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Niger Deltans charge Buhari over oil theft, rogue refineries

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OIL THEFT, ARTISANAL REFINERIES; MATCH YOUR WORDS WITH ACTION – NIGER DELTA COMMUNITIES, STAKEHOLDERS CHARGE BUHARI ADMINISTRATION

Stakeholders and communities in the Nigeria’s oil rich Niger Delta have urged the Buhari administration to demonstrate laudable political will by effectively tackling/addressing the issues of oil theft and artisanal refineries in the Niger Delta.

The stakeholders who gave this charge at a one-day National Conference on “Oil Theft An Illegal Artisanal Refineries in Nigeria” organized by Social Action Nigeria, in Port Harcourt, held that crude artisanal refineries by youths in the area constitute the greatest threat to the environment in Niger Delta today and urged the government to deploy pragmatic means to curb the menace.

Speaking at the event, the Rivers State commissioner for Environment, Professor Rosaline Konya stated that the a large bulk of environmental and consequently climate change problems were man-made adding that some of the manifestations of it as seen in the Port Harcourt Sooth were direct resultant effects of the onslaught on the atmosphere from illegal artisanal refineries-related activities, gas flaring, tyre combustions etc.

According to Prof Konya, “the Sooth is a result of the bombardment of the atmosphere with all manners of pollutants; everyone is invloved and so there’s no need for any entity exonerating itself …. While we {state ministry of environment} do not have the ability to completely clean the atmosphere, we can collectively eradicate the source”.

On the quest for licensing of artisanal refineries for local communities, the environment commissioner pointed out that while the idea may not be bad, it however needed to be subjected to painstaking thought process in order to take care of any inherent challenges that could arise there from.

In their keynote addresses, renowned environmental campaigner and University don, Professor Ben Naanen and the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, NEITI, Mr Adio Waziri, represented by Mr Abdulmumini Abubakar, Director, Technical department, NEITI, bemoaned the quantum of resources lost by Nigeria through oil theft and illegal artisanal refining pointing out that in 2014 alone, about $9.4 billion was lost by the country in this process maintaining that this cost was particularly enormous for Nigeria in the face of the gloomy economic situation of the country.

Explaining further, the speakers held that oil has since its discovery in Nigeria played out the paradox of suffering in the midst of plenty as according to them, majority of the population of both the region and he country at large still live below poverty level. 

They advocated the creation of economic opportunities as a way of addressing this pointing out that decriminalizing artisanal refining and setting up of cottage refineries would be steps in the right direction and veritable ways of addressing the challenges adding that a percentage of crude should be allocated to the cottage refineries to enable them thrive.

Prof Naanen further laid emphasis to the lack of lack of attention so far paid to the health conditions of the people of the area, raising alarm of potential health crisis as a result of oil pollution and called for the immediate commencement of health impact assessment of the residents of Niger Delta to determine the extent of such impact on them.

In his message, the Bayelsa State commissioner for environment, Hon. Williams Alamene, represented by Mr. Adike Ezekiel, bemoaned the large-scale environmental degradation in the area occasioned by bush refineries explaining that it was almost impossible to clean up the environment when that level of pollution was still going on and charged that every effort need be brought to bear to nip the menace in the bud in order to safeguard what is left of the environment.

In their own submissions, Traditional rulers and community leaders, security operatives, youth groups and environmental right activists called for prompt and decisive steps to curb the dangers posed by illegal oil bunkering and crude refineries to both the region and the Nation’s economy at large.

The conference rose with an eight – point communiqué calling on government to demonstrate firm political will by urgently addressing the issues identified by the stakeholders to ensure and sustain peace and harmony in the region.

Vivian Bellonwu-Okafor

Head, National Advocacy Centre

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