…Calls for Impact Assessment and Proactive Environmental Regime.
Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, a pro-democracy and environmental rights advocacy group sends its sincere condolences to all the families, friends and well-wishers of victims of the fire explosion which engulfed an illegal refinery in Abaezi forest within Ohaji/Egbema area of Imo State. The explosion, FENRAD gathered, claimed over a hundred lives with cars and other properties to boot. FENRAD by this release also commiserates with the people and government of Imo State over the sad occurrence.
Repeatedly, FENRAD, as a pro-environment group seeking a fuller, greener planet with biodiversity, has condemned illegal refining, bunkering, pipeline vandalism, gas flaring, oil theft and sabotage and all unwholesomely negative and anti-environmental activities by both state and non-state actors in the midstream and downstream petroleum sector. Today, this condemnation still stands as nothing has changed.
Mourning the dead and the deceased could be a sign of respect but not necessarily an action enough. Critical action is needed to ensure environmental responsibility and commitment by all stakeholders whether state or non-state actors. FENRAD believes that time now is for Imo State Government to carry out environmental impact assessment (EIA) within the coordinates of Abaezi forests to understand what havoc had been wreaked and what could be mitigated and salvaged. This call goes particularly to Imo State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and other relevant environmental agencies within the state. Environmental cleanup, restoration and recovery, FENRAD says, is key going forward.
While FENRAD condemns illegal refining and refineries, there is a great deal of betrayal in the Nigerian petroleum industry, the Foundation says. While the issue of “local content” as transformative plan to bring locals on board as key and critical players in the mainstream petroleum economy dominated national discourse before the inauguration of the Ninth Assembly, and long before the first tenure of the president who gave assent to the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB (now Act), the Act, in its current form, only tore the National Assembly along the lines of “host communities versus frontier basins,” leaving out local actors in the entire debate. This diversionary politics represents a mischievous, calculated economic exclusion of the minority.
If the president who doubles as Minister of Petroleum, had set operational standards in line with best practices and licensed local operators in the oil and gas sector, chances are that illegal refinery operation would have been reduced in the Delta region. Rather, the president, through the Presidential Artisanal Gold Mining Development Initiative (PAGMI), licenced locals in Zamfara and elsewhere in the North to mine and sell gold, even directed the Central Bank of Nigeria, the CBN to buy gold bars from local miners who’s sales the Foundation cannot firmly tell whether the South benefits from or forms part of the commonwealth or patrimony of the nation!
The time to tinker with how best to integrate local and informal sectors in the oil and gas industry is now. This is crucial in the face of current realities facing the nation where, combinedly with her four or five refineries, Nigeria cannot produce more than 400,000 barrels of crude per day (that is assuming the refineries were to run at optimum capacity). Nigeria still needs 1.7 million bpd both for domestic consumption and foreign transactions (following OPEC quota) and FENRAD remains resolute that only a well-deregulated petroleum sector, which allows locals play as partners, will reduce the trillions of Naira (subsidy fund) the federal government spends annually through the NNPC in this regime of under-recovery payment.
FENRAD calls on all the oil-bearing states and communities to join the war against illegal refineries as their operations do not only shortchange and sabotage the nation, but endangers the environment. While the Foundation commends the president for directing all heads of various security agencies to up the ante by clamping down on illegal refineries, it also condemns strongly the compromise common among some of the personnel of these agencies who aid and abet illegal refinery operations and bunkering for filthy lucre. FENRAD is not unaware of what is playing out between the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC and the Nigeria Police Force, NPF in this regard.
Finally, FENRAD enjoins all communities, towns and councils with oil deposit to commit to environmental discipline and shun illegal extraction and fractionation of crude. There is no denying the fact that some local chiefs, youth and leaders within oil-rich areas have planted a corrupt regime where illegal refining, sabotage, bunkering and racketeering reign supreme. Some, within these communities, play the compradors by volunteering to act as fronts and black-market agents for illegal operators. FENRAD urges governments at all tiers and levels to vertically engage with these communities and work out a practicable solution to end this ugly menace.
Once again, the Foundation sympathizes with all those affected by this tragic incident and calls for proactive and restorative approach that guarantees a win-win outcome.
Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor
Barr. Akande Femisi
Head Corporate Accountability and Human Rights Enforcement
Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD Nigeria
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