By Harry Awurumibe, Editor Abuja Bureau
The Acting Minister of Environment, Ms Sharon Ikeazor has expressed sadness over the environmental degradation going on in the Niger Delta region just as she said the ministry is favourably disposed to a new law which will impose stiffer punishment on companies whose activities pollute the environment.
Ikeazor who is designated as the Minister of State for Environment spoke on Thursday at the Special Weekly Briefing coordinated by the Presidential Communication Team held at Presidential Villa, Abuja.
According to the Minister who used the occasion to provide an update on the key on-going projects currently being executed by the Federal Government of Nigeria in support of the Climate Change push of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Administration, despite the efforts of the government to tackle the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region some people are thwarting the noble mission.
She said: “there is no gainsaying the fact that there are environmental challenges in Nigeria especially the erosion menace in Anambra state in the South East and the pollution of the environment in the entire Niger Delta region. Nigeria is also very vulnerable to climate change hence the Federal Government under the leadership of President Buhari has been in the forefront to tackle all these headlong”.
Specifically, Ikeazor said President Buhari’s recent pronouncement in Glasgow, Scotland during the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has set the agenda on the country’s efforts to tackle climate change and environmental degradation.
Explaining further she said government has done much in the Ogoni Clean-up Project, adding that several identified clean-up sites in Ogoni have been done but regretted that some bag guys have continued to pollute the same environment that have already been cleaned up.
Also speaking on the recent oil spill at a dormant Well- Head owned by indigenous oil company, AITEO located in Sambabiri Community in Nembe, Bayelsa state, the Minister disclosed that her ministry has been on top of the matter and she is happy that the spill has been contained.
Said her: “On the Santa Babara Aiteo oil spills, you remember the Ministry of Environment issued a statement stating what happened and the action being taken. It’s a collective action between the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the Ministry of Environment and the oil company involved (Aiteo)”.
“It goes beyond the oil companies giving out palliatives, they must put measures in place to prevent such accidents from happening. They are also claiming that the spill was do due sabotage by the local communities”.
“We are going to have a targeted approach to illegal bunkering, tampering with oil installation and artisanal mining in the Niger Delta to get alternative livelihood for the young people of the Niger Delta, so that they would desist from this because it is further polluting the environment”.
“The situation has been brought under control. I got a brief from Director General of National Oil Spills, Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) who was out on the field. So, now, work has to start on the proper clean up.
“I got briefings through the Director General of NOSDRA, and what I saw in terms of the pollution either through oil refining or illegal oil refining and otherwise- the devastation of the Niger Delta is massive. As we are cleaning up, what we are cleaning up is minute compared to the devastation going on.
“So, it is something that government needs to tackle headlong. I hope they would have put the picture on, it was like a Hiroshima site.
“So, this is something we must tackle headlong. We are beyond talking and having workshop. On the issue of penalties, I mentioned earlier the review of NOSDRA bill. You know most of Acts we have passed years ago. You will see that they will give maybe N100 fine, anyone can pay that and go back and re-pollute.
“We need to put stiffer penalties, build the capacity of NOSDRA which is the regulatory agency in the oil sector to be able to have the teeth to bite. Without enhancing their capacity and reaffirming the legal framework, getting it stronger, they can’t do much. These are areas we are looking in to, it has to stop.
“Government is working on alternative livelihood for the communities so that we can move them away from illegal activities and further polluting of the environment.
“Why is gas flared? Flaring persists to this day because it is a relatively safe, though wasteful and polluting, method of disposing of the associated gas that comes from oil production. Utilizing associated gas often requires economically viable markets for companies to make the investments necessary to capture, transport, process, and sell the gas.”