THE Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, is to chair an inquiry into the human and environmental impact of oil spills in Bayelsa State, Nigeria.
Bayelsa is an oil-rich region of Nigeria, which is Africa’s largest oil producer. More than 40 million litres of crude oil is spilled annually in the Niger delta.
Dr Sentamu, who is to chair the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission, set up by the state governor, Seriake Dickson, said on Wednesday: “This Commission will investigate the human and environmental impact of multinational oil company activity and is crucial to the prosperous future of the people of Bayelsa and their environment, Nigeria and, hopefully, to other oil-producing nations.”
The commission will look at ways to make companies more accountable. Mr Dickson said: “The world has looked on for too long without taking the necessary collective action to put a stop to the damage being done by oil companies in Bayelsa. We must put the environment and the health and well-being of our communities first.”
A report published in 2011 by the United Nations Environment Programme on oil pollution in Ogoniland, in Rivers State, concluded that the soils and groundwater in the region had been so contaminated by more than 50 years of oil spills that it would take up to 30 years to reverse the damage.
Another study, in the Journal of Health and Pollution, published in 2018, stated that more than 12,000 oil-spill incidents had occurred in the oil-rich region between 1976 and 2014.
Amnesty International, also in 2018, reported “serious negligence” by Shell and Eni in Nigeria, which, it said, was “exacerbating” the environmental crisis.
Speaking on the BBC World Service programme Newsday, Dr Sentamu said: “When you look at the actual figures, they’re shocking, and on the ground, of course, it looks terrible. We are trying to increase the pressure on multinational companies to operate at the same legal and moral responsibility in this state, as we expect in the United Kingdom, the United States, and in Norway. . . This is unacceptable in our global village.
“It is estimated that 50,000 babies could die every year, and the biodiversity and also the water, and all those kinds of environmental reality — it’s just appalling. It has to be cleaned up — and cleaned up pretty quickly. But not only that: compensate the lives that have been ruined by these spillages.
“Is the law the Nigerian state has with regard to oil spillages tough enough? If it isn’t, we are going to recommend some changes. For me, all companies have a responsibility to operate in an ethical and responsible manner.”