Leaders of Ijaw communities in the Niger Delta region have restated their demand for the stoppage of the recently launched bidding processes for the allocation of oil licenses by the federal government.
They described the bidding process without addressing the concerns of the affected people of the oil-rich states as insensitive.
They also vowed to institute legal action against the government in law courts including the court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The group, under the umbrella of Ijaw Elders’ Forum, accused the government of apathy towards the plights of the oil-producing communities, saying “it could no longer continue to watch its own people being dehumanized, exploited, humiliated and discriminated against through the auctioning of exploration licenses to the oil companies who mindlessly rape the Niger Delta region through the appropriation of hydrocarbon deposit.”
In a letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari through the minister of state for petroleum resources, Timipre Silva, counsel to the group, George Ikoli and Okagbue, a law firm, noted that oil exploration and drilling activities accounted for the declining economic productivity of the Ijaw nation with the attendant air and water pollution, frequent outbreak of pandemic, deaths, and environmental destruction.
The letter, dated September 21, and which was signed on behalf of the law firm by Anthony George-Ikoli, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, reads in part; “In view of the foregoing and the seeming apathy of the Federal Government of Nigeria as well as that of the other operators in the oil and gas industry towards the yearnings of our clients and their people, you are by this letter hereby put on notice that our client and the people they represent are now determined to exercise their constitutional right of seeking redress in all available fora and the court of law by instituting legal action against all entities that have continued to subject our client and their communities to inhuman treatment and to activities having deleterious effects on the lives and property of the people.”
The federal government through the Department of Petroleum Resources had in June opened the bid process for the award of 57 new oil licenses to prospective companies, both local and foreign, that may be interested in participating in the exploration and production business in the country.
But the forum sees the action as unconscionable, saying it amounts to a rape of the affected people.
The letter further reads; “Oil and Gas is a nonrenewable resource; therefore, the profits generated from the value ought to build the capacity for equitable wealth distribution in the Ijaw Nation. An average of one oil spill, gas flaring occurs daily which have impaired the yield and nutrient value of crops cultivated in the Ijaw Nation, the environmental loss and environmental degradation that occur as a result of the above is incalculable in terms of human and environmental damage. Against this background, the people of Ijaw Nation claim that the activities of the extractive industries such as gas flaring, poor disposal of chemical waste, oil spillage, and other forms of pollutants are externalities resulting from the licenses and allocation granted by the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
The letter added that these actions of government constitute a breach of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right, particularly, Article 2,4,16,21,22 and 24 of the Charter.
The group listed three demands which revolve around the quest for healthy living and safety of the people of their communities.
These demands include: remediation of the environment of oil-bearing communities, compensation for alleged damage done to the people of the communities, and ensuring safety in oil exploration activities and protection of oil-bearing communities.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on the phone, the secretary of the forum, Efiye Bribena, said the communities of Ijaw extraction that are scattered across the south-south states of Bayelsa, Edo, Delta, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, and the southwestern state of Ondo have suffered neglect for too long.
Mr Bribena said weeks after the letter has been submitted to the appropriate quarters the government has not deemed it to dignify the group with appropriate response.
Minister wouldn’t allow matter degenerate –Spokesperson
The spokesperson to Mr Silva, Garuba Muhammed, said the lawyer’s letter could be with the legal adviser of the ministry, and pledged to make enquiry and get back to our reporter.
Mr Garuba also promised to get the correct position of the minister on the matter, saying as a proactive leader, his boss would not allow community issues to escalate as threatened by the forum.
He said; “I will ask the honourable minister for his position. But I know quite well that the minister engages them, he doesn’t allow the communities’ issues to become a public matter because he knows the importance of carrying the communities along.”
While recognising the agitation of the forum, the spokesperson said these are some of the issues already addressed by the Petroleum Industry Bill, noting that as soon as it takes effect, the concerns of the people about the oil industry will be taken care of.