Bayelsa, ERA threaten legal action over Azuzuama oil spill tragedy
FOLLOWING the incident that occurred during a clean up exercise by Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) that left the 14 persons killed on July 9, 2015, the Bayelsa State government and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) have threatened to seek redress in court, if the company fails to pay $2 million compensation to each of the bereaved families.
The government and the civil society group issued the threat during a formal presentation of the group’s official report on the incident titled “Agip’s Azuzuama Tragedy” to media personnel in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
Bayelsa State Commissioner for Environment, Inuro Wills, who lamented that it was only in the Niger Delta that Agip and other multi-national oil companies would violate operational regulations and neglect victims of environmental degradation, oil spillages and pipeline explosions with impunity.
He disclosed that the state will take steps including seeking redress in court to ensure its citizens’ lives are not wasted unnecessarily. He said that the state has issued guideline to oil firms operating in the state, which will ensure that oil spills are prevented and tackled.
The Executive director of ERA/FoEN, Godwin Uyi Ojo, noted that the explosion, which occurred along the company’s Clough Creek pipeline at Azuzuama could have been prevented, if the Agip management provided necessary precautionary measures.
The victims of the fire included a soldier, officials of the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment and National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Agip staff and community youths, who were members of a joint investigation visit (JIV) team that was carrying out clamping on a previous oil spill on the facility when the explosion occurred.
His words: “While a price cannot be placed on the loss of human lives, we urge the payment of the sum of $2 million each to the families of the bereaved, since their bread winners have been taken away from them abruptly.”
He described the Azuzuama tragedy as “a case of genocide” and decried “Agip’s impunity and flagrant disregard for environmental regulations.”
The group is demanding a probe into explosions caused by NAOC operations in several communities in Bayelsa State where the company has facilities, and a revocation of the company’s operational licence.
He said: “Explosions from Agip pipelines and resultant deaths have been recorded since 1995 and have escalated in the last three years.
“The latest incident in Azuzuama in Bassan Clan, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area on July 9, 2015 claimed fourteen lives.
“ERA verified through its field monitors that 14 people died along Agip’s Tebidabe-Clough Creek pipeline at a damaged section of the pipeline during a Joint Investigation Visit. Several others received burns.
“The incident claimed seven workers attempting to clear a major spill at its facility. The victims were burnt alive while clearing oil spills with spades and buckets. The company who got the contract for the cleanup and contracted youths from Ozochi, without any training or proper clean up kits, to dig pits which they transferred the crude oil into to set it ablaze later. An ensuing inferno killed five of them and caused extensive destruction of the environment, farmlands and biodiversity.
Ojo explained that a consistent trend of explosions leading to needless deaths has trailed the company’s operations, hence the need for the Federal and state government to set up an investigative panel to review its operations as well as its spill contingency plans and protocols, which have so far put production and profit at the fore and left safety in the back seat.
“Government should ensure that Agip complies with international standards in oil pipeline clamping and procedures which must also guarantee the safety of workers, regulators, and communities,” Ojo said.
He insisted that Agip must be brought to book following the equipment failure and substandard mode of clamping and procedures in addition to adequately compensating the bereaved families including victims of the Ozochi tragedy.
NAOC in its report after the incident blamed it on sabotage and hinted that the company hired competent contractors to persecute the clean up in the affected community.