– Stakeholders react as operators, regulators keep mum
Port Harcourt — More than a month after two separate oil spills from facilities operated by the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, and NNPCL occurred in Aleto and Eteo communities in Eleme, Rivers State, the statutory report of the joint investigation visit has remained inconclusive.
JIV is a statutory inquiry that follows every oil spill incident consisting of representatives of the oil firm, regulators, host community and State Ministry of Environment, to ascertain the cause of oil spills and the volume spilt.
The oil spills from Shell facility in Aleto became noticeable on Sunday June 11th, 2023, while the incident from NNPC Ltd facility in Eteo became noticeable on Sunday 18th June 2023.
While no official JIV has been carried out at the NNPCL spills in Eteo, Shell’s Aleto report is pending due to conflicting findings from the JIV team, made up of officials of the National Oil Spill Detection Agency, NOSDRA, the Rivers State Ministry of Environment, community members, Shell personnel and other stakeholders.
SweetCrude Reports gathered that the JIV team has been to the scene of the SPDC spills in Aleto more than twice but was yet to conclude its report and make it public, as the latest joint investigation visit held last Wednesday, 12 July 2023.
Even the oil operator, SPDC, has not documented the Aleto spills on the oil spills data section of its website, as at the time of filing this report.
A visit to the spill site in Aleto revealed a massive dug well filled with crude, while a boom supposedly to contain the oil spread was partially on one part of the river, as oil sheen spread over the entire stretch of the Okulu River.
Speaking on the inconclusive JIV, the Chairman of Aleto community, Alali Amaechi, said delay was due to conflicting findings, explaining that the community was not happy with the way NOSDRA was handling the incident.
“For now, the JIV is still inconclusive because the investigators have different opinions. NOSDRA has a different report, the State Ministry of Environment has a different report and the community has a different view on the incident. So, when they asked the community to sign the report, they refused. The whole thing has stagnated for a month now.
Meanwhile, stakeholders have called on the federal government to prevail on NOSDRA to make public the report of their investigation so far on the two spills incident.
The Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, YEAC Nigeria, said it was unfortunate on the part of NOSDRA to delay the whole process, warning that the sad development may brew crisis if not swiftly handled.
Executive Director of Yeac Nigeria, Mr Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, said NOSDRA ought to have quickly carried out a joint investigation few hours after the spills was reported, in line with the PIA 2021 to ascertain the cause of the spill, while the operator clamp the leaks and engage the communities.
Fyneface who is a renowned environmental justice activist in the Niger Delta, explained that NOSDRA’s prolong silence on the two oil spills was a bad omen and shows unseriousness in curbing incessant spills in the country.
“The joint investigation visit is not what we should beg for, it is what should be done immediately. I am very worried about the delay and silence of NODSRA.
“I am in doubt of their existence. This undue silence makes us feel that NOSDRA has been compromised by these oil companies responsible for the spills, as we do not expect NOSDRA to take these things lightly.
“It is worrisome that after the Joint Investigation Visit in Aleto over the spill, NOSDRA is yet to release the report. We have checked their website and the report is not available.’’
Similarly, a renowned lawyer and former leader of MOSOP, Mr. Ledum Mitee, said it was unsurprising that NOSDRA was yet to release its findings, accusing the oil spills regulator of relying on oil operators to carry out its statutory job.
“The oil companies should be held accountable for whatever happened in the communities. Most times, NOSDRA officials do not have a means of transportation, so they rely on these oil companies to go to where they are.”
Corroborating, an Environmental Rights Activists, Mr. Celestine Akpobari, said NOSDRA‘s silence is a confirmation that the federal government agency relies heavily on oil companies to conduct their JIVs.
“It has been my worry that a regulatory body as NOSDRA does not have what it takes to do an investigation on spills. It is the polluter that provides a means to convey them to the scene. If the spills happen in the creek, the chopper used is provided by the company and you know he who pays the piper detects the tune.”
Akpobari further advised the affected communities to stand their ground and avoid compromise in the face of JIV findings.
“I advise the affected communities to remain calm and not take the laws into their hands so that the enemies of the people do not capitalize on their actions to deny them justice. They should remain united and allow their representatives to work out ways to bring them justice.”
Meanwhile the Councilor representing Eteo in the Eleme Legislative Assembly, Mr. Dominic Okulolo, has lamented that the spills have destroyed the flora and fauna of Eleme.
“The water is polluted and there are no fishes in the river for us to feed on. We are calling on the Rivers State government to send delegates to confirm all we have said by visiting the affected areas.
“The level of damage is so much on the land. The community cannot do it alone we would involve the owners of the pipelines to account for the losses we have incurred.”
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