Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has called on the Federal Government to identify, investigate and prosecute all members of security agencies in the Niger Delta region who are allegedly owners and participants in the stolen crude oil trade.
It also called for the investigation and prosecution of those allegedly aiding and abetting the operations of gangs involved in stealing crude oil for illegal refining as well as providing protection at artisanal refining sites while being paid with public funds.
Godwin Uyi Ojo, executive director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), made the call in a statement made available to newsmen in Benin City.
“A recent report by the Federal Government confirmed that over 200 million barrels of crude oil worth about $3.5 billion was stolen in 2021. Considering the heavy reliance on borrowings to fund government activities, the Federal Government and its regulatory institutions should be at the forefront of the fight against oil theft and artisanal oil refining.
“The Federal Government must address the huge electricity supply gap and the rising cost of cooking gas that is driving demand for artisanal oil products.
“Governments at all levels should develop a national just transition development plan that prioritises environmental protection and conservation as well as the efficient utilisation of resources in a circular economy model,” he said.
Ojo however, commended the Rivers State Government for its stand to address the issues of oil theft and refining of stolen crude oil and the consequent release of soot into the environment.
He noted that though the stand of the Rivers State government was a welcome respite for the people of the state, he, however, called governments of other Niger Delta states to take similar actions by identifying and properly decommissioning all artisanal stolen crude oil refining sites in their states in order to halt the self-inflicted destruction of our environment and unnecessary loss of lives.
He also noted that four years after local communities, civic groups and the media expressed dissatisfaction with the refusal of governments to act, the government of Rivers State has finally decided to take the first tentative steps to deal with the hydra-headed monster.
While noting that artisanal refining of stolen crude oil is indicated as the current accelerator of soot and air pollution in the Niger Delta region, he pointed out that decades of reckless exploration and production activities by multinational companies such as Shell, ill-maintained oil pipelines and facilities, routine gas flaring and lax regulatory framework as other factors responsible for the health and environmental hazards millions of people in the Niger Delta region are currently facing.
According to him, ERA/FoEN noted that a 2016 World Health Organisation (WHO) fact sheet on ambient air pollution, states that air pollution around the world is responsible for 4.2 million premature deaths globally every year.
“The report further states that exposure to air pollution is also responsible for increasing rates of stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
“The Environmental group added that hospitals across Rivers state are reporting a marked uptick in patients presenting with respiratory illnesses especially young children whose lungs are unable to withstand the constant poisoning from air pollution.
“There are also reports of an increase in patients suffering severe burns from explosions resulting from utilising improperly refined kerosene from artisanal refining processes,” he said.