Feb 10, 2012

Ogoni: Calls for Change to Environmental Legislation

Following the Bonga oil spill in December 2011, experts are calling for amendments to environmental law in Nigeria, which would allow environmental groups and affected communities more freedom in dealing effectively with such a crisis in future.

Below is an article published by the Daily Trust:

Reacting to the recent Bonga oil spill which has poisoned hundreds of square miles of sensitive coastal wetlands, an Expert and Legal Consultant in Environmental matters, Barrister Chris Umaru has advocated for the immediate amendment to the existing NOSDRA Act to enable the agency discharge its functions effectively, and charges all well meaning Nigerians, affected communities and environmental NGOs to do same.

Umaru in a statement made available to Daily Trust on Wednesday [8 February 2012] in Abuja said that the amendment of the act establishing the agency has become necessary as the agency as constituted, “can only bark but cannot bite”.

He said  the unwieldy composition of the Board, insignificant penalties and poor funding are some of the challenges confronting the agency, adding that criminal responsibility for contravening environmental legislation in the petroleum sector is recommended for amendment to enable the agency perform its responsibility through enforcement.

Umaru said the present Act has no provision for officials of the agency to enter premises of defaulting organizations, offences and penalties for obstructing officials and powers to make requisition, stressing that these factors are germane if the agency must move forward in implementing its mandate

Citing examples from other government agencies with regulatory functions, the expert said the National Agency for Foods, Drugs, Administration and Control (NAFDCA), Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) and Consumer Protection Council (CPC) have enabling powers in their respective Acts to enter premises, seal premises if need be, while their officials are protected apart from severe imposition of penalties to act as deterrents for other would-be offenders.

He said that oil spill in the country had constituted serious environmental hazards, reasoning that if not contained through effective legislation and proper enforcement, Nigeria would not be at par with other jurisdictions such as Norway, United States, and several oil and gas producing countries.

Umaru said that several complaints have been written by communities through their Legal representatives to the oil companies and NOSDRA but that with the obvious limitations on the powers of NOSDRA he doubts if there is anything the agency can do as they do not possess the enforcement powers even in securing payment of compensation to affected communities.

He further stated that even the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoni Land, recommend the repositioning of NOSDRA to enable it discharge its duties effectively and efficiently do its work as the environmental regulation which is supposed to be implemented by NOSDRA is currently being carried out by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) which is not supposed to be the case.