Location: Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC] Base, Twon-Brass, Brass local government area.
Report by: Alagoa Morris
Agip has several facilities in Bayelsa State. They include oil wells, pipelines, manifolds and flowstations. Most of the crude oil from the company’s swamp area are channeled to Twon- Brass, a community on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean. Agip’s highest facility a tank farm and export terminal are in that vicinity. It would be recalled that, although there are several reported cases of oil spills from the company’s facilities in Bayelsa State, there was a major operational failure and spill incident at the Brass Terminal loading point on 27th November, 2013. Information at ERA/FoEN’s disposal indicates that Agip paid some money to impacted communities to take care of relief and recently paid another N24 million (twenty four million naira) to communities such as Odioama in connection with the 27th November, 2013 spill.
For quite some time some concerned citizens of Twon-Brass have expressed concern about the crude oil pollution along the Agip canal around the community. This canal runs through the Agip premises into the Brass River and eventually empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Bayelsa State ministry of environment also, very recently expressed concern on the condition of the canal in question, especially as it concerns the release of effluents from Agip [crude oil inclusive] into the flowing body of water. In the light of the above, it was not really surprising for ERA/FoEN to be alerted on the night of Wednesday, 15th October, 2014 that the Minister of Environment Mrs. Lawrencia Labara-Malla was to visit Agip’s Brass facility the next day.
What seemed a surprise was the unannounced nature of the visit as even the State Ministry of Environment was not officially informed of this visit. Luckily, ERA/FoEN field monitor and the Country Director of Stakeholder Democracy Network [SDN], Mr. Inemo Samiama and some media men were part of the team which accompanied the Commissioner for Environment, Bayelsa State; Barr, Iniruo Wills, Permanent Secretary and other Directors of the State Ministry of Environment from Yenagoa to be part of the minister’s visit at Brass. The minister and some top executives of the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency [NOSDRA] and few Agip officials flew into the Agip facility in Brass from Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. The minister was the only person who supplied information as per her purpose of visiting which was in response to questions posed after the brief visit. The Commissioner for Environment also granted a brief interview before departing to Yenagoa, after the Minister has been air-lifted and, on her way back to Port Harcourt.
AT AGIP TERMINAL, TWON- BRASS:
Immediately the commissioner and his team arrived the Agip facility at Twon-Brass, the team was ushered into two buses [the bigger one, a Coaster] and were driven to meet with the Minister of Environment at a guest house where light refreshment were served and photos taken freely. Incidentally, some officials of the NOSDRA accompanied the minister from Port Harcourt, including the Director -General, Peter Idabor and Zonal Director in Port Harcourt zone. Shortly after, everyone got into the buses again [the minister and commissioner were with top Agip Management inside the Coaster bus], the Civil Society and media men were in the smaller bus with one or two Agip staff; while other Agip personnel followed behind in Hilux vans. So seated in the buses and not knowing where the team was being led; as no prior information as to the destination [except may be the commissioner and Minister of Environment were duly informed], the team was driven round the Agip facility, showing tanks, pipe connections and other physical items related to the oil industry.
However, before the brief drive around ended, a canal laden with crude-related substance and water was sighted and the photos were taken all through this brief motor-ride. All of a sudden, the cars returned to the point where the minister and everyone boarded them. Without any other information it was noticed that the visit was over and the minister and her team were airlifted again, back to Port Harcourt. It was at this point journalists and the civil society folks present decided to ask the minister some questions. Below are some of the questions and her responses:
Question: May we know your mission here?
Answer : We are here to inspect what Agip is doing in this part of the country and to ensure that they conform to the regulations of the land and to ensure that the environment is safeguarded. You know when an environment is being safeguarded and protected by their activities, the communities around will be taken care of.
That is why we have come here because they know that their production is quite large and they export. So we do not want to have friction with the communities like others which we are handling in the ministry. So that is why we decided to come here to see what they are doing.
Question: So far what is your observation and impression?
Answer: Well as a layperson even seeing the clean environment around me, I want to believe that they are doing their best. Nothing is perfect, nothing is hundred percent perfect. With the level of what I have seen, I want to believe that there is room for improvement. With the technical Officers around me, they too are advising me and I think we should give them the encouragement because what they are not doing right, definitely they will correct it.
Question: Oil companies in Nigeria are having issues adhering to the Nigerian laws, what are you doing to make multinational oil coys conform to Nigerian laws?
Answer: I do not believe what you are saying. Honestly I don’t believe. We have NESREA that is enforcing environmental laws, we have also NOSDRA that detects what the oil companies do not do right and they report back and we have been discussing and seeing how best we can work together.
Question: But the regulatory agencies lack the resources to carry out their mandate effectively.
Answer: You know no ministry or MDA will tell you that they have enough resources to carry out their tasks but Mr. President is doing his best, when we cry out he looks at our problems and what we are asking for and he does his best. I do not agree completely with what you are saying.
Question: You did mention of a clean environment here in Agip base but to a lot of Niger Deltans there is environmental disaster unfolding. When is the Federal Government going to seriously look into these problems and start ways of restoring the Niger Delta environment for giving so much revenue to the Federal Government?
Answer: This is why you can see that I have the Commissioner for Environment of Bayelsa State here with me to tell you how serious and how committed we are. What we have seen here when we leave here we will sit together and discuss and then take back whatever is the problem to Mr. President the President cannot be here that is why we have ministers representing and I am representing Mr. President. So I have invited the Commissioner for Environment in Bayelsa State to also discuss with him to see the way forward and what we can do to improve the environmental problems that are associated with the oil mining.
Question: What is the Federal Government doing to stop gas flare and what is the Federal Government doing in respect of the Koluama Chevron Explosion?
Answer :We are doing something to address that problem. When you have such problem, you have to investigate and you have to also ask questions and involved all stakeholders and come together. So we can’t come and tell you what we are doing. Definitely something is being done and you will soon hear from us.
Before leaving Agip base at Brass back to Yenagoa, the Commissioner for Environment also granted interview to the media.
Question: How would you describe the relationship between the oil companies operating in the State and the State Government?
Answer: The relationship with the Bayelsa State Government is cordial and reasonably so. That is not to say there are no issues between us. But definitely there are a number of issues regarding the standard of environmental management in the course of their operations. That is the cumulative problems over the past fifty to sixty years, since the beginning of oil exploration in Nigeria which you know began in Bayelsa State. And there has been a great deal over the years and decades of gross inadequacies of environmental standards. So, at this present moment, we as government, we as trustees of the environment on behalf of our communities our focus is to engage with the oil companies in a way that will ensure rectitude in the way that they manage the environment in the course of their operations.
Question: In your own little way what measures are you going to take to contain the environmental challenges in the state?
Answer: Well the engagement I just talked about is very broad. Our aim is not to be unduly confrontational but to make it clear that there must be a game change. There must be a drastic, fundamental game change; from how things used to be done to how things must be done. It’s not incremental progress we are looking for, it’s not incremental improvement in environmental standards we are looking for; we are looking for a total paradigm shift from how things were done; to now, how they must be done in line with international best practice.
Question: It appears the communities are not comfortable with the operations of the oil companies, because it seems their relationship with the oil companies is not cordial
Answer: Of course who was bearing the brunt, communities. They are the ones that have been bearing the brunt all these years. They are the ones whose water has been polluted; they are the ones whose livelihood has been displaced. And therefore they are forced into migration to urban centers and so on. So there is an entire gambit of social, physical and health implication of all these things. It is not a one-off thing. So, it is understandable for the communities to feel the way that they are feeling. But our focus as government at this present time is to ensure that we strike a balance that guarantees proper environmental standards and also work towards the restoration. And mind you, restoration is a very broad term. I am not going into details of that, but environmental restoration of our communities which, is not a one-off thing. It is not an over-night success story. If you have taken a peep at the UNEP report and the recommendations and, even the time span recommended for restoration activities to take place; you know that restoring what has been lost for fifty/sixty years of environmental degradation is something that must be done in a consistent way over a considerable length of time….
PICTURES FROM THE SITE VISIT
Crude oil polluted carnal inside the Industrial Area
The minister fielding questions from the media flanked by Agip staff in coverall
Firstly, it is important to note that the Minister of Environment’s visit to Agip Base in Bayelsa was not officially made known to the Bayelsa State Government. Information at the disposal of ERA/FoEN has it that top officials of the State Ministry of Environment got hint of the visit late and from community source; not even from NOSDRA Officials who were in an even with Ministry Officials the day before. This is very unfortunate and smacks of hidden agenda. Otherwise, why should the Ministry of Environment of a State not be officially informed when a Federal Minister in related ministry is entering the state officially? And again, both NOSDRA and Agip Management were surprised to see both the press and environmental NGO representatives; especially during the question and answer session with the Minister; when they got to realize ERA was also represented. When they heard the way the questions were being asked, some of the Agip staff asked, who are these guys? And when they were told that NGOs were represented; they quickly asked; is ERA here too? Besides, Agip Staff, NOSDRA and the Minister’s aids tried hard to stop the media and NGO representatives to ask the Minister more questions. They shielded the Minister from taking more question, to the surprise of those ready to ask questions relating to the visit and environment in general.
Besides the fact too, that some Agip staff expressed displeasure for the media and CSO representatives to asked the Minister questions; there were insinuations that since Mr. President is from the State and Niger Delta questions should not be asked because such might embarrass and put the President in bad light.
One major observation again was the fact that, the field visit was not properly done as the visiting team was disallowed from stepping down from the cars to take a critical look at the crude oil-laden canal and immediate environment though much of this section of the canal was within the company’s fenced premises. It was an arranged, guided field trip and Agip was obviously pleased with the Minister; that things went the company’s way. At the end of the day, it will not be far from the truth if one says the visit was of little of no use; just to satisfy some kind of formalities. Sadly there was no Twon-Brass community representative in the field trip to observe what was going on. It was done in secrecy. In this connection, there was nothing like introduction of those on the tour, either other Minister’s side or Commissioner’s side; not even Agip.
- Fact finding tours be formally made known to the State and community stakeholders be part of the field visit.
- If the State government is aware, the public should also be informed and relevant stakeholders be carried along because the environment is our common heritage and concern. Not only the media, environmental groups should be officially informed and invited to be part of such trips.
- Federal agencies respect the authorities in states they operate in and show positive examples. What happened last Thursday is not the best, even though the Hon. Commissioner and his top Management stepped in to bridge the gap created on purpose by NOSDRA and Agip; including the Federal Ministry of Environment.