Saving Ubeji Community in Delta State From Devastating Impacts of Gas Flaring

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

If President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led federal government is desirous of ending gas flaring in the country, then, the administration should consider as urgent, taking both practical and pragmatic steps to save the people of Ubeji Community, a sleepy satellite community located around the Warri petrochemical company in Warri South local government area of Delta State, from the choking soot which reportedly emanates from the towering chimney that pierces the skyline of the community, a facility reportedly owned by a famous gas company in the country.

Again, if the Governor of Delta State, Sheriff Oborevwori, recognises that the provision of security and pursuit of the economic welfare of the citizens are the only two constitutional responsibilities which all leaders must achieve, which the current circumstances in Ubeji community, one of the Governor’s mandate communities clearly and woefully demonstrate the opposite, the state governor needs to take urgent and coordinated action aimed at resolving the ongoing unacceptable pollution arising from gas flaring reportedly by the organisation.

Aside from the awareness that the community has been suffering from the gas flaring pollution for decades and the entire environment and ecosystem destroyed because the flaring is an everyday action as it never goes off at all, a visit to the community reveals a people faced with increased socioeconomic difficulties with no record of survival if something is not done urgently to save the situation.

Though the community has not vanished physically, many of the residents have been sacked by the pollution and businesses within the space destroyed. Some families have been decimated and dispersed.

Those that chose to stay back in the community have been ‘absorbed’ by the pollution. They no longer enjoy economic, social and healthy progress that flows from good governance and social cohesion; their lives are now fraught with uncertainty!

“The flaring from the company is severely disturbing us. In my house, just like elsewhere in the neighbourhood, you will see the black carbon smeared all over the place. The heat from that facility is also disturbing us. It’s a never-ending cycle. We paint our houses, and it blackens again. How long can we keep up?” a resident of Agberuku Crescent in Ubeji Community queried.

If the above description is a challenge, the next comment from another resident amply qualifies as a crisis.

“My wife too happens to be a high BP (blood pressure) patient as a result of this gas flaring. When I took her to the hospital, the doctor asked me if I stay in an environment with questionable activities and I answered in the affirmative. Consequently, he advised that I should relocate her away from there and that was how my family left.

“For about four or five years now that they have been away from here, none of them has called to report any health challenge. When they are here, you will find the soot even in the nostrils of the children when they wake up in the morning. Everything is coated with soot.

“Our health is at stake here. We live in constant fear of what this pollution is doing to us and our children. Something must be done.

 “I have stopped drinking water from my house. I strictly take bottled water which I carry everywhere I go.

“There was a time I kept experiencing a runny stomach. I kept going to the hospital, not for malaria, but for different health issues. Then, the doctor asked that I should check what I eat as I might be frequently poisoned.

“So, I decided to check my kitchen and discovered that every wipe on my utensil; pots, cups, spoons, plates and surfaces was filled with soot. This meant that everything we eat is soot.

“There was a time I was stooling for three months straight. As you can see, I have a runny nose which has refused to abate. It is always like this all year long; from January to December. To breathe is a problem.

“If I cook food, I have to cover it immediately because if I don’t… Even the lead of the pots, when you wipe it, you will see the black carbon.

“So, we are not safe. Sometimes, we see some strange reactions on our skins. We go the extra mile to treat ourselves and seek medical attention. We are indeed strong as Africans, but this is beyond us. I keep reacting to a certain allergy. I keep sneezing and even if you come back in the next three months, I am still sneezing.

“So, I am on a steady dose of Vitamin C. It got to a point that I thought that the Nigerian brands were not effective, I had to bring in Vitamin C from Canada but it didn’t change anything,” another resident said.

Indeed, while Nigeria and Nigerians persevere to encounter gas flaring in the country despite the enormous health and economic woes inherent, this piece on its part believed and still believes that the time has come for the Federal Government to ensure that operators in the nation’s crude oil and sector comply fully with all the enabling laws in the country prohibiting gas flaring.

The reason is not farfetched.

Ubeji Community in Warri, Delta state is, but just one out of hundreds of communities in the region suffering a similar fate. There are countless examples.

A tour by boat of creeks and coastal communities of Warri South West and Warri North Local Government Areas of Delta State will amply clarify this position. Another journey by road from Warri via Eku-Abraka to Agbor, and a similar trip from Warri through Ughelli down to Ogwuashi Ukwu in Aniocha Local Government of the state, shows an environment where people cannot properly breathe as it is littered with gas flaring points.

Again, the federal government must ensure that justice is delivered to the good people of Ubeji Community and others within the region because gas flaring is an action taken by the operators based on economic gains as against human health and safety considerations.

Take, as an illustration, from what experts are saying, the major reason for flaring of gasses is that when crude oil is extracted from onshore and offshore oil wells, it brings with it raw natural gas to the surface and where natural gas transportation, pipelines, and infrastructure are lacking, like in the case of Nigeria, this gas is instead burned off or flared as a waste product as this is the cheapest option. This has been going on since the 1950s when crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantities in Nigeria.

Aside from the economic and health losses arising from gas flaring, another important reason why the federal government must rise to this clarion call, using the Ubeji Community as a case study, is that for a very long time, the nation Nigeria has been on this particular case without tangible result.

Successive federal governments made what could be best described as a mere declaration of intent without the political will to enforce such laws.

In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration enacted Gas Flare Prohibition and Punishment), an act that among other things made provisions to prohibit gas flaring in any oil and gas production operation, blocks, fields, onshore or offshore, and gas facility treatment plants in Nigeria.

On Monday, September 2, 2018, the then Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, while speaking at the Buyers’ Forum/stakeholders’ Engagement organised by the Gas Aggregation Company of Nigeria in Abuja, said, “I have said to the Department of Petroleum Resources, beginning from next year (2019 emphasis added), we are going to get quite frantic about this (ending gas flaring in Nigeria) and companies that cannot meet with extended periods –the issue is not how much you can pay in terms of fines for gas flaring, the issue is that you would not produce. We need to begin to look at the foreclosing of licenses.”

That threat has since ended in the frames as the Minister did little or nothing to get the threat actualized.

The administration also launched the now abandoned National Gas Flare Commercialization Programme (NGFCP), a programme, according to the federal government aimed at achieving the flares-out agenda/zero routine gas flaring in Nigeria by 2020.

Again, like a regular trademark, it failed.

Away from Buhari’s administration, in 1979, the then federal government, in a similar style, came up with the Associated Gas Re-injection Act which summarily prohibited gas flaring and also fixed the flare-out deadline for January 1, 1984. It failed in line with the leadership philosophy in the country.

Similar feeble and deformed attempts were made in 2003, 2006, and 2008.

In the same style and span, precisely on July 2, 2009, the Nigerian Senate passed a Gas Flaring (Prohibition and Punishment) Bill 2009 (SB 126) into Law fixing the flare-out deadline for December 31, 2010- a date that slowly but inevitably failed. Not stopping at this point, the FG made another attempt in this direction by coming up with the Petroleum Industry Bill which fixed the flare-out deadline for 2012. The same Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) was protracted till 2021 when it completed its circle and was subsequently signed into law by President Buhari, as the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA).

Despite this vicious movement to save the industry, the environment and its people, the Niger Delta challenge remains.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) for Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected]/08032725374

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