Petroleum-assets vandalism and the EIA law
The seeming resumption of petroleum-assets vandalism in the Niger Delta region has once again reverberated the challenges of sustainable development in the country, with particular concerns for the environment. Nigerians living outside the core petroleum-bearing areas hardly could imagine the desperate environmental and socio-economic conditions of the Niger Delta region. To say mildly, this region has become virtually bereft of arable land and toxic-free water. Nigeria’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act No. 86 of 1992, as amended, was wholly inspired by the World Bank Organisation to enforce sustainable projects development. Its essence is therefore to ensure that development projects do not degrade the environment nor the socio-economics of any segment of society; but has this been the case in Nigeria? (The full Provisions of the EIA Act could be accessed at www.ea-environment.org)
As an accredited environmental consultant with the Federal Ministry of Environment, I can affirm that the statutorily required host-communities’ endorsement for EIA certification is, more often than not, observed in the breach. The same is true for the post-commission monitoring component of the EIA Statement, because Nigeria’s EIA process is project-promoters driven. The cumulative consequence of these unacceptable lapses is the environmental and socio-economic disaster that the Niger Delta region has since become.
Back in 2006, the traditional ruler of Oben Community in Edo State invited me to review an EIA draft study on SPDC’s further field development proposed project of its Flow-station at Oben, preparatory to the West African Gas Pipeline Project. I observed that even basic infrastructure was non-existent in that petroleum-bearing community that has hosted SPDC since 1972(!). Thusly, electricity and water were listed among the conditions-precedent to endorsing the EIA study; Oben has since been provided with electricity and water. Thanks to the EIA Act; an Act that is barely known by the citizenry, and perfunctorily administered by governments.
These harrowing experiences are shared by countless number of other Nigerian communities, largely due to ignorance. Evidently, a majority of the citizenry is blissfully ignorant of the knowledge it ought to take for granted.
Had the restive youths of the Niger Delta region been fully briefed of the extensive provisions of the 33-page EIA document, they would have known that all that was required to coerce the International Oil Companies (IOCs) to give the region its legal share of the proceeds of oil and gas in their respective communities, was to simply cite relevant sections of the EIA Act. All that bloodletting, community-degradations, and petroleum-assets vandalism wouldn’t have arisen. The scientific evidence abounds in volumes of studies by leading authorities and institutions that hydrocarbon contaminated environment require years and millions of dollars to remediate. While the contamination persists, no farming or fishing activities (primary sources of income for rural communities) can take place.
Therefore, all sane communities must do their utmost to avoid petroleum-assets vandalism as a plague, more so as a more effective, civilised, and far easier path does exist for demanding equity. The EIA Act it is; but the governments, at all levels, have a huge role in this. Most host-community economies are subsistence, barely able to spare an extra change let alone hire the services of a consultant to pursue their interests. Therefore, it is necessary for governments, federal, state and local as stakeholders, to do more in enforcing the provisions of the EIA Act in projects implementation. Had the various governments diligently done this in the past, all the ongoing agitations for basic amenities and employment by virtually all the communities across the country wouldn’t have arisen in the first place.
Furthermore, all the anxiety and clamour for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) would also not have been necessary, for the simple reason that the PIB, properly interpreted, is another version of the EIA Act. Still wondering why industry-operators are complaining of multiple duplications in the PIB? I fully agree with them. The National Assembly should exhaustively study the extant EIA Act prior to passing the PIB. I believe that if the EIA Act is religiously administered with adequately empowered ministries of environment, the PIB would hardly be necessary. I have hinted at adequately funded ministries of environment with a keen sense of responsibility, for I am less-than-comfortable with the current practice where these ministries wholly depend on project-promoters for funds to carry out their supervisory functions. This all-important law could well prove a veritable antidote to eliminating petroleum-assets vandalism in Nigeria.
• Nkemdiche is a consulting engineer in Abuja.