• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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When JTF, NSCDC legal actions threaten environment

While illegal artisanal oil refining continues to stifle traditional community life in parts of Nigeria, degradation of the environment through legal actions of the JTF and NSCDC is an issue government is yet to come to terms with. OSA VICTOR OBAYAGBONA examines the economic and socio-cultural implications of the constant burning of seized petroleum products on the regions.

From the Niger Delta to the South West/South East, and recently, North Central, the activities of vandals, oil thieves and illegal artisanal refiners, and frequent spills from different flow stations of multi-national oil companies in Nigeria have not abated.

Consequently, fainting spells, vomiting, chronic diarrhoea, headaches and unknown skin infections are common occurrences in these localities as a result of toxic ingestion, while many suffer from skin rashes that require daily injections to prevent swelling.

“There’s a stream where we always go to fish, and it’s always had oil on top. We catch fish there and eat them. The fish drink the water, and since we eat them, the oil must get into us that way,” a member of an indigenous community located near an oil site explains in an interview with National Public Radio in Washington, DC.

According to a 2013 survey by the Federal Government, Nigeria lost 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day through theft and illegal bunkering and refineries, amounting to $11 billion per annum. And government intervention, through the activities of the Joint Task Force (JTF) and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), has not been able to bring the menace under control.

It is on record that these activities have taken away the livelihood of the residents – destruction of farmland, pollution of the creeks and rivers, and eventual killing of aquatic life of the area, therefore preventing fishing – a major source of livelihood for the inhabitants of the delta.

Above all, the environment has continued to suffer due to continuous spills and the JTF and NSCDC constant destruction and burning of illegal refineries and products seized.

Also, a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report (August 4, 2011), through the combination of these activities, Ogoniland in Rivers State has been rendered unproductive. The report from the assessment of the area shows that it will take 30 years to clean up Ogoniland, only if the nation starts now, and it will require more than $1 trillion to restore the environment.

At a stakeholders’ meeting on Niger Delta: Beyond environmental degradation, September 5, 2013, all the participants enjoined oil firms to stop the unsystematic destruction of illegal oil theft facilities, noting that it only compounds environmental damage. They instead recommended the establishment of joint mini-refineries to absorb illegal refineries and engage local communities.

They noted that facilitating socio-economic development of the Niger Delta was critical in curtailing criminality in the oil sector, and called on the Federal Government to immediately mandate and fund the clean-up of the Niger Delta.

According to one of the elders from the Niger Delta, the bush refineries are actually polluting the environment and the action of the JTF who destroy them cause greater damage to the environment.

Ziakede Patrick Akpobolokemi, director-general, Nigerian Maritime

Administration and Safety Agency, said “while commending the efforts of the JTF, I think blowing up ‘Cotonou’ boats and illegal refineries will not give us the solution, it is compounding the environmental damage already done.”

The presentation of Bata Debiro, a major general/and then commander of the JTF, was most disturbing as he recounted how the JTF had set on fire many illegal refineries, tanker trucks, ‘Cotonou’ boats, among others.

It was noted that the destruction occasioned by the operations of the JTF in the region, had caused huge damage to the environment, health, livelihood and the psychology of the people. Fishing, farming and other legitimate economic activities in those communities have been hampered by the damage.

Apart from the Niger Delta, South West and South East that have been on the eyes of the storm concerning crude theft and illegal refinery, the recent discovery in Kogi State and the eventual setting on fire of the products brought to mind again that the Nigerian government has not come to terms with the implications of this burning activities.

This is an era the world has intensified campaign against global warming and greenhouse gases, here, through legal activities, the Nigerian government is directly contributing to global warming by constantly setting on fire seized petroleum products.

In this recent seizure, the Kogi State command of the NSCDC, following recent discovery of illegal refinery in the state, arrested a suspected operator and set the site ablaze.

The state commandant of the Corps, Adesuyi Dayo Clement told newsmen in Lokoja, the state capital, that the command got the information through intelligent report, after which it deployed some operatives in the area on surveillance for two weeks, before “we moved in for the arrest.”

The state commandant said that a total of 65 drums of petrol and diesel already refined were found, and eventually set ablaze. Some of this eventually gets into water bodies the communities depend on. Just imagine the effect of this burning on the immediate environment and the long-term implication on communal farmland and human health.

The year 2013, was a continual burning of petroleum products in Ogun/Lagos states by officials of the NSCDC. Apart from the financial lose to the country, the environmental effects are long-termed.

The environmental impact of petroleum is often negative because it is toxic to almost all forms of life. The possibility of climate change exists, as the first paragraph clearly shows the effects on human health. Other danger are:


• Toxicity

Petroleum distillates can create a sheen on the surface of water as a thin layer creating an optical phenomena called inter-phase.

Crude oil is a mixture of many different kinds of organic compounds, many of which are highly toxic and cancer causing (carcinogenic). Oil is acutely lethal to fish, that is it kills fish quickly, at a concentration of 4000 parts per million (ppm) (0.4%). Crude oil and petroleum distillates cause birth defects.

Benzene is present in both crude oil is known to cause leukaemia in humans.

The compound is also known to lower the white blood cell count in humans, which would leave people exposed to it more susceptible to infections.

“Studies have linked benzene exposure in the mere parts per billion (ppb) range to terminal leukaemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and other blood and immune system diseases within 5-15 years of exposure.”

Researches have also found out that when petroleum distillates are burned, usually the combustion is not complete. This means that incompletely burned compounds are created in addition to just water and carbon dioxide. The other compounds are often toxic to life. Examples are carbon monoxide and methanol. Also, fine particulates of soot blacken humans’ and other animals’ lungs and cause heart problems or death. Soot is cancer causing (carcinogenic).

• Acid rain

Trees are often killed by acid rain, an unwanted side effect of burning petroleum.

High temperatures created by the combustion of petroleum cause nitrogen gas in the surrounding air to oxidise, creating nitrous oxides. Nitrous oxides,along with sulphur dioxide from the sulphur in the oil, combine with water in the atmosphere to create acid rain. Acid rain causes many problems such as dead trees and acidified lakes with dead fish. Coral reefs in the world’s oceans are killed by acidic water caused by acid rain.

Acid rain leads to increased corrosion of machinery and structures (large amounts of capital), and to the slow destruction of archaeological structures.

• Climate change

Humans burning large amounts of petroleum create large amounts of CO2 (carbon dioxide) gas that traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Also, some organic compounds, such as methane released from petroleum drilling or from the petroleum itself, trap heat several times more efficiently than CO2.

• What makes the situation so dangerous

Water produced by oil drilling, or “produced water,” contains arsenic, as well as cadmium, mercury, lead, zinc and copper. These heavy metals are toxic to humans and animals, even in proportionally miniscule concentrations. In the mining regions, heavy metal concentrations are well above the World Health Organisation’s critical levels. These chemicals and metals are not only toxic to humans, but to animals as well. This is important not only when questioning the survival of hundreds of species who may come into contact with contaminated water, air or land, but also in the question of human health.

Mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead bioaccumulate in living organisms. In other words, if consumed over time, the concentration of the chemical increases in comparison to the concentration in the surrounding environment. Mercury, for example, will accumulate in the organisms tissues faster than it can be excreted.

The native people have been fishing their ancestral lands and rivers for generations. Only now, the waters are toxic, more compounded by the direct leakage of destroyed petroleum products by the JTF and NSCDC, and the fish they are consuming have been feeding upon other organisms that have been bioaccumulating metals. Thus, the further up the food chain you travel, the higher the metal concentrations. Humans have enjoyed being at the top of the food chain, but if you were to reside in a region contaminated by oil  drilling processes, that enjoyment would not last long. The effects of the toxins intensify as you travel up the food web. This means that predators and carnivores – often rare and critical to rain-forest ecosystems – as well as humans, are in danger.

So, when the natives continue to rely on their lands and waterways for sustenance, they risk their lives.

However, they have no other option. Native groups have been relying upon rain forests for their survival and livelihoods for hundreds of years.

Until recently, their ancestral lands have been left largely untouched and unharmed, allowing them to fish and hunt and live in accordance with nature. Now, petroleum and its activities have left them with no choice but to fish oil-filled waters and farm toxic lands.

The question remains, with these implications on human and environmental health, which the Nigerian government and agencies involved are aware of, will they allow this to continue? Only time will tell, if Nigeria will ever learn.