Government Regulatory and Legislative Organs
In the previous chapter, the researcher’s interview with Shell’s regional manager for environmental affairs was presented. In this chapter I will firstly present my interviews with representatives of the three regulatory agencies in the Nigerian oil industry, namely; the Department of Petroleum Studies, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency. Secondly, interviews with agencies that collaborate with the three regulatory bodies or conduct oversight functions in the oil industry are presented.
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The organizations are the Nigerian Senate Committee on Environment and ecology and the Rivers State Ministry of Environment.
National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA)
The researcher was able to gain access to the an official representative of NOSDRA with the help of an introductory letter from the University of Leicester and acting Director General arranged for the researcher to interview a key department head for the purpose of this research.
NOSDRA is the sole agency with federal responsibility for regulating oil related environmental matters and is unique in not having responsibility for non-oil industry related environmental matters as is the case for other environmental agencies in Nigeria. The roles of the organization were presented in Chapter two, so the.
The respondent was first asked to explain the statutory functions of NOSDRA. The official explained that the functions are regulated by the federal Ministry of Environment which has the overall mandate to protect and conserve the Nigerian environment while NOSDRA has responsibility for implementing various aspects of the national environmental policy, specificallywithin the petroleum sector.
The respondent was asked how NOSDRA carried out its responsibilities of regulating the oil industry exactly. He noted that the basic responsibility of NOSDRA is to respond to any oil spill through reporting procedures. He explained further “By law, all oil spills irrespective of the quantity must be reported, and the oil companies usually abide by this requirement. However there are cases where oil companies may not know that they have a spill, and, where such spills occur, they are often reported by the community and then we immediately inform the oil companies concerned who have first responsibility to organize remedial measures ” (t13).
The regulator also explained that his agency works in collaboration with others as part of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT). The team is comprised of the oil companies, the regulatory body and the state counterpart, the State Ministry of Environment and the host communities. The JIT jointly determine the cause of the spill. If the spill is the result of sabotage or third party interference, no compensation will be paid but the oil company concerned must make all reasonable efforts to take remedial action. In cases where there is no third party interference, remedial action must be taken and the JIT will carry out a damage assessment and compensation must be paid accordingly.” (t13).
The respondent also argued that the Joint Investigation Visit is necessary because “we have a peculiar situation in Nigeria. In other parts of the world oil spills would be almost certainly accidental but here we have third party interference, that is oil bunkering, oil theft, sabotage and so on, so a joint investigation visit is necessary to ascertain the cause of the spill and the extent of the spread of the spill because, according section 11(c) of the Oil Pipeline Act of 1969, when a spill is caused by third party interference through vandalism or sabotage, the oil company that is operating in that area does not have to pay compensation but still has to take remedial action ”(t13).
A JIV approach is also necessary because of the poor levels of trust between the oil companies and the community. The community where the spill occurs may sometimes argue that the spill has been caused by equipment failure or human errors in maintenance while the oil company may also argue that it is sabotage or third party interference. The senior official explained that according to the law “there are three ways of reporting oil spills, first by telephone so that we can immediately deploy our staff. Secondly, when it happens the community filled a form called from A when we get there we establish the cause and the extent of the spill and the facility owners are required to put remedial measures in place within the first 14 days, depending on the nature and extent we do remediation especially when the screening shows that it could have negative impact on human health and the environment” (t13).
However, the official explained that in some cases it has not been possible to comply with the legal requirement to respond to a report of a spill within 24 hours and to put in place remedial measures within two weeks because of hostility from the community who sometimes delayed the response because of the belief that a delay would lead to a greater spill and the opportunity to claim morecompensation. “In one instance, where the spill was caused by third party interference, the community took the company to the court to get an injunction restraining the facility owner from gaining access. It took about four meetings before we could persuade the host community to remove the junction in the court before we could gain access to stop the spill. This process took about a month and half, imagine a breach leaking for that period, so those are some of the problems we face in responding to oil spills in Nigeria” (t13).
The local communities the respondent agued consider any oil spill on the environment as something of a bonanza, so they try to delay the response, and, in some cases, the Joint Investigation Team has to pay for ‘permits’ to enter the affected area, to access the facility to stop the source of the spill, resulting in increased environmental damage. He pointed out that Joint investigation visits were therefore very difficult and complicated. The senior NOSDRA official noted that the claim by the community that JIV reports are sometimes ignored or altered under Oil Company’s pressure may not be “entirely correct, the reason being this is if we are part of the joint investigation team that carry out the joint investigation visit, if the diver goes down there and comes up with a report that it is equipment failure, obviously it is of upheld. It is not possible for a manager who sat in the office to say what is there, for instance I am there, am relying more on the report submitted by my officer, I may have the mental impression of what happen could be for instance pipeline licking or manifold under water, two reasons could be, It could be vandals who could divedown to alter the pipelines but it is more probable that it is corrosion because, the pipelines are within an area that is perpetually wet, wet terrain were the rate of erosion will be very high” (t13).
The senior regulator is also of the opinion that it is possible the water which is essentially salty may hasten the level of corrosion couple with the pressure inside and outside the pipelines there could be a pipeline enrapture. According to him this is more of equipment failure than third party interference. However, in some cases NOSDRA experience a situation where during the crisis time some people want to destroy pipeline and detonate dynamite by blowing them up and in such cases large spills are recorded and nobody knows it is sabotage or third party interference.
Another angle according to the NOSDRA representative is that “in many cases where JIV’s are carried out host communities are very hostile and aggressive even when they know the cause is third party interference and may attempt to get the regulators to report that it is equipment failure because that is the only way compensation can be guaranteed. If you refuse, you may be attacked. Our approach in these situations is to remain calm and not release our findings until later from a less intimidating environment” (t13).
I ask the NOSDRA official what are the main cause of oil spills in Nigeria. He cited statistics released by individual oil companies and the official statistics kept by NOSDRA since the inception of the agency in 2006 he claimed that third party interference has been the main cause of oil spills rather than equipment failure. “This was proved by individual companies and by aggregate of all, and of cause when people tell you they are going to blew up your pipelines and indeed they carry out the threat, so all of this is responsible for the high rate of oil spill which in our opinion degraded the environment”(t13).
However, the regulator noted that equipment failure was a cause of some spills; he cited the case of Exxon-Mobil, which operates mainly offshore, and noted the problems they had had with salt water corrosion of pipelines.
The regulator also explained that as well as its major role of responding to oil spills, NOSDRA was also mandated to sanction violations of environmental laws. He said after every JIV a scope is set and his agency follow up to ensure compliance. However, in some cases, he noted that some oil companies do not comply in a timely manner. “Shell was guilty of that and we imposed a fine of one million naira (about $6,600) on it” (t13). The regulator conceded that the amount was relatively small but noted that “NOSDRA cannot raise the amount without amending the law itself” (t13). The Manager also explained that NOSDRA had also previously sanctioned The Pipeline and Production Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the government-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The NOSDRA regulator noted that the financial penalties imposed on oil companies (see above) had helped to change the attitude of the oil companies towards environmental issues, because of the global attention on good environmental practices. The official suggested that the penalties imposed on Shell had led to significant changes in their environmental policies and procedures. Before the fine was imposed, Shell had only had a Health, Safety and Environment manager who had to deal with a wide range of issues whereas now they had developed a much more comprehensive structure with a manager for oil response, a Manager for remediation, a manager for compensation issues communications manager who had the task of ‘interfacing’ with government regulatory agencies. The regulator explained that “at least know they have seen that there is need to comply because as an international oil company if anything happens to it, it will affect its shares in the New York stock exchange, just like BP. And when investors noticed you are causing environmental pollution, they will either refuse to invest in your company or de-invest their existing share and the company know what can come out of it, that is why they quickly adjusted”(t13).
The manager admitted that enforcing environmental regulations in the petroleum industry has been a major challenge for NOSDRA. He explained that lack of funding from the government was becoming a major problem for his organization. “Our immediate challenge is lack of funding, we need adequate funding to enable us to purchase technical equipment and to provide effective logistical support, which would mean we could respond more rapidly, because speed is the key to effective oil spill response”(t13).
The researcher asked the respondent whether or not NOSDRA received any other funding besides the government statutory allocation, he replied that “The funding of this agency comes mainly from statutory allocations. At the beginning of each fiscal year the budget is set and we have to work within this budget but we have been exploring other possibilities such as getting some form of assistance from international donors” (t13).
On collaboration between NOSDRA and other regulators, the Manger explained that his agency maintained a good relationship with other stakeholders particularly these in the Joint Investigation Team. However, he observed that there was a problem of overlapping functions among the regulators; some of these problems he argued are created by the human factors.
“There are overlapping responsibilities between the Ministry of Environment and NOSDRA, although the government has tried to reconcile these, there has been an element of territoriality involved a reluctance to give up areas of influence so there is still some overlap in functions with respect to regulating the petroleum sector. But in the last 3 to 4 years the attrition was high but know it is weathering down they are beginning to concede day by day to the fact that environmental issues should aptly be in the environment ministries and its agencies like NOSDRA” (t13).
The next section will present my interview with the second regulatory agency also under the Federal ministry of Environment.
National Environmental Standard Regulatory Agency (NESREA)
This government agency has its head office in the centre of the Federal capital territory. Gaining access to this agency was problematic and the researcher had to apply through the Ministry of Environment. The agency’s Director General arranged for the researcher to interview one of her principal officers a US trained environmentalist.
The senior official made it clear that the interview would only last for only thirty minutes because of prior commitments. He informed the researcher that the primary mandate of his agency is to protect the Nigerian environment and to thus ensure that human health is also protected. He also noted that the agency ensures that all regulations and standards are properly implemented at a national level. While carrying out this function, the agency collaborates with other stake holders.
“We sign a memorandum of understanding with various agencies, organizations, state governments and the private sector. In fact, any agency that has related responsibilities to those of NESREA. We also work closely with state government that’s why we have about 16 state offices across the country in addition to the six zonal Headquarters, which have responsibility for the states within the zone just like the same six geo political structures in the country. The reason is that we work closely with the state and part of that is that interrelationship and cooperation is to let the states have some level of ownership, were ever we go the state government provided us with an office so that they will have some sense of ownership” (t14).
The NESREA official also noted that his agency also collaborates with individuals, civil society, academia and international organizations. He pointed out that one of the major achievements of NESREA has been to develop eleven new regulations already documented and thirteen more are undergoing expert review. According to him “the laws are meant to balance our environmental consideration in every aspect of our development effort” (t14).
The researcher asked the respondent to outline what his agency considered to be source of environmental degradation and the role of his agency in oil related environmental degradation in the Niger Delta. He argued that in Nigeria environmental degradation is not limited to oil related degradation He explained “There are lots of forms of environmental degradation, of course, and particularly land degradation in the North and problems with desertification and in the South with erosion” (t14). However, he noted that oil pollution in the Niger Delta is a major problem for his agency. In relation to this, he noted the agency was also concerned with the level of poverty in Nigeria, the official said “poverty is a problem because it causes indoors pollution the local communities use large quantities of firewood by for cooking and unfortunately even those who do a lot of smoking are creating problem” (t14).
The respondent further explained that another major threat to the environment is the problem of disposal of old electrical goods. According to the senior official Nigeria is becoming a global dumping ground for unserviceable, end of life electronic products. As a government regulatory agency, he explained “we check the influx of e-waste to Nigeria, we have to also deal with those who are bringing them in, and we have to work closely with the Alaba (Lagos) International Electronics Market, because a lot of guys are bringing shipment from there. We also have to work closely with the consumer protection council and standards organizations of Nigeria because part of the problem relates to the standards of equipment coming into Nigeria. There’s no point importing equipment that is waste even before arrival” (t13).
In order to track address the problem of electronic dumping and other related abuses NESREA is also involved in environmental education awareness campaign involving security agencies like Nigeria Police, the immigration and customs services and the road safety commission. The purpose of the education programmes is to give officials of these agencies the tools to identify environmental violations, understand the legal implications of these and the role of these agencies in enforcing environmental legislation. He cited the example of NESREA’s collaboration with the Federal Road Safety Commission to reduce vehicular emissions, with the Nigerian police to report and respond to noise or air pollution. NESREA also work with the immigration authorities to prevent the illegal smuggling of flora and fauna across the Nigerian borders, which in the opinion of the official, is also another source of environmental degradation. There is also close cooperation with the Nigerian customs service to stop the importation of e-waste.
The researcher asked the senior official what specific role his agency is playing in regulating the Nigerian oil industry. He noted that the only function his organization has in regulating the oil sector is in ensuring that whatever terms were reached in public hearings involving oil companies and oil communities are complied with either by the Oil Company or the communities. He also noted that it was the responsibility of NOSDRA. However, the respondent explained that the regional offices conduct inspections of oil facilities on occasion and any environmental violations are reported to head office, and in some cases the agency also encourages the neighborhood watch to report contraventions on environment. When such reports are received NESREA investigates and can prosecute violators if necessary. NESREA also ensures compliance with any actions imposed by the courts in such cases.
Although NESREA has a mandate to protect the environment, the official noted that there was some overlap in responsibility and function with other agencies. However, he maintained that NESREA is doing everything possible to find common ground to work together with other agencies without losing focus on the primary objective of the agency.
Next I will present a similar visit to Department of Petroleum resources, a federal government agency that also played a key role in the petroleum sector.
Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR)
The interview with the DPR differed from the other interviews in that the researcher was given access to, four officials to interviews. However, unlike the previous interviews, these officials refused to be identified or to allow the interview to be recorded. They stated that they belonged to the ethnic groups inhabiting the Niger Delta and did not want to risk being identified through the research as this could jeopardize their personal safety, despite the researcher’s assurance of identity protection. The interview was therefore carried out in a form of focus group and off tape. The officials discussed the official version of the environmental problem from their organizational perspective and at the same time their personal feelings as Nigerians. It is worth pointing out that during the discussions, there was wide disagreement between the participants and various contradictions and inconsistencies emerged. As is discussed further below. The DPR officials agreed to answer only questions that concerned their operational responsibilities and not issues relating to the politics of the Nigerian oil industry. However, the discussion did include some discussion of this more controversial area.
The DPR focus group were asked questions on seven key areas including Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), environmental laws, collaborating with other agencies to tackle environmental problems in the petroleum industry, the challenges and constrains, on multiple regulations, the vision of the department and the opinion of the DPR on environmental degradation in the Niger Delta.
According to the respondents, the environmental legislation in place today are effective, unlike in the early 90’s, when there was no specific law specifying who is responsible for environmental issues in the oil sector. However, they noted that the ‘Nigerian factor’ is always a problem. The respondents were asked what they meant by the ‘Nigerian factor’, however, they reminded the researcher that, as a Nigerian, he should understand this concept and that as civil servants they would not want to say more than that.
The respondents all agreed that implementing environmental legislation in Nigeria is difficult because of the resistance from some oil companies, however, the DPR tries to apply sanctions were necessary. According to the respondents “What is also helping us now as a regulatory agency is the general level of environmental awareness, on issues like climate change and global warming. There are now powerful NGO’s raising public awareness of environmental problems and, from our experience, this puts pressure on the oil companies to be environmentally aware. Another forum Are the social networks like ‘Twitter and ‘Face book’, which also heighten public awareness, no company wants to have a bitter experience of BP in the Gulf of Mexico” (FN18). This reason, according to one of the respondents, is now forcing the parent companies to monitor the activities of their subsidiaries worldwide to ensure compliance with good environmental practices. This is unlike before when the subsidiaries is another countries are treated as entities.
I ask my respondents how DPR collaborate with other agencies in the sector. The argued that regulating the oil industry requires close collaboration among the multiple agencies as provided by relevant laws. However, the respondents were of the opinion that the collaboration is not working as it should. This, according to one of them is due to the lack of well defined roles and boundaries for each regulatory agency. One of them cited the example of NOSDRA as one of the agencies that abandon its primary mandate as a third tier regulatory agency to be involved in non-oil spill issues (FN18). They argued that “unless Nigeria adopted a model similar to that used in the United States where the Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) formulates laws, which are widely applicable to the agencies both at state and local levels, in Nigeria the level of ignorance of the laws and greed among the regulators make the problem more severe” (FN18).
As well as the problem of collaboration among the regulatory agencies, the Department of Petroleum resources is also facing some challenges and constrains in respect of funding which in some cases have seriously impacted on the DPR’s effectiveness. The respondents all agreed that funding is a major problem, they claim DPR has the technical know-how however, logistics and security has changed all that, “we can’t get to relevant locations on our own, we don’t have the necessary logistics, the closest we can do on our own is to visit downstream sector, but in upstream sector is impossible we can’t” (FN18). The respondents were asked to explain the logistics problem, and they noted that they were supposed to be provided with helicopters, boats, and operational road vehicles. At present, they only have operational vehicles, and at times due to the topographical nature of the Niger Delta they had to abandon them and trek for several kilometers before reaching sites. One of the respondents explained that they had to rely on oil companies to provide them with logistical support like helicopters and boats. In relation to this, one of them advised me to read the Irekife Report (1991) which suggested ways the DPR should be funded to be more effective.
Another major challenge for the DPR according to the respondents comes from the oil communities themselves “who at times will not allow access by DPR/Joint Investigation Team due to criminality and greed, there are some cases where one of the parties challenged the findings of the Joint Investigation Team report. Sometimes they use threats to change the findings of the report and on occasion warn the JIT not to come otherwise they will attack the team” (FN18).
The officials also noted that certain communities would justify their criminality using cultural reasons, stating that some areas were sacred, and could not be visited by non-indigenes as this would bring calamity on the community. On occasions, they also request to perform traditional rituals before access is granted. The official stated that thought these were often deliberate attempts to delay access to the spill in order to increase the amount of environmental damage and the corresponding amount of compensation. At times we are compelled to do our job by proxy and they believe the more the spill the more the compensation” (FN18). The researcher asked the respondents to explain what exactly he meant ‘by proxy’ but he was prevented by another respondent from providing further explanation, because that will mean compromising their personal safety.
Finally, the respondents were asked for their opinion on the causes of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta. One of the officials explained that “oil theft account for about 90 percent of the oil spills, which is widespread despite the danger to the population and the environment. The attraction of making ‘quick money’ makes it very difficult for some people to resist the temptation of stealing oil from the oil facilities” (FN18).
Other major challenges to both the environment and public health over the last ten years, according to the respondents, include crude oil theft And illegal refining. However, the DPR officials also noted that equipment failure, corrosion, operational error (human error) had also led to oil spills and environmental degradation. On the overall they argued, DPR has zero tolerance approach to oil related environmental degradation, though with the official could not explain if there is any target set to achieve this.
The officials also express their own opinion as Nigerians. They argued that if there were more honesty and integrity over the way both environmental and oil sector is managed in Nigeria, then the environmental problems would be minimal if not eradicated completely “But as long as corruption is widespread, particularly among the government officials and the political class, then our environment will continue to suffer degradation ” (FN18).
In the following section, the interviews with the official of the Nigerian Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology and with the representative of the Rivers State Ministry of Environment are presented.
Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology
The Nigerian senate committee on environment and ecology is one of the standing committees of the Nigerian legislature or the national assembly. The primary responsibility of this committee is to make laws on all issues related to the environment in Nigeria. The committee oversees environmental matters under the standing rules of the Nigerian senate. The committee legislates on issues like environmental pollution, air water, land degradation, and matters relating to marine pollution.
The committee is also responsible for allocating funds to all agencies under the federal Ministry of Environment. Another mandate of this committee is to identify key projects within the environmental sector and ensure the government gave them the priority they deserve. A third main responsibility of this committee is to perform an oversight function for the national environmental sector through monitoring of budgetary allocations and expenditure on the projects that were approved originally in budgets.Nigerian legislature is a bi-cameral and, therefore, the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecologyperforms its legislative duties in tandem with the sister committee in the Federal House of Representative.Before any bill becomes law or budgetary allocations and projects are approved, the two committees must harmonize any differences in their positions before is forwarded to the two chambers for ratification and assent by the Nigerian President.
From the discussion above, it can be seen that the Senate Committee is strategically importance in the environmental sector in Nigeria and, therefore, an essential source of information in the data collection process. Findings from the earlier interviews with agencies regulating the oil sector and from the oil communities suggested that environmental laws in Nigeria are either obsolete or they are not effective enough to enforce any regulation. In addition, it had been suggested that the government was too corrupt to enforce standards or enforce sanctions when the laws were violated.
My original plan was to meet with the two chairs of the Committees in the Senate and House of representatives respectively. However the researcher was unable to interview the House Committee chair despite five separate interviews having been arranged. Therefore, the researcher decided to focus on the senate committee, the superior committee by hierarchy.
The interview covered five major issues. First, the perception of the Nigerian Senate on environmental issues in Nigeria, second, the legislative framework of environmental legislation, third, the politics of environmental legislation in Nigeria, fourth, how the committee regulates the regulators and, finally, theopinion of the Nigerian Senate on global environmental issues .
According to the clerk senate committee the environmental problems in the Niger Delta cannot be treated in isolation because every area in the country is crying for attention “In the Northern part of the country the desert is encroaching at an alarming rate, claiming about five kilometers per annum, and this makes drought increasingly likely as new diseases are emerging, people and animals are dying and there are more and more conflicts between farmers and herdsman over grazing lands. If you take the Southeastern part of the country the erosion, the land slide clearing villages and taking people along with them recoding lot of death, people will wake up and they are buried under the ground. So the focus is not only on the Niger Delta. But agreed there are major problems in the Niger Delta like pollution, unprecedented soil degradation, farmlands, water, everything is polluted, gas flare, public health, their houses roof tops etc. So I would say that no one problem is more important than the other but we must use a holistic approach to tackle all the problems simultaneously, rather than focus on one thing and neglect the other problems”(t15).
The respondent argued that most of the laws regulating the environment in Nigeria are not in line with contemporary environmental challenges. She stated “We have a number of laws dating back to the 1950’s, 60’s and most of these laws are not fit for purpose and are no longer relevant to contemporary realities, or address current environmental issues as set out by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Committee, so a lacuna exists in terms of legislation with respect to the environment sector” (t15).
In addition the respondent noted that one of the major problems in developing effective environmental legislation in the past was the relatively unstable democracy in Nigeria where military coups had interrupted the development of an effective legislative framework. Nevertheless, she was of the opinion that the stable democracy attained since the inception of this political dispensation in 1999 has meant the, legislature had been able develop the legal framework and create, for example, the agencies regulating the environmental sector. She noted that these agencies were already having a positive impact on environmental protection. The Clerk explained that as at now the National assembly had created a number of bills that were presently before the legislature. She noted that these included the Climate Change bill that would lead to the establishment of climate change commission, the Petroleum Industry Bill, the Biodiversity bill, the Bio Safety bill and Gas Flaring bill, which are intended to improve the sector and make operators to comply with acceptable standards.
The researcher asked the respondent to what extent the problem of environmental legislation affect the environmental regulations in Nigeria. The respondent explained that most of the problems are economic and political in nature. She argued that “There is a school of thought that says we don’t have money to keep setting up agencies, that the financial resources required are huge, and that we should strengthen the existing ones and give them more teeth to function instead of duplicating agencies to create jobs for the boys. If you want to give specific task to specific agency, for the purpose of effectiveness and productivity there will be nothing wrong creating it, like setting up the Climate Change Commission which is absolutely necessary in the face of the present environmental trends” (t15). On the other side another group is saying we cannot set it up because we don’t have money instead let us strengthen NESREA or NOSDRA to take care of the demands by the political class. Currently, the national assembly is being asked to create a Desertification Commission by some northern Senators and then the Senators from the eastern part of Nigeria also want erosion commission and according to the committee Clerk the committee is of the opinion that one agency can be established to cater for both desertification and erosion.
The respondent also acknowledged that the roles of the various regulatory agencies in the environmental sector sometimes overlap and leads to clashes of interest. She stated “The Committee has noted that there is some overlap in terms of function and responsibility among the regulating agencies both NOSDRA, NESREA, DPR and parental ministries and some other agencies. The committee is studying the problemto see how we can reduce the overlap and make them more effective and efficient. The senate is currently formulating amendments to strengthen them and also remove areas of duplication in the existing legislation so that they can reflect the provisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” (t15).
The Clerk also noted that the Senate Committee has a limited constitutional mandate to drive these changes as the main role of the Committee is purely one of oversight in relation to the regulators. She pointed out that the Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources are solely responsible for the activities of these agencies. She stated “We are not responsible for their day to day operations but our role is to see the outcome of the field assignment, how they are doing this particular job that has been budgeted for in the budget how effectively they carry out their role is not in our mandate. We are more concerned with the impact they are having on the environment than how they carry out their duties and we don’t interfere in their internal operations” (t15).
The researcher asked from the respondent if the existing environmental legislation was effective enough to enforce standards in the oil industry. The respondent had doubts as to whether such legislation is effective enough to regulate the oil industry in Nigeria. Though the committee receives series of petitions from the affected oil communities which has been there for over years, but the Committee, according to the respondent, has been making serious efforts to tackle the problems, she noted that the problems are multi faceted and that, on the one hand, the oil companies claim it is sabotage, while, on the other hand, the community claim the causes are mainly operational failures.
According to the respondent the Committee was committed to ensuring that the operators operate within the standards that are globally acceptable, she argued that “Nigeria is not the only country where oil exploration and extraction is taking place and this exploration is mostly governed by set standards. Nigeria should follow the same standards, we know that the we need to strengthen legislation to further enforce compliance in Nigeria, and we are really working hard to achieve this. We are talking with the oil companies and visiting locations to see things for ourselves and, despite the enormity of the problems we are trying to ensure something is done” (t15).
Concerning the use of sanctions and compliance, the senate committee acknowledges it doesn’t enforce any sanctions when there are violations. The Committee has no constitutional mandate to do this. The regulatory agencies have the responsibility to impose sanctions such as shutting down the operations of the companies, taking them to court or fining them. The Senate can only direct the relevant agencies to take action or summon them for investigative purposes or public hearings. The Clerk was also of the opinion that while there was a need for proper enforcement of the law, there was also a need for enlightenment and education. She noted that people and corporations need to understand the dangers of degrading the environment and the future consequences. According to her, Nigeria is now taking the lead in Africa by creating the first national Climate Change Commission to tackle the issues of climate change.
This section will be followed up with a visit and interview with a state politician and a senior official in the Rivers State Ministry of Environment, Port Harcourt.
Rivers State Ministry of Environment
The researcher had initially not been intending to interview key personnel in the Rivers state but it soon became clear that it would be necessary to try and interview representatives of the Rivers State Ministry of the Environment. This was because the ministry represents the environmental interests of the Rivers State government and at the same time has close connections to the communities and the oil companies in the area.
Access to state environmental official who is also a local politician was difficult at the beginning the interview had to be rescheduled more than five times before access was gained to interview the senior government official.
The ‘interview’ was unusual in that it took the form of a groupinterview with journalists who were doing a personality profile interview with the politician. Initially, a separate interview had been requested but this was turned down on the grounds of time pressures. The discussion with the senior official concerned the role of his ministry on matters relating to oil related environmental issues, environmental laws, and relationships with the oil companies, the federal government, and the communities, other regulatory agencies in the sector and the environmental politics in the state.
The major function of the ministry is to safeguard the environment of Rivers State. Its primary mandate is to formulate, execute and review policies on environment and ecological matters within the state, monitor and evaluate environmental and ecological programmes and projects in the state and to protect the physical, biological and chemical environment of the state. Its mission statement is to bequeath to the present and future generations of the state a healthy and sustainable environment.
The Ministry also liaises with other key stake holders in the environmental sector of Rivers state. The ministry is one of the regulators in the sector it works with the DPR, NESREA, and NOSDRA in particular. The ministry is also part of Joint Investigation Team that investigates oil damaged sites, the impact of the spill on the environment and possible claims for compensation. By law, spills have to be reported to the Ministry within 24 hours by the oil companies or the impacted community.
The Ministry is also involved in the payment of compensation, the cleaning and remediation of the sites. The Ministry is also responsible for re-inspecting affected sites after they have been cleaned, and remediated. If the Ministry is satisfied with the remediation efforts, a certificate is issued to that effect, and if it is deemed unsatisfactory, the facility owner is urged to go back to site. As a key stake holder in the regulatory process, the senior government official was asked his opinion on the relationship between his organisation and the oil corporations in the state.
In relation to this, he noted “it has been problematic dealing with them because they do not apply the same standards in Nigeria as they do elsewhere. You will also find out that they also exhibit a high level of ignorance here, because when you have a polluted environment, it also affects you because that is where you work, that is where your family exist so I don’t see any reason why somebody who is very well enlighten and who understands this problems will want to allow a polluted environment to remain for the purposes of making profit. We have to be alive to enjoy the money we are making” (t21).
The respondent was also of the opinion that the responses to the cases of spills by the oil companies were dictated more by the economic value or its importance to them than making good the environment. “I don’t think they feel sorry that they are polluting the environment, they are more concerned with the cost of the oil spilled. If it is possible not to lose money and continue polluting the environment; you won’t get any reaction from them” (t.21). The official explained that the Ministry had organized a corporate forum to consider ways to minimize the emission of green gases and to combat climate change, which none of the oil companies had attended. He further explained that the oil companies had different set of policies of paying compensation to impacted communities. In Nigeria the responsibility of determining compensation rests with the Oil Producers Trade Section (OPTS) The senior official noted that the OPTS “is made up of only the facility owners, how can you be the polluter and at the same time also determine how much you pay for polluting The proximate sufferers are not members of the OPTS. So what it means is that there is a line you cannot exceed in terms of compensation” (t21). Again on compensation, if it is discovered that the spill was the result of sabotage, you don’t pay compensation, the Ministry of Environment is also of the opinion that this policy is not fair it is completely against the interest of the people who suffer such spills. The respondent sighted example as follows:
“If a spill occurs in community ‘A’ and affects innocent and innocent man in community ‘D’ far away from community ‘A’ got his fishing pond or farm affected by that spill, from community ‘D’ that innocent man in community ‘D’ even though loses his source of livelihood completely and if it is discovered that the spill in community ‘A’ was as a result of sabotage the man impacted in community ‘D’ who was not part of the sabotage who did not contribute in any way is entitled to nothing” (t21).
The senior official argued there is this high level of negligence on the part of the facilities owners and the third party is made to suffer. The innocent person should not have to suffer from the negligence of the people who are supposed to secure the pipes against sabotage. He also claimed that when a spill occurs the oil companies do not make serious efforts to contain or clean the spill as stipulated by law nor in the time period specified. He cited several spills that had not been cleaned for two to three years in which time the spill had spread and affected a much wider area than it should have. According to him the Rivers state government was introducing new laws as a result to address certain aspects of compensation procedures. He noted that in the new bill “If there is a spill there, it must be contained and cleaned up, within a given time. If it is not done within this time, the the facility owner will be fined. If there is an impact on the property of the third party and it is clearly discovered that he was not part of the sabotage he should be entitled to compensation. Whoever is responsible for safeguarding that facility should pay compensation for being negligent; whether it is the government or the facility owner” (t21).
The respondent was asked if the oil companies are above the law based on his earlier claims. He explained that the companies are not really above the law but the Nigerian government has a major snag and that is why it is unable to take proactive step just like the USA did in the case of Gulf of Mexico spill incidence. He noted that “This is because the relationship that exists between government organisations and the facility owners in Nigeria is not the same type of relationship that exist between the US government and the oil companies that operates in the USA. It is not that they are above the law but because the contractual basis on which the oil companies operate is that of a joint venture between the oil companies and Nigerian government. In a joint venture situation if your partner is in default it means you are part of it, too. We are of the opinion that we don’t need to run a joint venture or review the venture but to cancel the contract. Let the companies operate pay what they ought to pay to the Nigerian government and be fully responsible for whatever misconduct that arises from their operations, that way the government will be able to stand up and say we cannot tolerate this in our environment” (t21).
Having discussed the nature of relationship between his ministry and the oil companies in Rivers state, my respondent was asked about the kind of relationship that exist between the Ministry and the oil communities. He stated that “There is also high level of ignorance on the part of the communities, which is hinged on the literacy level. Here you find that in a community that is supposed to care about its environment, some elements of the community are actively responsible for pollution of the environment. Of course, we have very high levels of sabotage in this part of the world, people sabotage oil facilities to make money and it is unfortunate situation. Aside the issue of sabotage even third party sometimes they try to prevent the containment of the spill because they also want the spill to extend to their own area so they can make compensation claims and there is little concern about the impact of this on the immediate environment”(t21). Though the senior official blamed the communities for this, he is also of the opinion the system for paying compensation, as explained previously, played a key role in inciting people to sabotage as the people felt exploited by the facility owners. He cited an example of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, where funds were immediately set aside for compensation, but it never happened here in Nigeria. As a result of this shortcoming, the senior government official said the Rivers state government was implementing new environmental legislation in the state which will guarantee justice to both parties. The newly propose law stipulates that “Whereas if there is a spill there must be a time line within which facility owner must curve the spill, within which you must contain it, you must clean it, within a particular period which you must carry out remediation, if you don’t do it within this time line, then the facility owner is also committing an offence and will be finalised. Again if there is an impact on the property of the third party and it is clearly discovered that he was not part of the sabotage he should be entitled to compensation”(t21).
The official also added that “The state government is also determined to discourage people from sabotaging the facilities, so we have also included in the new bill penalties for sabotage should be long term imprisonment or death sentence” (t21). Despite the efforts of the state government, the official claimed that people don’t understand the technicalities and so they don’t appreciate what the government is doing, to protect them.
The respondent was asked how effective the present environmental laws were. He noted that existing environmental laws are either difficult to enforce or not in line with contemporary realities as some of the laws were made over twenty years ago. He cited the example with one of the environmental laws in Rivers state which is on environmental litter. The law forbids littering and street hawking. It is a criminal offence and the penalty on conviction carries a fine of five hundred naira (?1.90). This, according to him is not realistic because “you have to carry out the arrest, have a trial and the outcome of all this is a five hundred naira fine” (t21). According to him in most cases “people ask us why you wasted your time to go through legal process instead of just asking me to pay five hundred naira (?1.90) and continue my business” (t21). The respondent said a new compendium of all environmental legislations in Nigeria is planned so that the country will have a one stop shop for environmental laws.
Another major feature of the proposed environmental laws is that it addresses the issue of multiple regulatory agencies in the petroleum sector. The respondent stated that multiple regulations “we are not desirable omen because in this sector you need specialisation. The agencies presently carry out virtually the same assignments and it does not make sense. But it is better if you have specialised agencies carrying out specialised tasks. Presently, because of our level of development, you find out that most of these agencies overlap, most of them virtually do the same thing” (t21).
I ask the respondent his opinion about the politics of environment in the Niger Delta. He noted that environmental problems were not the result of political issues. But that they had become politicised. According to him “Today, President Jonathan is from the south-south and he has to be a president, if not there will be no Nigeria, because the oil money comes from this part of the country, because we now agitated that this place has been polluted we must be given opportunity to also hold that office, that is political” (t21).
The respondent also claimed that some environmental problems in the Delta were the result of “ past bad administrations in that sector, it started as a result of greed by the operators in that sector, the race for profit has resulted negligence over issues that ordinarily will not have been neglected Some of the pipelines that criss-cross the Niger Delta are over 50 years but they are still being used. In other places they would have been changed” (t21). The respondent is also of the opinion that the environmental problems are not only hinged on political issues, it is also hinged on problems that has made people over years to see themselves as helpless, being denied of their source of livelihood, being deprived of existence and of course being very hungry, there is an abject poverty in the Niger Delta region. He equates the situation to that of a goose that lay the golden egg but without anything to eat.
The respondent also claimed that “In some places the oil heads are so close to people’s homes that they literally hang their clothes on, yet they don’t have food to eat, there is no portable water, no clinics, and yet every other day wealth is leaving that place. This is taking place while yields on farmlands are going down all the time oil pollution is affecting the livelihoods of fishermen etc” (t21). According to him when people are exposed to such situations, definitely you will expect a reaction because they are rendered jobless “an idle mind is a devils workshop” (t21).
The researcher reminded the respondent that the communities had claimed that politicians at all levels were responsible for their predicament, and they ignored them until election periods As a politician, he agreed to some extent but he also blamed the behaviour of the people during elections “when they come back to them they demand money before voting and when they give them money what do you expect?” (t21). He also stated that people should not be blamed for demanding money before voting, “if you want to balance it you will also find out that the people are hungry, and so we come back to them with little food rather than stay back and die they will prefer to chase that little food and allow you take the vote (t21).
Finally, the senior official of the Rivers State Ministry of Environment was asked to describe the relationship between his ministry and the federal Ministry of Environment. His explained that, by law, his ministry was supposed to work in conjunction with the federal Ministry of Environment, but it is only recently we started having some positive romance with the federal ministry of environment on two projects the integrated waste management scheme and the proposed plastic recycling plant. Besides these two projects we have not felt the presence of the federal government. Being as it may this projects are yet to pick up” (t21).
This chapter presented the researcher’s interviews with the five regulatory agencies in the Nigerian oil industry. The interviews have been presented almost verbatim with little explanatory commentary to better represent the views of the respondents.In the next chapter, three interviews are presented. The first is with the representative of the United Nations Environmental Programme in Ogoniland and a senior security official in one of the security outfits in the Niger Delta and lastly the ‘founding father’ of the Nigerian oil industry. It is hoped this will provide a rich source of information and opinion to inform the thesis from the perspective of those outside the Nigerian oil industry.