By Emeka Nwokocha
Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN), Barr. Chima Williams has faulted the divestment policy of International Oil Companies (IOCs), saying, “The policy is unpopular and detrimental to the wellbeing of the people of the host communities.”
Barr. Williams stated this on Saturday 6 May, 2023, at a one-day stakeholders dialogue, tagged, “Community – CSO Engagement on Motives Behind IOCs Divestment in the Niger Delta,” held in Effurun, Uvwie local government area of Delta State.
Continuing, Barr. Williams described the divestment policy of the IOCs as callous and a disservice to host communities, adding that “It’s the height of exploitation of the host communities by the IOCs.”
While querying the rationale that informed the divestment policy, Barr. Williams said, “The policy is meant to do further harm to the host communities whose lands and waters have over the years been severely polluted with attendant damage to farm lands and aquatic lives.”
Expressing disappointment at the near irredeemable damage oil and gas exploitation have caused to the host communities, he sternly blamed the government of Nigeria for not being able to protect the economic rights of the people of Niger Delta as the oil and gas bearing communities continue to suffer dire consequences of massive pollution resulting from the activities of oil and gas companies.
He expressed worry that government policies that ought to regulate the petroleum and gas industries sectors had often times been implemented in default, just as the government is insensitive to the plight of the host communities.
Barr Williams, charged the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) not to rest on their oars while the IOCs plunder the resources of the host communities, cause alarming harm on their environment and finally abandon them in a state of peril under the cover of divestment policy.
Barr. Williams, while enlightening the public about the modalities to be adopted to interrogate the divestment policy and compel the IOCs to address the harm done to the host communities over the years, unequivocally said that ERA/FoEN would provide a guide and legal resources for the host communities to litigate the divestment policy of the IOCs and further ensure that where such policy had been carried out, due compensation should be given to the host communities and thorough remediation of the polluted environment should be diligently carried out.
Speaking at the event, an environmental activist and coordinator of Kristal Kare Foundation, Mr. Jonah Gbemre, expressed concern about the brazen insensitivity of the OICs and the Nigerian government towards the welfare of the host communities. He decried the “divide and rule” strategy through which the government, and IOCs woo few persons in the communities with financial inducement, manipulate and use them to suppress peaceful agitations of the community people who demand improved welfare, due compensation and remediation of badly imparted environment caused by oil and gas exploration.
Gbemre, while lamenting the ordeal confronting his community, Iwhreka in Delta State, which plays host to one of the largest gas plants in black Africa, said, “We inhale poison every day from the massive flaring of gas,” adding that the hazardous effects of the gas flare poses serious health challenge such as cancer to the people.
He further stated, “The lifespan of the people of Iwhreka community has reduced drastically, the agriculture sector is heavily imparted, and aquatic lives are at the verge of extinction,” adding, “The oil company has taken our land, impoverished our people, just as hunger and poverty have become the norm in the midst of plenty.”
Gbemre chastised the IOCs for catching in on the divestment policy to shortchange the host communities, saying that the local investors who take over the operation of the oil and gas facilities of the OICs continue with the trend of polluting the environment and endangering the lives and livelihood of the people of the host communities.
He further stated, “The gimmick in the divestment policy is that, ‘having endangered the communities with pollution,’ they will “smartly” hand over the facility to local investors and abandon the host communities in bad shape.”
He continued, “In recent times, we had bitterly complained about the harmful effects of gas flare in Iwhreka community on our health, then the operators of the gas plant, in a bid to deceptively pacify us, told us they would convert the flared gas to domestic gas to be used at homes. But years after they made that promise, flaring of gas continued at larger scale with an increase in the gas flare points to five, just as the gas plant has since been expanded from phase one to phase two, with the development of phase three in process.”
Gbemre lamented that IOCs make huge profit in the petroleum and gas industry but care little about the welfare of the people of the host communities.
He expressed hope that through collective efforts, the unpopular divestment policy could be tackled headlong, adding that the collaboration of ERA/FoEN would facilitate the use of legal process to demand the host communities’ right to fair treatment and due compensation for the harm oil and gas exploitation have caused to their environment and health.
Also speaking, Chief Omafume Amurun expressed concern about the exploitative tendency of the IOCs, stating that the unpopular ‘divide and rule’ strategy of the IOCs often pit community members against themselves and infame crisis in the communities, even as he blamed the government for culpability and lack of political will to protect the interest of host communities from the exploitative inclination of the IOCs.
In her speech, the Executive Director of Development Initiative for Community Impact (DICI), Dr. Rachael Misan-Ruppee, said that the negative impact of oil and gas exploration on women is undoubtedly severe. She identified the impart to include psychological impact, economic impact and social impact. She blamed the Nigerian leaders for not having capacity to protect the host communities from the antics of the IOCs with regard to the divestment policy.
Continuing, She charged the IOCs to fulfill all the agreements they had with the host communities, and also called on the regulatory agency to urgently put in place a divestment framework that will check the divestment process to ensure that communities are not cheated by the IOCs, including the DOCs and NOCs.
The event attracted CSOs, community leaders, and media personnel.