WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY, JUNE 5, 2021.
A PRESS RELEASE
This year’s world Environment Day Commemoration has been tagged “Ecosystem Restoration“, which marks the start of UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Though the Niger Delta is amongst the world’s richest biodiversity regions, it is one of the worst degraded eco-regions with unprecedented loss of community livelihoods -there are over 2000 oil polluted sites in the Niger Delta.
For over 50 years, Nigeria has invested in the oil and gas sector, with huge earnings that do not contribute to improving access to ecosystem goods and services. Rather, it has been a 5-decade of poorly managed environment footprints of the sector, wide spread agony of oil impacted communities, reduced life expectancy, declined agricultural yield, destroyed biodiversity, dislocated economy and an impoverished people. It has also been decades of increased anthropogenic activities that has further exacerbated opportunities for communities to be self-reliant, independent and co-managers of the resources within their domain. Therefore, the Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) notes that the theme of this year’s World Environment Day apt, timely and presents an opportunity for renewed call for sustainable restoration of the myriad of degraded environments in the Niger Delta. Ecosystem restoration means assisting in the recovery of ecosystems that have been degraded or destroyed, as well as conserving the ecosystems that are still intact. It is a management strategy that restores ecological processes to maintain ecosystem composition, structure and function.
In addition, this is an opportunity for countries like Nigeria to reflect on the significance of a fertile, healthy and functional ecosystems as a panacea for sustainable development. This reflection will be meaningful if the government and other stakeholders recall the pre-oil era, and how currently degraded ecosystems in the Niger Delta had hitherto flourished and supported bumper agriculture, fisheries, medical goods, cultural and social functions of the people. All of these were sacrificed on the altar of ‘oil money’ which till today only benefits a few and renders government at all levels in the country redundant (non-innovative and unproductive).
While we acknowledge the efforts of the Nigerian Government in cleaning parts of the Niger Delta (i.e., Ogoniland), the steps taken so far are considerably slow, and the technologies deployed somewhat inappropriate, and affecting existing and future land use in areas that are being cleaned.
It is indeed pertinent to mention that the steps so far taken by the Government is ad-hoc, and that the communities and region would benefit from a holistic and robust approach to addressing environmental pollution from oil spills. This will affect Nigeria’s contributions to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs). On the other hand, it is of no benefit to the environment or oil impacted communities if government is undertaking environmental remediation, and the locals are polluting same environment through avoidable activities such as artisanal oil refining (Kpofire).
In another instance, the overtly relaxed penalty for gas flaring that makes economic sense for oil companies to flare gas and pay the penalty rather than adopt trending technology in gas reuse, does not help, and potentially limits the opportunities for achieving the Nigeria’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Thus, strengthening existing policies and legislation is critical to providing a holistic solution to protecting, preserving and restoring the environment, which are key components of ecosystem restoration. In addition, the perennial overlapping responsibilities between the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) has been carried over to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Based on best practice, and the limitations these overlapping duties have caused Nigeria’s efforts towards ecosystem conservation and restoration, CEHRD is recommending that the Upstream, Mid-, and Downstream regulators should be limited to regulating the oil sector and not the environment. This is best practice.
CEHRD therefore want to use this occasion to call on the citizenry and Government at all levels to take practical steps to prevent further loss of biodiversity and restore degraded ecosystems. individuals, communities and the multinational companies must also put to an end practices that compromise conservation and restoration of biodiversity. These include artisanal refining of crude oil, over exploitation of mangroves for firewood, fishing with dynamite and gas flaring. We demand that the Government of Nigeria should, as a matter of urgency, embark on a robust sensitization on citizens’ environmental stewardship and coordinate participatory and sustainably actions to restoring degraded mangroves and rainforests. There is urgent need for a national policy on planting of trees in every home, in schools, colleges and public parks. Most importantly, the government should strengthen existing legislations including the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Act, and the Environmental Impact Assessment Act. The regulatory bodies implementing the laws should also be empowered to undertake their responsibilities.
Kabari Simeon Sam (PhD)
Head, Environment and Conservation Programme
Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD)