Performance bond required for EIA approvals, says ERA chief

Ojo

Ojo

THE civic society groups have been in confrontation with oil firms over oil pollution in the Niger Delta region. Don’t you think its time to change tactics and engage in negotiation with the oil companies?

You must understand the position civil society is coming from. When the corporations started operations in Nigeria, all that the communities were asking for was dialogue, engagements with local communities on compensation as activities of oil extractions ruined their environment, livelihood and impoverished them.

This was the nature of their protest, peaceful request for dialogue, but what happened? The oil multinationals treated the communities with ignominy, absolute disregard, so much that when they asked for dialogue, the dialogue does not come. So the communities over the years, cried to the government, the government had no response to them. Corporate capture is real in Nigeria.

The corporations believe that they are above the law. They operate with corporate impunity. Look at the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and Bonga oil spill for example, NOSDRA ordered Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) to pay $3.6 billion to affected communities of the Bonga oil spill, they recommended it to the Senate, it was endorsed both by the lower chamber of the 7th section, but Shell has waived it off with a wave of the hand. So, they disregard the local communities, national laws, lawmakers and the executive.

This is why we keep speaking truth to say, oil companies, corporate capture must stop. Let reclaim the power of the state over, over-sight functions of corporations. In Nigeria, oil companies that should be regulated have become the regulator and the NOSDRA and Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) that should be the regulator have become regulated. We want the regulator to continue to regulate the oil industry. This is why we keep asking that they must adhere to international standards.

A major oil firm recently announced its gradual divestment from the Niger Delta region. What is the implication for communities that have lost their means of livelihood to oil pollution in the areas controlled by the company?

No oil firm is pulling out from Niger Delta or divesting from the Niger Delta. What they are doing is making profit from their toxic facilities where their oil pollution is severe. Instead of facing up to their responsibilities and ensuring clean up, they are trying to divest, sell off those facilities to move away from onshore to the offshore. In the onshore, communities and civil society group have become sensitized, and we are monitoring the process of extraction on a daily basis. They are moving to offshore, 120 nautical miles into Atlantic Ocean, moving away from the eye of the civil society and communities so that we cannot be able to monitor their activities.

It is a ruse to think that they are moving their asset from the Niger Delta, but the message to the federal government and communities, is that communities should resist it, as the facilities are lying on the land of the communities. These transactions are going on without communities’ participation. This process is going on in secrecy, without communities’ participation and communities have no stake. We are asking the federal government to stop the oil companies not to divest their resources, but to face first and foremost, their responsibilities by paying off their liabilities, thereafter they can do divestment. But the companies involved in buying these toxic facilities, must note that they are buying both assets and liabilities; that all the memorandum of understanding and other agreements entered into between the oil firms and the communities, must be enforced by those who are buying assets and liabilities.

Gas flaring seems to have become a norm in the exploitation of oil in the country. What should be done to ensure that companies stick to gas flaring deadline and adopt global best practices?

In 2005, a judgment by a High Court sitting in Benin, ruled that gas flaring is illegal. It is a violation of the fundamental human rights of people. So, we have subsisting laws already that rendered gas flaring by oil companies illegal. But what we find is that the law provides for a certificate for gas flaring, which can be issued by the Minister on a yearly basis, based on conducting integrity test on these facilities. But are these integrity test and gas-flaring test been conducted? These are the issues we are facing. Firstly, the government lacks the political will to enforce the gas flaring law and prohibit it.

But oil companies are arguing, whenever we stop gas flaring, production must also stop. So, where do we draw the line? Because when you produce oil, the gas flaring is the associated gas that is flared in the process. The law allows you to take it back into the earth crust or tap and use it immediately. But oil companies are not willing to put it back into the earth crust; neither are they willing to develop the gas for domestic market. So, that is where their negligence is unacceptable. We strongly condemn gas flaring in Nigeria. Nigeria is the second largest gas flaring country after the Russia. We strongly believe that this present government of Muhammadu Buhari will not tolerate impunity and gas flaring in the oil industry.

Climate change conference is due in December with several unresolved issues in the front burner. What is ERA’s position on the COP 21 Paris?

The first issue that is very paramount is about mitigation and adaptation measures, how to cutback emission in the atmosphere. It is clear now that climate change is real; the impacts are visible in our very eyes across the globe. One is to ensure that the developed countries cut down on emission at source. We are pushing for that, asking for finance, technology and looking for historical responsibility in terms of climate change.

Those who are involved and responsible for climate change should bear a greater part of the resources. These are technicalities that are being discussed. But what is important is that there is a new element called Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs); those commitments will be placed on the table in Paris that will form part of binding mechanism. We are saying that the developing countries cannot present meaningful INDCs without the pledge by developed countries on technology, capacity building and finance. All these elements must come to support this process.

Our position as civil society is that a few people gathering like Heads of State gathering at every earth summit is not only a political jamboree, but it’s a way of making money from carbon. Some people are developing processes of putting their country’ priorities, in terms of economic advantage or economic interest over the negotiation process. As a result of this, civil society has developed a new strategy to build the critical mass of the people, to say that communities’ energy, community power is the solution to climate change.

Firstly, civil society groups are calling for divestment of public finance, subsidy and loans from dirty energy such as oil and gas, coal, and nuclear, which runs to billions of dollars and these monies should be channeled to renewable energy in way a that the energy system is decentralized and community owned, off grid, accessible to communities, produced and managed by the communities themselves. These are the formulations the civil society is putting forward and to say that renewable energy is the only solution not fossil fuel.

Secondly, what is crucial to Nigeria is that the road to Paris is rough, and will even be rougher, if we don’t put our house in order. Nigeria at the moment claim to be working hard on climate change mitigation and adaptation, yet the country has no institutional backing to combat climate change. We have no climate change agency or commission. What we have is a small unit with little or no resources. We need to channel resources to Federal Ministry of Environment and ensure that the climate change commission or agency under the presidency is set up and running so that it can respond meaningfully to issues of climate change.
Nigeria forests are daily being depleted through logging and use fuel wood for cooking in households.

Nigeria has signed to REDD as means of restoring these forests. Is this the way to go to attain sustainable forests in the country?

Simply put REDD or REDD+ in whatever manifestation, is a way of taking community resources from the people and turning them into labourers in their own forests. REDD impoverishes the people and takes away their livelihood, pay them stipends and turn them into labourers in their own forests. Instead of using REDD to drive away community people from their forests, we are advocating for community based forest management system. It is a system that puts conservation parameters in the hands of local communities themselves in ways that local people interact directly with the forest, flora, fauna and biodiversity. Over 70 percent of the world population depends on the forest, why do you take away the forest from them? Once you do that you cut away their source of livelihood. Communities are more aware of conservation systems and measures of rivers, water system and forests than outsiders. They are in the position to manage and conserve, preserve forests and its resources in a sustainable manner. REDD is business as usual.

We know that Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has pitched some states and federal government; the matter was partially resolved recently through ruling in the Court. Do EIA provide the necessary organ to ensure sustainable development in the country?

The EIA is an ideal measure to cultivate sustainable development, but in terms of practicality, it is being manipulated and abused in Nigeria. In many of the oil facilities and projects, the EIA and social impact are simply waived. There is waiver for oil companies in most of their projects. In most cases, when EIA is done, the document is not subjected to public hearing, which is mandatory. The public hearing is not conducted for the sake of being conducted; it requires expertise and communities inputs. The standard EIA is a document that advice policy makers whether a project being proposed should go on or not. If it should go on, it specifies the mitigation measures. In Nigeria, it is the reverse. Companies are giving EIA freely without the mandatory check and balances. The Federal Ministry of Environment should be up and doing in monitoring the process and set up standard practice for the approval or non-approvals of EIAs.

The most important thing in the EIA is mitigation that is being proposed. The mitigation is against a baseline study. For us, we strongly believe that as part of EIA fulfillment, a performance bond should be obtained from a bank as part of the process, which specifies the mitigation and carries value of liability expected over 10 years, in event of damage to the proposed area or site.

In fulfillment of UNEP report, the Buhari administration pledged to clean up the Ogoni land. But with the recent comments on Nigeria’s economic situation and non-release of funds, can you say that this promise will be met or is it designed to score cheap political points?

The plight of the Ogonis is a miserable one as in the case of environmental justice in Nigeria. President Buhari may have meant well but commitment cannot be measured in words alone but in doing, clean up of the Niger Delta and the Ogoni case in particular. What has changed? We now have the federal government political will and this is significant compared to past regimes where there was silence and even complicity to relegate the cause of the Ogonis to the background. The promise of US$10 million is a far cry to the UNEP report recommendation of an initial US$1 billion to kick-start remediation works. Beyond this, promises are not worth the paper they are written on except they are fulfilled. It may be too early to read any political point to the foot dragging being experienced now. However, I feel the Ogonis have been cheated and justice being denied again and again.

President Buhari recently approved compositions of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) and proposed amendment of the Official Gazette establishing the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) to reflect a new governance framework on the project. Do you think this is best way to go in the implementation of the report?

We are pleased that a Governing Council and Board of Trustees are being set up to provide the institutional basis of the clean-up of Ogoni land. However, there are shortcomings in the proposal, which we have responded to structurally. First, the composition of the governing council potentially skewed the relations of power to the oil companies’ representatives who dominate the council membership and this could become highly problematic in taking right decisions and oversight functions. Second, civil society representatives are left out of the Board and only one representative of the Ogonis is accommodated and this is not good enough. Remember, the UNEP report assessment and recommendations exclusively called for the establishment of the Ogoni Restoration Authority but this is not being done. Thirdly, the clean up is important but other aspects of the recommendations such as relief and compensation have been totally neglected. Recall that during the oppressive dark days of range and clamp down against the Ogonis since 1995, over 2,000 Ogonis lost their lives and thousands were hounded into exile. Where is the justice if the UNEP report recommendations are not implemented in full?

Lastly, to make things worse, HYPREP is a mere administrative unit under the Petroleum sector and this tended to usurp the statutory responsibility of oversight functions of environmental responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Environment or that of NOSDRA. We insist that HYPREP is a wrong institution for the clean up and should be abrogated. We are building upon wrong structures and this has serious implications on outcomes.

So, you believe that the civic society movement has been short-changed in the implementation of the UNEP report. What should be the role of civic society group in the clean-up exercise?

The Ogonis, and civil society group fighting for environmental justice have been short-changed and this trend will continue unless broad based commitment and synergy is achieved from local, national, and international levels. A civil society multi-stakeholder forum has been established to monitor the clean-up process and the UNEP report recommendations. Civil society needs to work together more and collaborate on advocacy and campaigns for the full implementation of the UNEP report recommendations. At the national level, a legislative backing for the implementation of the UNEP report recommendations is being pursued but a section of the lawmakers seem not to be cooperating. Forgetting the unique historical antecedent of the Ogoni struggle and the Ken Saro Wiwa legacy, they are asking why the Ogonis alone, and this is highly retrogressive and regrettable. But we see a future where environmental justice struggles will see the light of day. The implementation of the UNEP report would mean a clear and positive testament to the present government, if they will work within the professed change agenda.



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