Sir Peter Idabor is the Director General of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA). In this interview he speaks about oil spill and the challenges of addressing environmental pollution in the Niger Delta region.
Recently Polaku community in Bayelsa State cried out to government to assist them end the menace of gas flaring, what are you doing in that aspect?
Gas flaring is not strictly under the purview of NOSDRA, we have also the Department of Petroleum Resources which is also a regulator in the oil and gas industry but inasmuch as it affects the lives of the people in the community, we as NOSDRA will see how we can mitigate some of the problems.
The issue of gas flaring has been causing alot of damage in the Niger Delta. There are two types of flare gas; we have the horizontal and the vertical and it disturbs the diagonal reading, the sleeping patterns of people because every day is like daylight, no night, even insects’ reproduction processes are affected and animals’.
In terms of human beings who are living there, some of them make the mistake of going close to gas flare to dry garri and do other activities but the main problem is that the gas that has been flared is not properly flared, technically they are supposed to scrub these gases so that the one that is being burnt will burn clean.
Some of these gases contain oxide of sulfur and carbon dioxide. The combustion is not fully complete so you have what is called soot, and the soot affects the respiratory organs. Symptoms like cough are exhibited in areas that are close to gas flaring. So the community needs to write to us so we can visit the sites and relate to the oil company appropriately.
A group said your agency is slow in responding to oil spill, why is that so?
It is wrong to say that. First of all the idea of NOSDRA coming in is to determine the point where the spill occurred; inspect the point and also to know the volume that has gone into the environment; the cause of the spill and ensure that there is containment – to stop it from spreading and then to recover.
Because of the mutual suspicion that has existed over time, NOSDRA cannot go alone, we have to contact the state Ministry of Environment, the community persons, the oil company that has the facility and our sister regularly agency which is the Department of Petroleum Resources. Most often, it takes a little while though not too long to get these people together and usually it’s important because you can not just go by yourself like the group is saying.
We make sure that everybody is there because of the spill. The community can say this is caused by equipment failure; the oil company will say it is sabotage. We are the trustees, so our job is to look at it and say no this is what it is and this is what is to be done when all the stakeholders are present.
Yes it is true to say maybe NOSDRA is handicapped in going to some of these areas especially with the difficult terrain of the Niger Delta but mind you, inasmuch as we admit that we have some shortcomings in terms of vehicles and boats to use, I want to remind the group that the Federal Government is a joint partner and owns about 55 per cent while the oil company owns 45 per cent.
We are the Federal Government, if there is any facility owned by the oil company, it is partly owned by the Federal Government, we do not shy away, if we do not have such facilities what can we do.
We have to jump into their vehicle but that does not deter us from doing our job.
Nobody can say those things belong to the Federal Government when the government is operating a joint venture with oil companies. So the essence is to make sure that everybody sees it the same times.
We have what we call a JIV form. It is a document which at the end of the inspection, everybody will agree on: do you agree this is sabotage. Yes. The company will sign, NOSDRA will sign and the community will sign, the ministry, Directorate of Petroleum Resources will sign, then it becomes a document. But if the community or any other says it will not sign the document, is null and void. So it is not just as simple as that going there.
Let no one assume our stake there is just the environment. We are concerned about the impact on the people. If the oil spill can be sighted by the community members, first they do report to us, either by telephone or by making any other contacts. We have regional offices in Port Harcourt, Warri, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Kaduna and Gombe and so you are to report to the nearest office and if any oil company failed to stop the spill within 24hours we sanction them. We have been doing that and they have been paying.
There is an oil company that failed to report a spill and we sanctioned it and it paid N250 million. We are also looking for money so it is not a question of anybody being slow.
In some cases, some communities will say no until NOSDRA come you cannot enter. Sometimes it takes up to one week before they allow anybody to enter, until you bring relief material first.
They feel if they allow you to come and clean it up they will not get anything thereafter; they use it as a ransom.
Overtime, what has NOSDRA been able to achieve in terms of sanctioning defaulters?
There is an oil company we sanctioned N3.6 billion recently; we also have others in court. The problem essentially with us is that the law that established NOSDRA has a lot of loopholes. These oil companies, if you take them to court, they will say where do you derive your power from and these are some of the things that have been hindering us over time.
NOSDRA was established in 2006 and since I came in in 2011, we have been fighting and by God’s grace we have been able to secure NOSDRA amendment bill, passed by the Senate few weeks ago. We are just waiting for assent from the House of Representatives and most of these loopholes have been blocked so that oil companies will be made to obey the law. What these people do here they cannot do in their countries. So we are still looking for ways to enable the communities of the Niger Delta get what they deserve in terms of compensation and at the same time we also want them to know that what they are getting is nothing compared to the damage that is being inflicted in their environment.
What are some of the challenges you face?
We have a lot of challenges in terms of finances, infrastructure and the law that has not been passed, but when it’s fully passed it will give us the needed backing. Like, here we are not supposed to be tenants to anybody; but we owe rent here so everybody looks down on us. We have staff as good as anybody that can challenge anyone. Our own concern is the environment; we are not experts in the oil industry operations but we are experts in the environment trying to protect the people from the impact of the oil industry.
Yes I want to use the opportunity to say NOSDRA should be properly funded to be able to do its job.