In a few days, President Muhammad Buhari’s eight years tenure will be over. But the president is yet to end pollution and depollute areas affected by frequent oil spills in the Niger Delta as he promised during his presidential campaign in 2015.
THE families in Goi, a small community within the Gokana Local Government Area (LGA), Rivers state, breathe, eat and live in a contaminated space. Their village is a wet, murky land swamped with black mist that pollutes everything they own.
According to an investigation, the creeks and farmlands are filled with crude oil spills and a vile smell that makes breathing difficult.
For decades, crude oil from the Niger Delta accounted for 70 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign revenue. But repeated oil spills continue to endanger the lives of the 30 million residents of the region, which spans nine states and has a coastline of approximately 450 kilometres.
The most internationally known incident is the 2011 Bonga oil spill from a Shell oilfield, in which 40,000 barrels of oil spilt into the Atlantic Ocean and affected 168,000 people in 350 communities in Nigeria’s states of Bayelsa and Delta.
According to Amnesty International, 60 years of oil exploration has turned the region into one of the most polluted places on earth.
Caroline Gbogbara, a resident of Goi, said the pollution continued to affect the quality of farm outputs and the health of community members.
“We don’t have anything to eat. Farmers farm on lands filled with crude and have no choice but to feed on the contaminated produce. Families are forced to eat from poisoned crops,” she said.
This is despite the pledge by President Mohammed Buhari during his campaign in 2015 to end pollution and clean up already polluted areas in the Niger Delta region.
His manifesto included a robust plan to clean and resolve environmental degradation in the region in line with the recommended standard of the United Nations.
“The devastation caused by oil spillage has destroyed many lives and livelihoods and is one of the reasons why many people in that region lost faith in government and resorted to the many criminal activities we see today.
“My government will implement UNEP’s recommendations and give the indigenes of the region hope that there are better days ahead,” he said.
Eight years after, Niger Delta states are still significantly polluted. Air, land and water remain contaminated, with studies reporting devastating effects on residents’ health and livelihoods.
Vast areas of the waterways and mangrove swamps are being destroyed.
Farmlands are cloaked in oil and contaminating crops which are exposing people to high levels of heavy metals like chromium, lead and mercury.
Buhari’s clean-up exercise
In 2016, Buhari launched a $1 billion clean-up exercise coordinated by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP). The goal was to rehabilitate the areas destroyed by crude oil spills and gas flaring. But very little has been done.
In Ogoniland, Rivers State, where the first phase of the project began, the emergency measures proposed by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in 2011 were not correctly implemented and the project has been ineffective.
The rising oil spills outpace clean-up efforts. Almost 6,000 oil spills have been recorded in the region since 2006. Thirty-two per cent of this occurred after 2016.
According to the United Nations, Ogoniland is even dirtier than before the clean-up commenced.
The UN described the HYPREP clean-up exercise as enmeshed in mismanagement, incompetence, waste, and lack of transparency.
So far, the first phase of the clean-up, which began in 2018, is yet to be completed, and the 16 companies awarded contracts for the first phase of the exercise have no experience in the remediation of oil spills.
While most oil spill cases can be attributed to sabotage, theft, and vandalism, it is also significantly caused by other technical faults of oil production and exploration companies, according to the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA).
Analysts say the failure of government authorities to restore the polluted areas could lead to health complications for the locals.
An environmental scientist and lecturer at the Niger Delta University, Charles Oyibo, described the entire clean-up process as fraught with gaps.
“The impact keeps piling up until they become magnified, and over time, they will begin to manifest to health complications like cancer,” he said.
NOSDRA data on oil spillage showed that about 1,311 spill incidents involving 62,072 barrels were recorded between 2018 and 2020. About 408 spills were documented between 2020 and 2021 under Buhari’s administration.
Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Abia states have had the highest incidents of oil spillage.
About 1.89 million barrels out of 2.4 million barrels of petroleum were spilt into the Niger Delta region between 1976 and 1996 in 4,835 incidents, according to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
A UNDP report also stated that Nigeria recorded about 6,817 spills between 1976 and 2001.
As Buhari’s tenure winds down, the people of the Niger-Delta are left with an unhealthy environment despite having their hopes raised by the president.