Nigeria’s extractive industry is full of impunity. The government is complicit because it does not carry out its regulatory functions with diligence and patriotism. For example, despite being besieged daily by oil spills from international oil companies, we have not tightened the laws governing environmental regulation in the oil industry. For the past 12 years, the government has repeatedly promised to give the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency the teeth to bite. But so far no teeth have been made for NOSDRA, as if amending a law is a rocket science.
One might then ask, are our political leaders profiting from the suffering of the masses from massive oil spills and other avoidable dangers of the extractive industry? Are the legislators – whom we maintain with huge budgets – content to sit and deliberate without impact? Our president, whom some of us thought environmentally friendly when we elected him in 2015, is he happy to see our environment degrading, without lifting a finger to save the day?
According to the Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigeria recorded 4,919 oil spills between 2015 and March 2021 and lost 4.5 trillion barrels of oil to theft in four years. The number of oil spills caused by collision is 308; those caused by operational maintenance are 106, while sabotage is 3,628 and yet to be determined 70. This brings the total number of oil spills on the Nigerian ecosystem to 235,206 barrels of oil. Indeed, it is a very colossal damage to the environment.
Additionally, Nigeria lost around N4.75 trillion on oil activities in the four years between 2015 and 2018, according to estimates from the Nigerian Natural Resources Charter. Several statistics pointed out that Nigeria was the most notorious country in the world for oil spills, losing around 400,000 barrels a day. The country following us is Mexico, which produces only 5,000 to 10,000 barrels per day. Besides the environmental effect, the country loses so much revenue. There is also the impact on local populations and national security. All of this would have been avoided if our leaders were serious about governance. In more serious countries, any failure by extractive industry players triggers an immediate reaction from the government. This is to deter other operators, as the industry is highly lucrative and operators will not hesitate to take advantage of any loopholes in regulatory structures.
Take the example of Ghana. The country was called Gold Coast because gold is its main export, just like crude oil is for us. But even to this day, the government never allows foreign actors to take the Ghanaian people for granted. For this reason, when the government of Ghana barks, foreign mining companies rebound.
On January 20, 2022, a large explosion occurred in an area of the Apeatse community, near the town of Bogoso, about 300 km (180 miles) west of Ghana’s capital, Accra. The blast happened when a motorbike ran under a truck carrying explosives en route to the Bogoso gold mine. It was later reported that a total of 3,300 people were affected by the event, with 17 people confirmed dead and some 59 people injured. Reports from Ghana’s National Disaster Management Organization said 500 buildings were destroyed by the blasts and around 1,500 people were left homeless. The blast blew through portions of major roads in the area, and many commuters were left stranded due to the situation. In fact, the incident drew worldwide attention, similar to oil spills on our shores.
What caught my attention, however, was that immediately after the mining-related disaster, the government of Ghana set up a three-member committee to investigate the explosion at Apeatse. And within days, the Spanish company Maxam Ghana Limited, responsible for the truck that exploded and killed 17 people in Apeatse, was fined $6 million for breaches of regulations concerning the manufacture, storage and transport of explosives for mining and other civil works.
In a press statement signed by Ghana’s Minister of Lands, Samuel Jinapor, the government noted that Maxam had breached regulatory processes. Remarkably, although the penalties for said offenses as per LI 2177 range between ¢600 and $10,000, the Ghanaian government has imposed a heavy fine due to “the nature and totality of the circumstances leading up to this incident. tragic”.
The Minister of Lands had also set 14 conditions for the company to meet before reinstating its operating permit. The measures included a ban on the transportation of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil on a public road to a mine or civil works site, unless specifically authorized by the Chief Inspector of Mines. Other measures include explosives guarded by two escort vehicles, one in the front and one in the rear, both fitted with sirens to warn people of explosives. The company must notify the Chief Inspector of Mines of its intention to transport explosives 48 hours before the intended transport.
According to the Minister, the 14 measures fully apply to all companies involved in the manufacture, supply, transport and use of explosives. The statement also states that sanctions against Jocyderk Logistics Limited and Arthanns Enterprise and Transport Services, two other (local) entities involved in the tragic incident at Apeatse, are under review and will be implemented and communicated in the coming days.
Now, the most interesting aspect of the whole incident was the response from the indicted foreign mining company, Maxam Ghana Limited. According to reports, the company denied breaching mining regulations, but was quick to declare its commitment to pay the government’s $6 million fine and abide by the rules set by the government of Ghana.
There are some lessons for Nigeria in this incident in Ghana. The first is the short time that elapsed between the moment of the accident and the punitive intervention by the government. The second is the number of people involved in the committee that looked into the accident—only three people. Here in Nigeria, the committees take on the form of a classroom, as politicians see each committee as an opportunity to share the national cake. Third, the transparency involved in the distribution of punitive measures, which echoes the palpable spirit of patriotism displayed by the government officials involved.
They clearly stated that the current laws in Ghana stipulated a light penalty ($10,000), but due to the damage done to the nation, the government arbitrarily increased the fines to $6 million; while reviewing the mining process to establish industrial safety. To me, this is the pinnacle of patriotism and creativity in governance. Foreign firms have no choice but to comply!
By contrast, here in Nigeria, the penalties for pollution and environmental damage are extremely low. For example, the fine for failing to report an oil spill to NOSDRA is N500,000. paltry 1 million naira. Of course, these fines are insufficient to ensure compliance with the law and prevent harmful practices; but our politicians are not patriotic enough to change them, nor creative enough to revise the practice. O God, who have we offended?
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