Published on International Journal of Social, Politics & Humanities
Publication Date: July 25, 2019
Victor E. Ita, Itoro B. Ebong & Washington B. Uko
Department of Political Science, Akwa Ibom State University Obio Akpa Campus, Oruk Anam LGA
Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State
Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Uyo, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State
The paper examined the challenges in enforcing the relevant environmental protection policies in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region with focus on oil producing communities of Akwa Ibom State. Oil exploration in the region has continued to generate unpleasant impacts ranging from large-scale environmental contamination of agricultural lands, deforestation, air pollution, global warming, health challenges and social unrest arising from unpaid claims of compensation to affected persons and communities. The paper is descriptive in approach with data generated predominantly from secondary sources and evaluated within the context of relative deprivation theory. Findings of the paper indicated, among others, that despite formulating sound environmental policies targeted at ameliorating the negative effects of oil exploration in the Niger Delta, the situation in the region has remained unchanged owing to ineffective enforcement, inadequate constitutional provisions for environmental protection, conflicts in environmental management strategies, absence of mandatory disclosure of environmental information as well as persistent lack of political will on the part of the Nigerian government to implement the available polices. Consequently, the paper recommended, inter alia, that the activities of Multinational oil firms should be properly monitored while enforcement machinery of environmental policies should be strengthened in order to minimize the incidence of environmental degradation in the oil producing communities of Nigeria’s Niger Delta region.
Keywords: Niger Delta, oil exploration, ecological devastation, environmental policy, multinational companies.
The Niger Delta region comprises of about 1,600 communities in nine States namely, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers, with more than 20 million people. The strategic location of the area and the activities of the people placed the region on a strong pedestal for socio economic growth quite easily, especially during the period of the trans-Saharan trade in Africa. The region occupies a geographical area measuring about 70,000 square kilometres lies in the southernmost part of Nigeria, stretching from the Nigerian to Cameroun boundary in the East, Ondo to Ogun State boundary in the West. The area is bounded in the North by Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra, Kogi and Ekiti States, with the Atlantic coast forming the general boundary in the South (Ekpo, 2004).
There is no doubt that the Niger Delta region generates the bulk of the nation’s wealth which account for over 80% of government revenue, 95% of foreign exchange earnings and 95% of export receipt. With God-given wealth, the region plays a strategic role in the socio economic development of Nigeria (Alagoa, 2004). Going by its importance as veritable source of raw material (crude oil) and revenue spinner for both Federal Government and Oil Multinational Companies, the region should be one of the most developed areas of the world in terms of physical infrastructures, human empowerment, advanced technology and tourist attraction among others. But on the contrary, the region has continued to live in conditions of social deprivation, abject poverty, untold hardship, neglect, unemployment, poor infrastructure, disorientation and disease arising from oil exploration and inhuman treatment by Oil Transnational Companies on one hand and obnoxious policies and outright neglect by the Federal Government of Nigeria on the other hand.
It is rather unfortunate to observe that after over sixty years of oil exploration and production in Nigeria, the Niger Delta region which would have been of advantaged than any other region in the drive for economic progress has been left underdeveloped. Notably, the basic infrastructure are in a state of decay, even as many major roads have become impassable, power supply is epileptic, poverty remains an endemic problem as most of the erstwhile fertile lands in the region have become infertile and devastated by pollution. Moreover, oil pollution caused by spillages from the oil industries operating in Niger Delta region has caused massive destruction to farmlands, sources of drinking water, fishing grounds and declination of fishes, crabs, mollusks, periwinkles and birds. The chemical properties of spilled oil often affect the productiveness of soil and pollute water bodies, thereby causing irreparable damage to agricultural lands as well as aquatic bodies. This in turn affects the livelihood of the indigenous people who depend solely on agriculture and ecosystem services for survival leading to increased poverty and displacement of people (Ibaba, 2001).
For the Niger Delta region, oil has been more of a curse than a blessing as the region which the bulk of the nation’s economy is derived has witnessed severe environmental problems which occur during petroleum operations. In communities where oil exploration and production are staged, deforestation, erosion and destruction of farmlands are the main sign points for this gift of nature. In the face of this careless nature of oil operators in the region, the environment is becoming increasingly inhabitable to aquatic life. Most aquatic organism like fishes are now feeding on bacteria which have consumed dissolved oxygen from the spilled hydrocarbons, which evidently lead to rapid depletion of fishes since they cannot withstand the high organic quantity of these hydrocarbons. The rate of deaths is even higher when fishes directly inhale such oxygen, thus making the region increasingly uninhabitable to aquatic life.
Health risk is also a major problem faced by the residents of the oil producing area due to some dangerous substances and poisonous chemicals released into the atmosphere which causes depletion of the ozone layers which give rise to global warming. For instance, residents of Ibeno Local Government area of Akwa Ibom State, particularly those living near Qua Iboe Terminal, frequently complain of health related problems such as asthma, breathing difficulties, pains, headaches, nausea, throat irritation, cancer as well as chronic bronchitis, as the result of inhaling the poisonous chemicals released into the environment. Aside from this, there is also the problem of acid rain, which destroys houses within the vicinity where oil exploration and production activities are carried out.
Although oil petroleum industry operators in Nigeria are expected to adhere to international environmental safety standards in their activities, however, such requirements are weakly enforced or respected, owing to the fact that oil-related legislations on environmental protection are hardly implemented or enforced in Nigeria due to dearth of logistics for policies and strategies actualization, inadequate and poorly trained manpower, high cost/bureaucratic bottleneck, non-participation of the host communities in the formulation and implementation of environmental related policies, poor environmental education as well as delay by the government in formulating a comprehensive national policy on environment. These constitute a clog in the wheel of effective implementation of environmental laws in Nigeria which Akwa Ibom State is a part.
Environmental Protection Policies in Nigeria such as Environmental Impact Assessment Act, Petroleum Act, CAP P10, Laws of Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004; Associated Gas Reinjection Act, CAP 20, LFN 2004; Oil Pipeline Act; Hydrocarbon Oil Refineries Act, CAP H5, LFN 2004 among others have not engendered the much desired result of protecting Nigeria’s environment. In Akwa Ibom State for instance, the environmental programmes and policies enunciated by the past and present governments for environmental protection often fail due to wrong regulation and implementation by the government and its agencies. Government’s sound and objective guidelines in the oil and allied industries over decades to control the problem of environmental pollution have not been strictly complied with by oil operators. Hence, the region is still confronted with severe environmental problems ranging from oil spillage, gas flaring, soil erosion and water pollution among others. Regrettably, rather than handling the problem of environmental pollution through oil spillage and gas flaring as a fundamental moral issue, the problem which has caused over 60 percent of deteriorating health and death of the inhabitants of the area is politicized, in contrast to the global best practices.
Nigeria’s centralized petroleum industry governance framework leaves the oil bearing communities with no constitutional or statutory rights, voice, or even consent on oil and gas industries project in their communities. Moreover, there have been a few instances of badly designed or poorly maintained oil facilities; and weak government investment in critical infrastructure. All these factors have combined to endanger the rich and unique, but fragile ecosystem of the Niger Delta.
Therefore, the problem at hand and the pertinent question posed is: Why have the Nigerian government vis-a-vis oil companies not professed sufficient efforts and good intents to protect the environment of the Niger Delta, thus allowing the region to suffer environmental degradation despite her contributions to the nation’s wealth? It is against the above backdrop that this paper intends to identify and examine the various environmental problems associated with oil exploration and the challenges of implementing environmental protection policies in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region using Akwa Ibom State as a reference point.
2. Conceptual Clarification
2.1 Oil Exploration
The term ‘exploration’, in its broad sense, refers to mining or exploitation of mineral resources from the land and sea using technological know-how. According to the Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (1991), as highlighted by Mba (1995), there are three (3) categories of mineral resources namely fuel mineral, metallic mineral and industrial minerals and their exploration processes differ. Fuel mineral exploration activities involve exploration, extraction, processing and transportation as well as storage and consumption of petroleum, natural gas, coal, lignite and uranium.
Moss (2008) defined Hydrocarbon (oil and gas exploration) as the search by petroleum geologist and geophysicists for hydrocarbon deposit beneath the earth’s surface, such as oil and natural gas. It is a common terminology applied to that portion of the petroleum industry which is responsible for exploring for and discovering new crude oil and gas fields, drilling wells and bringing the products to the surface. Similarly, Janice (2002) defined oil exploration as a process of searching for crude oil in order to identify and extract the product from the earth surface, be it on land or in water.
For Harrison (2001), oil exploration is the process of exploring for oil and gas resources in the earth’s sedimentary basin. Accordingly, the process relies on the methodical application of technology by creative geoscientist that leads to viable prospects to drill and the actual drilling of these prospects with exploratory and appraisal wells. Exploration operations include: aerial surveys, geographical studies, core testing and drilling of test wells. If the exploration carried out has not discovered encouraging indications of petroleum in the area, the leases held in the area will most likely be dropped.
Ukpatu (2001) posited that surface features such as oil seeps, natural gas seeps, pockmarks (underwater craters caused by escaping gas) provide basic evidence of hydrocarbon generation (be it shallow or deep in the earth). However, most exploration depends on highly sophisticated technology to detect and determine the extent of the deposit using exploration geophysics. Areas thought to contain hydrocarbons are initially subjected to a gravity survey, magnetic survey, and passive seismic or regional seismic reflection survey to detect large scale features of the sub-surface geology. Features of interest (known as leads) are subjected to more detailed seismic surveys which work on the principle of the time it takes for reflected sound waves to travel through matter (rock) varying densities and using the process of depth conversation to create a profile of the substructure. Finally, when a prospect has been identified, evaluated and adjudged as meeting the oil company’s selection criteria, an exploration well is drilled in an attempt to conclusively determine the presence or absence of oil or gas in the area.
2.2 Environmental Protection Policies
Public policy in the words of Dibie (2000) connotes the actions of individuals or groups in authority to implement their decisions. These policies are attempts by relevant actors within a political system to cope with and to transform their environment by deliberate measures which may involve the commitment of physical or symbolic resources. Anderson (2003) stressed that public policies in a modern complex society are ubiquitous. They confer merits and demerits, causes pleasure, irritation and pains and collectively have important consequences for our well-being and happiness as well as constituting a significant portion of the environment. He further argued that a policy is a purposive course of action followed by an actor or set of actors in dealing with a problem or matter of concern.
Flowing from the above, Onoinbholo (2011) conceptualized the term ‘environmental policy’ to refer to the integrated rules and principles, that is, legal norms, the purpose of which is to achieve environmental conservation. The National Policy on the Environment is basically a programme of action rooted in a conceptual frame with the linkages between environmental problems on the one hand and their causes, effects and solutions on the other hand. Under Nigerian law, environmental law includes all the sources of Nigerian laws that impact the environment. As a federation, there are numerous sources of environmental laws including the Constitution, International treaties, state laws, local government laws, and common law.
To Essien (2005), environmental protection policies are those policies that regulate the impact of human activities on the environment. Environmental policies cover a broad range of activities that affect air, water, land, flora or fauna. Also included are laws that relate to protection of animals and plants, planning for the use and development of land, mining, exploration and extractive industries, forestry, pollution, fishing, waste management, marine life, agriculture and farm management. In the same vein, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, as amplified by Adilieje, (2011) categorized Environmental Protection Policies/Laws as a collective term describing the network of treaties, statutes, regulations, common and customary laws addressing the effects of human activities on the natural environment. The core environmental law regimes address environmental pollution. A related but distinct set of regulating regimes, strongly influenced by environmental legal principle, focus on the management of specific natural issues such as forests, minerals, or fisheries. Other areas, such as Environmental Impact Assessment, may not fit neatly into either category, but are nonetheless important components of environmental laws.
It can therefore be summarized that environmental policies are collective body of rules and regulations, orders and statutes, constraints and allowances that are all concerned with the maintenance and protection of the natural environment of a country. It is the legal basis for measuring active accountability and liability of environmental crimes or failure to comply with legal provisions on economic activities in an environment.
3. Theoretical Framework
This paper adopted the theory of Relative Deprivation to explain the injustice, marginalization, social deviance and grievances posed by the inhabitants of the oil bearing communities in Niger Delta as a result of inhuman treatment and environmental devastation caused by oil operators in the region. Relative deprivation theory was developed by Samuel Scouffer in 1939 to explain social movement. American sociologist, Robert K. Merton was among the first to adopt the concept of relative deprivation in Social Sciences with a view to understanding “social deviance” by adopting Emile Durkheim’s concept of ‘anomie’ as a reference point. Relative deprivation, according to Lain and Heather (2001), is the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes oneself to be entitled. It refers to the discontent a people feel when they have less of what they expected when comparing their positions with others around them. As argued by Dode (2014), unequal socio-economic development of the various ethnic groups in Nigeria has led to inter-ethic and intra-ethnic conflicts in the country. Once there is an uneven development in some facets of human existence within a given society, the different groups will definitely become immersed in the competition for goods of modernity which invariably leads to a conflictual situation.
Thus, in the light of the theory, the Niger Delta people consider themselves as being deprived of their excellent fishing grounds, good health, as well as agricultural production which was their main activity before the advent of crude oil in the region. In some oil producing communities where agricultural production is still in place, much yield are not recorded due to the damages of farmlands and produce occasioned by the activities of oil Multinational Corporations.
Obviously, most writers on the Niger Delta highlight poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment, and rural-urban migration as the consequences of oil spillage and gas flaring in the region. Many inhabitants of the host communities in the Niger Delta have migrated to other regions, seeking for the necessary ways of surviving. The people of the region where the nation derives greater percentage of her natural resources have persistently complained that adequate attention has not been given to them in the areas infrastructural development, employment, social amenities, etc. despite the environmental devastation caused by oil operators in the region. Hence, both government and the oil operators seem to pay no or less attention to the harm caused by oil production on the environment and agricultural production in the region. These, however, has become sources of agony, pains, disillusionment for the people of the region, thus resulting to frequent agitations, protests, and struggles against perceived injustice, inequality, marginalization, and neglect. In some cases, the protests has been so broad, intense and militantly inclined that between 2000 and 2016, the region slipped into insurrection and acts of militancy.
4. Environmental Protection Policies in Nigeria
Conscious of the fact that environmental pollution may continue to torment Nigerians for years to come if drastic measures to checkmate flaring of gasses, oil spillage, reckless dumping of refuse and building on water ways are not taken, the Nigerian government has at various time formulated and implemented various environmental policies aimed at protecting the environment and achieve sustainable development as well as regulate human activities in the affected areas. Oftentimes human activities engender unfriendly environmental practices which degrade the environment thereby reducing the capacity of the earth to support life. Given the importance of environmental policy formulation and implementation in Nigeria, the seemingly intractable environmental challenges call for a review of the environmental policies in the country. The question that boggles the mind most Niger Deltans is: Why, in spite of the environmental policies, the Nigerian environment, particularly in the Niger Delta region is degraded? In an attempt to answer this question, this paper analyses some environmental policies within the Nigerian context, namely, the Hydrocarbon Oil Refineries Act, Cap H5 Law of Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004; Oil in Navigable Water Act, Cap 06 LFN 2004; Petroleum Act, Cap P10, LFN 2004 and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act, Cap N68, LFN 2004. The choice of these policies was informed by the prevalent unwholesome environmental practices in the oil producing areas which continues to affect the lives of the people.
(a) Hydrocarbon Oil Refineries Act, Cap H5, LFN 2004: This Act is concerned with the licensing and control of refining activities in the country. Relevant sections of the Act include the following:
i. Section 1 which prohibits any unlicensed refining of hydrocarbon oils in places other than a refinery.
ii. Section 9 which require refineries to maintain pollution prevention facilities.
(b) Oil in Navigable Waters Act, Cap 06, LFN 2004: The oil in Navigable Waters Act is concerned with the discharge of oil from ships. The following sections are significant:
i. Section 1(1) prohibits the discharge of oil from Nigerian ship into territorial waters or shorelines.
ii. Section 3 makes it an offence for ship master, occupier of land, or operator of apparatus for transferring oil to discharge oil into Nigerian Waters. It also requires the installation of anti-pollution equipment in ships.
iii. Section 6 makes punishable such discharge with a fine of N200, 000 (two hundred thousand naira).
iv. Section 7 requires the records of occasions of oil discharge.
(c) Petroleum Act, Cap P10, LFN 2004: The Petroleum Act and its Regulations remain the primary legislation on oil and gas activities in Nigeria. It promotes public safety and environmental protection. Specifically, section 9(1) (b) grants authority to make regulations on operations for the prevention of air and water pollution.
(d) Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act, Cap N68, LFN 2004: This Act is concerned with using allocated funds to tackle ecological problems arising from the exploration of oil minerals in the Niger Delta. Section 7(1) (b) empowers the Commission to plan and to implement projects for the sustainable development of the Niger Delta in the areas of transportation, health, agriculture, fisheries, urban and housing development, among other needs. The Commission, under this Act, has a duty to liaise with oil and gas companies and advice stakeholders on the control of oil spillage, gas flaring and other related form of environmental pollution.
Specifically, in Akwa Ibom State the environmental legislations include the Environmental Sanitation Laws, which focuses on environmental sanitation and protection. It punishes, in varying degrees, acts like street obstruction, failure to clean sidewalks, uncovered refuse bins and improper wastes disposal. Section 12 of this law makes it an offence to cause or permit a discharge of raw or untreated human wastes into any public drain, water channels or farmlands. Contravention of this law is punishable with fine not exceeding N100, 000.000 (one hundred thousand naira) and in the case of company, a fine not exceeding N500, 000.000 (five hundred thousand naira).
5. Environmental Laws Regulatory Authorities in Nigeria
There are many environmental law enforcement agencies that assist in the implementation of environmental laws in Nigeria. Prominent among them are examined below:
a. National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA)
This is the major enforcement agency in Nigeria which is required by law to take charge of the protection and development of the environmental technology, including initiation of policy in relation to environmental research and technology and specifically to advise the Federal Government on natural environmental policies and priorities and on scientific and technological activities affecting the environment.
The agency is empowered to enforce compliance with laws, guidelines, policies and standards on environmental matters; carry out activities necessary for the performance of its functions; prohibits processes and use of equipment or technology that undermine environmental quality; conduct field follow-up of compliance with set standards and take procedures prescribed by law against any violator; conduct public investigations on pollution and the degradation of natural resources; develop environmental monitoring networks and do such other things other than in the oil and gas sector as are necessary for the efficient performance of its functions. In specific terms, the agency ensures compliance with national regulations such as and in relation to:
(a) National Effluent Limitation Regulations:
i. Section 1(1) requires industrial facilities to have anti-pollution equipment for the treatment of effluent.
ii. Section 3(2) requires submission to the agency of a composition of the industry’s treated effluents.
(b) National Environment Protection (Pollution Abatement in Industries and Facilities Producing Waste) Regulations (1991):
i. Section 1 prohibits the release of hazardous substances into the air, land or water of Nigeria beyond approved limits set by the Agency.
ii. Sections 4 and 5 require industries to report a discharge, if it occurs and submit a comprehensive list of chemicals used for production, to the Agency.
(c) Federal Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Regulations (1991):
i. Section 1 makes it an obligation for industries to identify solid hazardous waste which are dangerous to public health and the environment and to research into possibility of their recycling.
ii. Section 20 makes notification of any discharge to the Agency mandatory.
iii. Section 108 stipulates penalties for contravening any regulation.
b. National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA)
The Federal Government established this agency as an institutional framework to implement the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan which is a blueprint/manual for checking oil spill through containment, recovery and remediation/restoration.
c. Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA)
This agency is committed to marine pollution and prevention control, search and rescue, sabotage enforcement, training and certification of seafarers.
d. National Orientation Agency (NOA)
The National Orientation Agency helps in ensuring that Federal Government environmental programmes and policies are better understood by the general public. It enlightens the general public on the pros and cons of environmental policies of the Federal Government and interprets these policies in the languages best understood by the people.
e. The Nigerian Police
Nigeria Police officers are empowered to ensure, monitor and enforce the laws on environmental activities in Nigeria particularly with respect to the Harmful Waste Act. They can conduct a warrantless search on any building, land, carrier, aircraft or any other thing whatsoever which they have reasons to believe is related to the commission of a crime under this act. As a result of this, the Nigerian Police officers cooperate with NESREA to carry out its mandate to enforce environmental laws.
f. State/ Local Government Environmental Protection Agency
The federating units constitute the environmental theatre where the “substantial degree of activities” is conducted. They play significant roles in the enforcement of environmental laws. As stated earlier, FEPA (now NESREA) is thus the supreme reference authority in environmental matters in Nigeria although State and Local Government authorities and institutions including their environmental departments are still expected to play their traditional roles of maintaining and enforcing standards as well as fixing penalties, charges, taxes and incentives to achieve certain environmental goals.
With the setting up of FEPA, the States’ Environmental Protection Agencies (SEPAS) were set up. These were complemented by the Local Government Areas (LGAs) Environmental Protection Agencies.
6. Impacts of Oil Exploration in Oil Producing Communities of Akwa Ibom State
The intensive extraction of natural oil resources has had deleterious environmental and socio-economic impacts for Akwa Ibom State. For the purpose of this paper, these are grouped into three interrelated headings, namely:
a. Destruction of Farmlands
Oil exploration and production in oil producing communities of Akwa Ibom State have rendered the agricultural sector unprofitable which in the past was the major source of livelihood for the people in the region. It has also led to adverse environmental impact on the soil, forest and water of the host communities in a variety of ways. During oil extraction and production various harmful and toxic organic compounds are introduced into the natural environment which in turn affects agriculture resulting to drastic decline in output in both fishing and farming produce (Gabriel, 2007).
Moreover, crops planted in the host communities are prone to stunted growth because the land has been poisoned by oil activities. Some of the farmers are rendered landless and forced to migrate to other rural communities, hence, putting pressure on scarce fertile land. This migration of the rural displaced farmers in Akwa Ibom State has led to a significant percentage of the local inhabitants remaining in cyclical poverty and penury. Furthermore, it has led to increasing urban blight as more displaced rural inhabitants flood the urban areas in search of non-existent jobs. The mangrove forest which once served as a source of fuel for the indigenous people and the area’s rich ecosystem is now unable to survive the toxicity of its habitats (Etuk, 2004).
The host communities have suffered several social losses due to intensive oil exploration in the area. This resulted in the displacement of the people from their fishing settlement areas to unknown areas, resulting in the loss of their fishing grounds to oil companies. Specifically, in 2001 the inhabitants of Udum-Unenne fishing settlement in Eastern Obolo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State were forced out of their community without compensation for the affected fishermen and neither were they properly resettled. This caused a great deal of hardship to the people as some family members lost their relations due to the forced movement (Atairet, 2005).
Also, oil spills have had adverse effects on marine life, which has become heavily contaminated, in turn having negative consequences for human health from consumption of contaminated seafood. During oil spills, the process of photosynthesis which enhances plant diversity is impaired since the process is reduced due to the fact that spilled crude oil has a high absorbance property so when the crude oil spreads on the surface of the leaves, the latter finds it difficult to photosynthesize and thus die off, leading to biodiversity loss.
Furthermore, there are high degree of marine erosion menace due to the over dredging of shallow creeks in the area to allow for big oil vessels. This is threatening to the lives and properties of the host communities within Akwa Ibom State especially in the rainy season when the water overflows its banks. As a result, host communities within the state are being washed into the sea and the Atlantic Ocean (Douglas, 2009).
The above observation connotes that frequent oil spillages in the region as a result of poor implementation of environmental policies has completely destroyed the very basis of the economies of the local communities which host the oil industries. Activities like farming have been completely paralyzed as the farmlands have been polluted. Crops planted in the host communities are diseased prone because the land has been poisons through oil related activities. The ecological devastation in the oil producing communities occasioned by frequent oil exploration and production has degraded most agricultural lands in the area and has turned the hitherto productive areas into wastelands. With increasing soil infertility due to the destruction of soil micro-organisms and dwindling agricultural productivity, farmers have been forced to abandon their lands to seek non-existent alternative means of livelihood.