Bayelsa state government has vowed to take all appropriate steps to pursue environmental justice for itself and affected communities by Aiteo oil spill to put an end to the perennial pollution of the environment “through reckless and irresponsible oilfield practice that is condoned by a weak or compromised regulatory system.” This is coming on the hells of the total rejection by the state of the report of the JIV. The JIV is a statutory probe that follows every reported spill incident, usually convened by the operator of the leak facility comprised of representatives of the oil firm, affected communities, regulators and state ministry of environment. However, after the JIV of last Wednesday visit to the Nembe Spill site, representatives of the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA and the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission, NUPRC traced the leak to sabotage, a development that did not go down well with the state government. But Bayelsa State government in a statement signed by its Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice/Chairman, Technical Committee on Nembe Spill, Mr. Biriyai Dambo, SAN, rejected what it described as an inconclusive JIV report, insisting the spill was caused by equipment failure and not sabotage as claimed by regulatory agencies and Aiteo.
The statement reads, “Bayelsa State Technical Committee on the recent Oil Spill in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State was inaugurated on December 15, 2021 by His Excellency, Senator Douye Diri, the Governor of Bayelsa State, to, as part of its mandate, participate in an immediate Joint Investigation Visit to the incident site at the Santa Barbara River, Nembe, following the oil spillage which occurred earlier from the Santa Barbara Well-Head 1 of OML 29, operated by Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company Ltd. “Consequently, the Committee proceeded on an initial Joint Investigation Visit along with representatives from the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) and AITEO Exploration and Production Company Limited, on Friday, December 17, 2021. Unfortunately, this initial visit was botched because AITEO, using men of the Nigerian Navy, stopped a news correspondent from Arise News Television, who accompanied the Bayelsa State Government delegation for the purpose of covering the event and ensuring transparency in the process.
“However, following the visit of the Minister of State, Federal Ministry of the Environment, Ms. Sharon Ikeazor, to the site of the spill, and subsequent meeting with the Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, on Monday, December 20, 2021, both parties agreed that another JIV be conducted on Wednesday, December 22, 2021. Therefore, another JIV was conducted on Wednesday, December 22, 2021 in the presence of representatives from NOSDRA, NUPRC, AITEO, Nembe Local Government Council, the Host Community, Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment, and the Bayelsa State Government. At this JIV, representatives of Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment, Nembe Local Government Council and the Host Community, on the one hand, found and declared the cause of the spillage to be equipment/maintenance failure, while the representatives of NOSDRA NUPRC and AITEO, on the other hand had a different opinion. The contradicting positions were not resolved.
“Consequently, the Bayelsa State government delegation could not append their signatures on the NOSDRA Form for the JIV report, as NOSDRA insisted that only the box for indicating their opinion of the possible cause of spill could be ticked, and that there was no room for the state government to state its contrary finding. The Bayelsa State government/Ministry of Environment, Nembe Local Government Council and the Host Community affected by the spill could not append signatures on the NOSDRA Form on the strength of the following reasons: While the combined team of NOSDRA, NUPRC and AITEO claimed that the spillage was caused by an external human interference with the oil wellhead i.e. sabotage, the representatives of Bayelsa State Government/Ministry of Environment, Nembe Local Government Council, and the affected Host Community, observed that the very accessories/instruments of the wellhead, that were to be inspected, had been removed and replaced, which amounted to tampering with and concealing the equipment and evidence.
*That there had been similar incidents of oil spillage, though of lesser magnitude, from the same Santa Barbara Wellhead 1 in OML 29 in 2018 and 2019, which Aiteo had previously admitted. Till date, there has been no remediation nor safeguards against future recurrence put in place or enforced by AITEO and NOSDRA respectively over the said spills, as demanded by the affected communities, until this major blowout happened in November 2021. We were shocked to note that on the day of this latest JIV, when asked about these previous incidents at the exact same wellhead, AITEO denied and NOSDRA kept silent. That during the course of the JIV, the behaviour and utterances of representatives of NOSDRA and NUPRC called into question their independence and neutrality. We are convinced that NOSDRA and NUPRC are biased and are playing a script in cahoots and concert with AITEO. We have very convincing evidence (which we will bring to light at the appropriate time and through the appropriate fora) that NOSDRA and NUPRC are completely biased and have taken a premeditated position in favour of AITEO against the interest of the people of Bayelsa State and the Niger Delta. This is terribly sad and unfortunate given the fact that NOSDRA and NUPRC are supposed to be regulators and as such should be unbiased and act at all times with integrity.
“Finally, the Government of Bayelsa State completely rejects the JIV of Wednesday, December 22,. 2021. The government of Bayelsa State states that the cause of the spill is equipment failure, and shall take all appropriate steps to pursue environmental justice for itself and affected communities, to put an end to the perennial pollution of our environment through reckless and irresponsible oilfield practice that is condoned by a weak or compromised regulatory system.”