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$12bn needed to clean up spills in N’Delta

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By Abraham Adekunle

A timeline of events shows irreparable damage and unsuccessful litigation.

Nigeria’s Niger Delta is arguably the cow that produces the “milk” that the nation exports for foreign exchange earnings. Although the government also earns from other sectors of the economy, majority of its revenue comes from the sale of crude oil. When crude oil was first discovered in Bayelsa, the nation enjoyed excess income such that a former head of state allegedly said that Nigeria’s problems do not include lack of money but how to spend it.

Despite the huge money made from the region, the devastating effects left by foreign multinational oil companies is still being felt. The residents bear the brunt of oil spills. The communities battle with oil pollution, while the companies battle with oil theft and pipeline vandalism. So, while there has been calls and promises to clean up the region, it has stalled even till now. Residents who have made livelihoods from fishing and farming have been displaced and rendered jobless amidst the health risks they are exposed to every day.

Community still suffering from a 2005 spill.

In the country’s oil-rich Niger Delta, the Oruma community are still suffering from a spill that happened in 2005 when a Shell pipeline leaked oil onto farmlands and rivers. The crude oil leak caused extensive damages to local environments. The once lush forest, which was the main source of income for farmers and fishers, was turned into a contaminated area. Fishponds which used to house lots of fish have been abandoned for many years because it can no longer produce anything for the farmers.

Even the smear of oil can still be seen and smelled on the surface of the water. A local farmer, Chief Ernest Oginaba, told the media that the oil leaked on the lands, kills all the crops they plant. Because of what these lands have been rendered to, these communities teamed up and sued the subsidiary of Shell in the United Kingdom. In 2011, a Dutch court gave a historic ruling holding Shell accountable for the disaster in the Oruma community and ordered to compensate the people. However, recently, the UK Supreme Court ruled against the Ogale and Bille communities, citing that it was late to file a suit over a 2011 offshore spill.

Bayelsa commission orders two multinationals to pay $12bn for the cleanup.

According to a report issued by the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission in May 2023, the total volume of oil spilled in Bayelsa is at least ten times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker catastrophe, which damaged about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of the Alaskan coastline in the United States. The commission is requesting two oil companies to pay at least $12 billion for the cleanup in the region. In response, the multinationals have argued that their firms are not responsible for the spills which cause damage. Instead, they blamed the pollution on saboteurs and crude oil theft.

Along with compensation, the report urged significant legal changes to the control of the oil and gas industry in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and Nigeria. The research outlined a comprehensive set of remedies that would help to undo the harm done to Bayelsa and ensure that oil firms prospecting in other regions of Nigeria and Africa do not replicate the same reported actions. Pere Wapeabiama David Amakiri, paramount ruler of the Oruma Community said, “The damage is irreparable.”

Impact of the oil pollution shows in the blood.

In fact, the impact of the pollution is such that toxic pollutants have also been found in residents’ blood. The tests were carried out on over 1,600 blood samples from people living in this affected area of oil spills. The result discovered toxins at very high levels in their blood. These toxins were also found in the water, which contains these chemicals a million times higher than the safe levels. This contamination could cause cancer risks and lung diseases for the people.

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