Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has blamed oil and gas companies operating in the Niger Delta for the environmental degradation in the region.
The group’s position is contained in a report commissioned by SERAP titled, “We Are All Vulnerable. How Lack Of Transparency and Accountability Is Fueling Human Rights Violations in the Niger Delta’’.
It called on the federal government to put in place a legal framework to ensure that oil and gas companies and other key players recognise the right of the people in the Niger Delta to a clean and healthy environment.
SERAP urged the government to ensure the actualisation of such a framework first in the Niger Delta, and later in the country as a whole.
The report was presented to the public in Lagos by a lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Dr Bunmi Afinowi.
Afinowi stated in the report that the extensive social, economic, and environmental degeneration in the region have largely affected the lifestyles and wellbeing of the people.
She stated that when violations occur against the rights of the people of the area, individuals, communities, Chief Security Officers (CSOs) are able to seek redress in the courts, both local and at international courts.
Afinowi, who is also a research consultant, maintained that there is no reason why the Niger Delta region which produces the resources upon which the country is dependent should wallow in poverty while the rights of the people in the area are violated by oil and gas companies.
She lamented that the state of the region is constantly a paradox of circumstances, noting that despite the wealth it holds and the fact that it provides for the entire nation, it remains deeply in the grips of squalor, poverty, and environmental degradation.
The report recommended periodic engagements with legal and environmental experts, policy makers to review and strengthen existing laws, regulations and policies related to the oil and gas sector in terms of resource management and extractive activities.
It urged the federal government to also create a platform or avenue for sharing information related to oil and gas activities, revenue distribution, and environmental impact assessments with local communities.
“There is a need to also develop and distribute educational materials to raise awareness about the industry’s effects on communities and the importance of transparency,” Afinowi said.
The director-general, Bureau of Public Service Reform, Dr Dasuki Arabi in a goodwill message, noted that the strategic importance of the Niger Delta cannot be over emphasized.
He said this account for reasons why various administrations have taken bold steps to ensure the development of the area.
He said one of the bold steps to address the issues in the region was the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission to drive sustainable development in the area.
Hon Funkekeme Solomon, who represented the Rivers State governor, Sinminalayi Fubara, said that it is important that the area that brings the resources upon which the country is dependent is protected and made safe.
He said that the terrain in the region is different and difficult to what obtained in other areas noting that the amount spent constructing a road in Abuja for instance is far below what is spent in the area.
He commended SERAP for the publication which he said exposed how corruption has undermined development in the Niger Delta.
President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Eze Anaba in a goodwill message, said that there was a need to ensure that resources from the Niger Delta region are used to develop the area.
He stressed the need for transparency and accountability in government at all levels saying this should be used to promote good governance, civic participation and respect for the rule of law.
Anaba said the media has a laudable role to play to achieve this objective.
“Section 22 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, stated the roles that members of the profession are expected to play in contributing to the efforts in promoting transparency and accountability in Niger Delta in particular.”
In a welcome address, SERAP deputy director, Kolawole Okuwadare remarked that the country is definitely poor with some 122 million Nigerians living in poverty.
According to him, corruption has been the major contributory factor in making Nigeria one of the poorest nations in the world.
He said trillions from oil resources impoverished Nigerians as they ended up in private pockets.