By Amos Igbebe
Oil and gas producing communities in Delta State have blamed continuous gas flaring in the Niger Delta region on the federal government and Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), insisting that the continuous collection of fines from the oil firms without implementing the laws against gas flaring was a challenge to ending the menace in the region.
The oil communities made their points known when three Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) led by Faith Nwadishi of Koyenum Immallah Foundation, organized a sensitization visit to two communities of Obodougwa and Ebedei both in Ndokwa West and Ukwuani Local Government Areas of Delta State.
The communities which gave lurid details of the impact of gas flaring on all aspects of their lives including health, farming, water and the environment, maintained that the federal government must stop the collection of fines from the oil firms and implement the laws against gas flaring or employ the fines collected from the firms to develop the communities in the gas flaring areas.
The community elders, who anticipated a reprieve following the commitment of the groups to champion their cause, vowed to join hands with the Civil Society groups to fight the oil cabals and bring gas flaring to a perpetual end in their communities.
Representatives of Obodougwa and Ebedei told the team that various petitions have been written to the Presidency, the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources and the Delta State Ministry of Oil and Gas but no response has been made, noting that when they confront the oil firms, the companies had defended their continuous gas flare on the premise that they have paid fines to the federal government and the DPR.
Leaders of the communities who feel helpless as their representatives in government both at the National and State Assemblies have failed to make recommendations to ending the menace, who may be ostensibly benefitting from the oil largesse, described the situation they find themselves as painful with solution likely still in the woods.
“Our years of farming have nothing to show for it. Our maize and cassava are not growing. We perceive the pains all over our bodies. We have emaciated because of the smoke that goes into the air and falls on us. We plant yam and corn, they don’t survive, even cassava has failed to yield. You see the stem standing but nothing underneath it. Our children will not survive because of this thing.
“Many of us are not seeing well because of the smoke emanating from this gas. This thing is killing our people and no one is helping us to stop it. We have written petitions to the federal government but no response from them. The most recent was sent last year October. When we go to the oil companies they will tell us they have paid fines to the federal government, we become helpless. Then they will tell us to stay action”, Pastor Olise Benedict, Obodougwa Community Secretary, lamented.
Faith Nwadishi, who led the sensitization team on the danger of continuous gas flaring, said concerted efforts have been made to make government and oil firms responsible to their commitment to ending gas flaring but government had rather resorted to collecting fines while gas flaring goes on uninhibited in the region.
She said governments at all levels must wake up to their responsibilities “because there is a law banning gas flaring. A law has been passed which criminalises gas flaring. But rather than implementing the law, the federal government goes around collecting fines from the oil firms. And the oil firms see it cheaper to pay fines than end gas flaring”.
Nwadishi further said that “right from day one, a company is not expected to flare gas the way they flare it in Nigeria. They are only supposed to do operational flare but they have refused to obey the law because the government that passed the law is not willing to implement the law it passed. They collect the fines and they do not return it to develop the communities. We cannot have a law that says gas flaring is evil and we have a government that encourages firms to continue gas flaring and collect fines from them”.
Also, Dr. Michael Uzoigwe of Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reform (FOSTER) and Rev. Edward Obi of national Coalition on Gas Flaring and Oil Spills in the Niger Delta (NACGOND) gave various details of the impact of gas flaring and called for concerted efforts in the fight against gas flaring in the Niger Delta region.