Military on a Destructive Mission

Niger Delta Activists in Delta State have accused regulatory agencies, National Environmental Standards, and Regulatory Agency, NESREA, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, of abandoning their duties.

The activists also accused security agencies of perpetrating environmental crimes and breaching the laws of the country by burning recovered crude, local refineries, seized barges, forest, and bushes, all of which wipe out the Niger Delta milieu, calling for the prosecution of unruly security agents.

Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, boss, Mr. Eric Omare, and Comrade Austin Ozobo, National President of Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative, IPDI, among others, said the act of destroying materials used for bunkering and local refineries and in the process destroying the environment was against the law.

“Specifically, the National Environmental (Control of Bush, Forest Fire, and Open Burning) Regulations, 2011 made pursuant to the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Agency (NESREA) Act 2007 outlaws the act of security agencies burning bush and forest in the name of destroying local refineries camps.

“Other laws such as the Oil in Navigable Waters Act prohibit the discharge of crude oil into the environment in addition to several other common law rules”.

They admitted that the regulatory agencies were facing difficulties. Omare said: “However, the fact remains that NESREA in general and NOSDRA with respect to the oil and gas industry, both of which are charged with the responsibility of enforcing laws that protect the environment in Nigeria, have not been alive to their responsibilities.

“These regulatory agencies are either not well funded or do not have the requisite personnel to carry out their responsibilities. The case gets bad when the organization involved is a government agency such as the case of security agencies committing environmental crimes.

“The situation is made worse by the fact that most of the affected communities are too poor and ignorant to fight for their rights. Therefore, moving forward and with the growing interest on the matter, public interest interventions in the form of advocacy and even litigation on behalf of the affected communities may just be on the way to address this menace”.

Ozobo cuts in, saying, “The burning of seized crude, barges and local refineries is condemnable because it is inimical to the environment and the locals of affected areas. It is another criminal act the security agents are embarking upon because it is totally against every known environmental law.

“It should be discouraged as it has greatly contributed to the pollution and degradation of our environment and health situation. The practice helps to destroy our environment faster than other known forms of pollution”.

The military spreads oil contents on the waterways and land. Fishing and farming businesses are no longer viable. The military is becoming heartless and callous. “You know our communities drink water from the open river. There is now water scarcity among residents of the riverside communities as the practice causes water-borne diseases in Niger Delta.

They have burnt economic trees in the forests and farms causing deforestation and exposing communities to windstorms. “About a month ago, some military men came to Warri Market Road, upon discovering some diesel products with a market woman. They destroyed the containers and poured the content into the drainage of the market and, suddenly, a fire broke out.

The quick intervention of Fire Service saved the situation otherwise Warri Market would have been burnt. “The law never asked military men to spill oil content on the surface of the water. The military doing that are irate officers.

There are strict environmental laws that guard against their actions. It is an offense to dump garbage or anything that will pollute water on it; it is a criminal offense to do that. “If you are caught, you may be jailed.

However, the regulatory agencies are silent because some people are above the law. I insist that environmental laws should be invoked against the military lawlessness on the waterways, and agencies such as NOSDRA and others should act fast”. Campaign

The stakeholders hailed the recent move by Delta State government to listen to the pains of the people. “We started the campaign to stop the degradation of the environment in the name of fighting bunkering and local refineries since 2014.

We severally called on former President Jonathan and the security chiefs to call the security agents to order. We have maintained the same position under the Buhari administration. When we first took the position, the impression in the security circles was that we were supporting illegality”, Omare said.

Ozobo agreed with him, saying, “Our position has been vindicated by the statement of the Deputy Governor of Delta State, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro after he visited some of the sites recently.

In addition, I make bold to say that local refineries and the destruction of the refineries have contributed more than any other source to the destruction of the Niger Delta environment in recent times.

“The new step taken by Delta government vindicates me on my earlier position against the destruction of seized crude, barges, boats and local refineries in Niger Delta. The step or position canvassed by Delta government, if adhered to, will help to rebuild our environment”.

Grumblings  Omare said the complaints IYC had received over the years with respect to the burning of barges and places used for bunkering and local refineries usually came from communities and villagers who earn their living through fishing and farming.

“Security agencies usually act without regard to the environmental impact of their activities on the communities and people”, he added. On his part, Ozobo stressed that IPDI had received several complaints from the operators, riverside communities, individuals, transporters and jobless youths, who get their daily bread from it.

“Ezansagbene community complained bitterly about how the military burnt down their communities in the guise of burning an abandoned local boat containing diesel products on the shore of the area. The military went and apologized to the community over their action and promised to pay compensation, which they are yet to pay”, the activist pointed out.

“Egbema youths have severally called IPDI to prevail on one of their ex-militant generals, who is aiding the military to destroy their products and local refineries. Some women and men also called over military excesses at Benneth Island in Warri South-West Local Government Area.

“We received complaints from some members of Etegele community over military lawlessness. Some persons from the Gbaramatu Kingdom also cried to us, lamenting how the military is destroying the waterways and our environment by disposing of the crude content on the surface of the water”.

Omare agreed that security agencies are under the control of the Federal Government but explained that there is always room for cooperation between the federal and state governments on security issues.

Burning of crude despite denial As far back as 2013, stakeholders in the oil and gas industry had condemned the destruction of recovered stolen crude oil in the Niger Delta by the Joint Task Force, citing environmental and ecological reasons.

The issue dominated discussions at the Conference on Oil Theft and Illegal Bunkering in the Niger Delta organized then by the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta in Lagos.

The Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria and environmentalists suggested the return of recovered the crude oil to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation rather than it being destroyed by JTF.

A former Commander of the JTF in the Niger Delta, discussing the modus operandi of troops in the oil-rich region, said the mandate was to stop illegal oil bunkering activities in the upstream sector of the country’s petroleum industry; protect oil and gas facilities; and ensure a secure environment for other lawful activities.

Besides apprehending pipeline vandals and oil thieves, he confirmed that soldiers immediately burn recovered crude oil with other confiscated items used for illegal oil bunkering.

Following increased awareness and advocacy, the military, lately, said it had adopted environmentally friendly methods in combating oil theft and illegal refining in the region Kevin Aligbe, Land Component Commander of the Joint Force code-named ‘Operation Delta Safe’, disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that troops of the command had introduced the use of swamp buggies in destroying illegal refineries as opposed to setting camps ablaze.

However, from up-to-the-minute observations, corroborated by locals, activists and Deputy Governor of Delta State, Otuaro, during his overfly, last month, spilling and burning of crude right on the waterways have not ceased.

Way out  Omare told Sunday Vanguard, “There is the need for urgent environmental audit on the impact of local refineries and their destruction by security agencies in the Niger Delta. I also call on the media to carry out more investigative journalism on this life-threatening issue.

It is life-threatening because when you destroy the environment, you destroy the people’s source of living and people without a source of living are as good as dead. “However, we have over the years articulated what needs to be done. The position we have consistently taken is that there has to be an economic alternative in order to address the problem of oil thieves and local refineries in the Niger Delta region.

“The reason simply is that local refineries and oil thieves are economic and social reactions to the decades of deprivation of the local communities and people of the Niger Delta who produce the resources that sustain Nigeria but get nothing in return”.

Ozoro, on his part, said, “We have experienced a situation where the military unfocused burn communities while attempting to burn containers, local boats with products. Government and military lack ideas, the government ought to promote and encourage local technology, but the reverse is the case.

We are backward in technology because we do not encourage it. The world is advancing with technology while we fight against technology development. “We are the pioneers of the modular refinery, local refineries legalization, and improved operations.

We have severally called on relevant authorities to stop destroying our environment by disposing of the crude and burning it as it causes more pollution in our environment, but the government will not listen.