence the continued agitation, violence and vandalisation of oil facilities in the region.
No doubt, the destruction of the once fertile environment in the Niger Delta and the fact that people can no longer engage their usual livelihood are the roots of restiveness in the region. However, the health implication also pose enormous challenge as people would be dying of hunger and disease. More so, at a time the world is making frantic efforts to tackle the problems of climate change, Nigeria’s government is seen in ecstasy enjoying proceeds that destroys its environment and climate. It is important to note that the international oil companies operating in the country do not indulge in routine recklessness of gas flaring in their home countries. Nigeria’s ruling government needs to think hard about what it wants from multinational oil producing companies in the country. Such an action demands statesmanship, vision and determination. Sadly, in this generation of political era the above mentioned qualities are in short supply. Until the federal government forces oil companies to do the right thing, stop gas flaring and pollution of the environment, the temptation of finding ways to create trust among oil producing companies and their host communities will forever remain elusive.