The Group is considering a legal option to stop the IOC’s divestment from N’Delta

A human rights group, ‘We The People’, has said it is considering legal options to hold international oil companies accountable for the massive environmental degradation caused by their activities in the Niger Delta over the past seventy years.

The organization said the move became necessary following the IOCs’ rush to abandon their onshore activities for deep-sea activities currently called divestment.

Executive Director of ‘We The People’, Ken Henshaw, stated this during a legal roundtable on disinvestment of oil companies held in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.

Henshaw said the roundtable was intended to encourage experts in the environment, the legal system, the media and civil society organizations to provide legal options to hold the IOCs accountable for the years of environmental devastation in the Niger Delta before they are allowed to begin to what many have described as the criminal flight of oil multinationals.

He noted that it would be difficult to hold the companies responsible for the pollution of the region caused by their activities once they leave the country’s shores. Therefore, they needed to be addressed to take responsibility for their activities.

Henshaw stated: “Since 2020 to 2021, many international oil companies that have been operating in the Niger Delta for almost 70 years have all started selling their assets. Agip sells to Oando, Shell sells to Renaissance Energy, ExxonMobil sells to Seplat. . They are selling these assets and the players taking over these assets are indigenous companies.

“We think this is a real problem in the sense that we are not sure of the chances or ability to hold these companies accountable if they leave.

“We all know that the extraction of crude oil and gas has caused problems at various levels. Normally, gas has been flaring for almost 70 years, while oil has been leaking routinely for almost 60 years, causing serious ecological damage as well as damage to the health of the population. It has made their fishing and occupation unviable.

“So after 70 years we are simply saying that we need to assess the extent of the negative impacts of oil extraction and place liability and responsibility where liability and responsibility should be.

“We are simply asking at this meeting: What are the legal options available to hold these companies accountable?”

During the keynote speech, Prof. Ibiba Worika, a specialist in Petroleum Law and International Law and Policy at the University of Port Harcourt, urged the Federal Government to exercise restraint in ratifying the divestment of assets of the oil companies.

Worika advised the government to ensure that companies address historic pollution and other environmental issues in the oil-rich region before they are allowed to leave because people will be at the receiving end.

He said: “For us here in the Niger Delta, IOC disinvestment is something that we are actually likely to be on the receiving end; our environment has essentially been plundered over the years due to decades of oil and gas exploration and development. and historic pollution has never been addressed by the oil companies or the government, and unfortunately our communities are left alone to deal with it.

“The question is: Should these oil and gas giants be able to divest their assets and simply walk away, without addressing historic pollution and other environmental problems?

“I don’t think that would be fair. I think the federal government should show restraint in giving its approval so that we can have a roundtable discussion where these concerns can really be voiced and let’s see what can be done about it. address these concerns.”

Worika added that if the government fails to do the needful at the earliest, civil society organizations in the Niger Delta would have no option but to take legal action against the Federal Government and the IOCs.

He insisted: “I have never heard of any case where a local government area or a state government took it upon itself to sue an oil company for and on behalf of the communities. I haven’t seen that, but we still have the oil and gas exploration revenues from all these communities.

“If this does not happen, I fear we will have to take legal action prior to divestment, which will prevent both the Federal Government and the oil companies involved from divesting until these matters are investigated, much more approximately, and of course remediation. and compensation packages are being arranged for the communities.”

On his part, former Commissioner for Environment in Bayelsa State, Iniruo Wills, said the blame for the endless environmental pollution in the region should lie with political leaders such as governors, ministers and senators from the region, whom he accused of have supported. pollution of the environment.

Wills, an environmental advocate, claimed that political leaders have allowed the trend to continue for monetary benefits.

He said: “Some of us are surprised that no state government in the Niger Delta is doing anything serious about reducing pollution in the region. So this is an opportunity to appeal to individuals. I don’t like fiction or ghosts, but individuals like you and me, who hold the offices, have the authority needed to do something.

“Some of them are in Abuja, Abuja is too far away, we are in the Niger Delta, who are people in the Niger Delta that we, the people, have appointed as our gatekeepers to defend us, to defend our territories, like the governors? So the kind of pollution and other environmental hazards that we have been singing about for fifty to seventy years continues, not just because of the people of Abuja or the oil companies.

“It is because someone or people who are governors, senators or ministers of Niger Delta oil have refused to do anything about it.

“If pollution continues in Rivers State at this time, it is because Governor Siminalayi Fubara does not consider it a priority. If it continues in Bayelsa State, it would be because Governor Duoyi Diri does not consider it a priority.

“The day a governor in the Niger Delta believes that this is a danger to his people and he starts using the full weight of his executive power and resources to tackle it, this madness will come to an end.”