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LESSONS FOR NIGERIA FROM GULF OF MEXICO OIL SPILL

By NBF News

The recent rupturing of BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico spewing millions of barrels of crude oil into the sea which is now spreading to the beaches around the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coastal states of the United States of America, USA has resulted in what has been described as the world's worst oil disaster as millions of people across the world now have their eyes and ears glued to satellite and local television stations as well as the global press media monitoring the outcome of the containment effort which commenced since April 28, when the incident occurred.

In a country where sensitivity to the environment is very high, leakage of an estimated twenty thousand [20,000] barrels of oil daily into the sea for over forty [40] days would certainly do unimaginable damage to the ecosystem with catastrophic consequences on fishing, tourism and other related economic activities of the inhabitants of the four states contiguous to the Gulf of Mexico in particular and the USA as a whole.

Expectedly, the oil slick has become a political issue as pundits are beginning to blame president Barrack Obama for a perceived slow response, buttressing their point by drawing a parallel between the current unfortunate incident and the Hurricane Katrina disaster which occurred in New Orleans area during the tenure of immediate past president George W Bush with collateral damage to the electoral fortune of the Republican party which lost the presidency to Obama and the Democratic party.

While BP has expended funds in excess of one billion dollars trying to plug the leak and at the same time stop the heavy crude from spreading to the beaches, president Obama has personally visited the region thrice in less than one month to access the damage and decide on whether to continue to have faith in BP's ability to manage the crisis or direct government agencies to take control. Besides the colossal costs so far incurred in the efforts to cap the leakage, BP Chief Executive Officer, Tony Hayward and Managing Director, Bob Dudley have been on prime time television apologizing profusely to American people for the unfortunate incident.

Already, US environment, maritime and health agencies have deployed some of the most sophisticated equipment to the disaster areas in a bid to detect the presence or otherwise of toxins like 'Plume' which are invisible to the eyes but capable of hurting marine life. This is in stark contrast with the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, where there has also been a recent oil spill in Ogoni area, although in smaller proportion when compared to the USA incident.

Perhaps inspired by the attention being paid to the leakage in the deep sea bed of the Gulf of Mexico, Environment minister, Mr John Odey recently assured Ogoni people that the spill will be cleaned up soon but no apologies have come from the oil company that owns the ruptured pipeline, probably because none has taken responsibility and no immediate remedial action has been taken towards mitigating the damage to the ecology and economic activities of the people who are originally fishermen but now remain unemployed and prone to criminality in the absence of legitimate means of survival.

Now, compare the sense of urgency in rapidly responding with remedial measures and the admission of responsibility demonstrated by both BP and USA government in the Gulf of Mexico to the situation in the Niger Delta of Nigeria where oil spillage without commensurate response by constituted authorities and it will be easy to see why the discovery of crude oil in Nigeria has been referred to by some critics as a curse rather than blessing to the host communities hence the unfortunate incidents of militancy in the region.

In the USA or anywhere else in the world where oil/gas is being explored, the prosperity of oil firms spill over to their host communities or the region in which they operate hence the state of Texas, home to most of the oil wells on shore, is relatively more prosperous than other states like Arizona that is not naturally endowed with oil and gas. Similarly, in the UK, Aberdeen and other cities where oil/gas wells are located are also relatively more prosperous than the city of Lancaster and by the same token in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, Abu Dhabi, location of the oil well is equally superbly rich hence its ability to bail out Dubai from its current international debt with a ten [$10 billion] dollar loan. Clearly, the economic buoyancy of the cities listed above confirms that oil firms make conscious efforts to enhance their host communities in those climes as opposed to wrecking them as has been the case in Nigeria.

As a fall out of the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, the inhabitants of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama whose fishing and tourism businesses are negatively impacted by the incident have been justifiably expressing anger against BP through street protests and boycott of BP products and services. This is despite the damage control measures so far adopted by both the BP and the USA government, but with assurances which have been serving as healing balm on frayed nerves, tempers are still under control but not so for the Niger Delta where unbridled exploitation has been ongoing owing to reckless exploration practices resulting in the pollution of rivers and tributaries thereby denying the indigenes of their right to continue with their fishing trade and the flaring of gas which results in a 'rain' of soot on corrugated iron roof dwellings of the inhabitants leading to homelessness and associated calamities.

Since self preservation is the first rule of nature, aggrieved indigenes of the Niger Delta like their Gulf of Mexico counterparts resort to protesting by disrupting oil firms operations which are met with violent reprisal by the oil firms and government agents instead of looking into their grievances. This is what triggered crime in the Niger Delta which degenerated from sabotage of oil installations to kidnapping of expatriate oil firms workers and thus almost strangulated the economy of Nigeria which relies on oil/gas for about ninety five [95%] percent of its foreign exchange earnings. That it took a simple initiative of establishing a dedicated ministry for the Niger Delta and granting of amnesty to the former militants by the present government to restore sanity to the region ,speaks volume about the capacity and ability of our leaders to think critically with a view to solving problems through sound policy formulation and implementation.

In a third world country like Nigeria where democracy is at infancy hence people are afraid of government instead of government being afraid of the people which is the norm in a matured democracy like the USA, nobody is expecting president Good-Luck Jonathan to invite the families of oil disaster victims in the Niger Delta to Aso Rock for apologies or condolences as president Barrack Obama has done with the families of the eleven oil men who lost their lives in the Gulf of Mexico inferno. Nevertheless, as a country aspiring to be one of the twenty leading economies in the world by the year 2020, it is not utopian for the victims of oil spill in the Niger Delta to expect more empathy and positive response from the oil companies who are wrecking havoc on their lives and a government that derives 95% of its foreign revenue from oil sourced in the Niger Delta.

What makes International Oil Companies, IOCs operating in Nigeria appear to be shying away from their responsibilities of keeping the environment in which they operate safe and secure for the sustenance of the inhabitants of the area while they are alive to their responsibility in the middle East, Europe and USA as reflected in the current efforts by BP in the Gulf of Mexico?

Onyibe, a development/political strategist sent this piece from Abuja.