By Edu Abade
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has decried what it described as ‘incoherent policies, programmes and pronouncements’ of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration since assuming office on May 29, 2023.
Speaking at a media briefing in Benin City, Edo State on existing and emerging issues in the environment sector under the present administration, Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Chima Williams, stated that several initiatives have been introduced by the Federal Government with varying degrees of impact on Nigerians and in relation to the environment.
On fuel subsidy removal, he stated that the President’s announcement of the decision in his inaugural address was hasty and ill-conceived, adding that prior to the decision, there was no engagement with critical stakeholders like representatives of labour, civil society and community representatives.
“The implication was immediate and has resulted in hyper-inflation, high cost of food items and transportation with Nigerians at the grassroots feeling most of the impacts. The subsequent announcement of N500 billion in palliatives which targeted N8,000 per household was a continuation of the confusion in policy before it was withdrawn in favour of N5 billion for palliatives per state, which has failed to address the real plight of ordinary Nigerians.
“We restate that the solution to the high cost of fuel remains local refining. The rehabilitation of the refineries as promised by the President must be prioritised even as we also demand a probe of the trillions of naira that have gone into turn around maintenance for the nation’s moribund refineries. We equally demand that individuals and companies that have scammed the country through the subsidies are held accountable.”
On the divestment of oil companies from the Niger Delta, Williams noted that the International Oil Companies (ICOs) have escalated their rhetoric about divestment from the region without reversing the environmental hazards caused by decades of oil exploration and extraction in the region.
He stressed that over six decades of oil exploration in the Niger Delta has left the region largely degraded through frequent oil spills and gas flaring with grave impacts on man and the environment, adding that the hazards continue to shorten the lifespan of the Niger Delta people.
“Unfortunately, national companies have been buying off the oilfields left by the oil majors, without clear provisions on who should be liable for historical contaminations and related socio-ecological issues.
“We are disappointed that after providing incentives, conducive environment for business operations for the IOCs, the Nigerian Government does not know the quantity of what is being extracted from the communities, let alone how to quantify the supposed royalties and taxes.
“The over 30 million people who live in the oil and gas producing Niger Delta have not benefited from the huge amounts of resources pumped from beneath their lands, rivers, and creeks.”
Speaking further on the environmental issues of burning of crude oil vessels and setting up of the Ministry of Gas Resources, Marine and Blue Economy, he said the current administration still condones the ecological assault being perpetrated on land and sea by the Nigerian security forces in the Niger Delta.
“Apart from the recent NNPCL interception of an 800,000-litre vessel, MT Tura II, conveying stolen crude offshore heading for Cameroon, which was later set ablaze, there have been several others. The sad outcomes have always been the burning of the products by the military allegedly to serve as a deterrent to oil thieves. This is unacceptable!,” he said.
He added that creating a new Ministry of Gas Resources, Marine and Blue Economy will worsen the pollution of Nigeria’s waters, impact negatively on ocean resources and means of livelihoods of coastline communities.
“While the government has argued that the ministries will boost the economic development of Nigeria and create massive employment for the youths, it has remained silent on concerns that the ministry will contribute to the continuous gas emissions, which are a major cause of climate change and the livelihood and health challenges faced by the communities in the Niger Delta, as well as those far from the extraction fronts.
“We are convinced that the new ministry will commodify our waters with dire consequences like over-fishing, pollution from habitat destruction; sea mining and other ecologically harmful activities.”
Williams, who drew attention to the present administration’s disinterest in environmental issues, said the new Minister of Environment is a medical doctor, who was once a Commissioner for Health, Agriculture and Housing in Ogun State and lacked requisite experience in the environment sector.
He canvassed the setting up of an environmental remediation bond that will set aside funds to tackle environmental issues without waiting for budgetary approval, as well as release of the Ecological Fund earmarked for environmental remediation in communities that have suffered pollution, deprivation and other abuses caused by the divesting IOCs.
He also enjoined the President to refocus his policies in the environment sector and start from where former President Muhammadu Buhari stopped in the Niger Delta by ensuring speedy clean-up of Ogoniland, adding that all bureaucratic bottlenecks to the cleanup should be removed, followed by an environmental audit of the Niger Delta.