Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Federal Government to “stand up to powerful oil companies that have continued to abuse the human rights of the people of the Niger Delta with impunity for decades if it is to satisfactorily resolve the crisis in the region.”
Against continuing crisis in the Niger Delta fueled by the activities of the ‘Niger Delta Avengers’ who are relentlessly bombing the country’s oil infrastructure and have slashed its crude output, SERAP in a statement Monday by the organization’s executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni said that, “An important part of the solution to the human rights crisis is for President Muhammadu Buhari to implement the ECOWAS Court judgment which ordered the Nigerian government to punish oil companies over oil pollution and devastation in the region.”
The statement reads in part: “This government should make sure that the activities of oil companies in Nigeria bring development to the people, rather than a string of needless human rights tragedies.”
“The government of former President Goodluck Jonathan ignored the judgment and showed no political will to hold to account oil companies that have for many years continued to destroy the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people with almost absolute impunity. President Buhari shouldn’t repeat Jonathan’s mistake. He should make sure that his government adheres to this judgment without further delay.”
“Oil companies, particularly Shell, have managed to evade responsibility for far too long. And successive governments have allowed them to do so, putting profits before people. As a result, communities badly affected by oil pollution are sinking further into poverty, unable to eat the contaminated fish or drink the water, stained black from the pollution.”
“It’s also clear that oil companies wield tremendous influence over the regulatory regime that governs their operations. That has to change for the good and peace of the region. The change that Buhari champions should include justice for the victims of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, and that’s why the ECOWAS judgment is so significant because it provides the framework for action.”
“The government should impose fines on oil companies for breach of regulations over the past 10 years and take measures to punish the companies. The government should also investigate the role that oil companies and others have played and continue to play in the environmental pollution in the region, and widely publish the outcome of any such investigation.”
It would be recalled that the ECOWAS Court of Justice in December 2012 in a case brought by SERAP upheld the right of the people and communities of the Niger Delta to a general satisfactory environment and to an adequate standard of living.
The court unanimously ordered the government to: hold oil companies and other perpetrators of the environmental damage accountable; ensure reparation for the collective harm done to the communities; restore within the shortest possible time the environment of the Niger Delta; and prevent the occurrence of damage to the environment.
The court also found that “oil spills pollute water, destroy aquatic life and soil fertility with resultant adverse effect on the health and means of livelihood of people in its vicinity. The government has failed in recent years to take any single action to punish perpetrators of oil pollution. It is incumbent upon the Federal Republic of Nigeria to prevent or tackle the situation by holding accountable those who caused the situation (with the clear expectation of impunity) and to ensure that adequate reparation is provided for the victims.”
The court further stated that the numerous laws passed to regulate the extractive oil and gas industry and safeguard their effects on the environment, the creation of agencies to ensure the implementation of the legislation, and the allocation to the region, 13% of the revenue that comes from natural resource extraction in the region to be used for its development, have totally failed to prevent the continued environmental degradation of the region, “as evidenced by the facts abundantly proven in this case and admitted by the very same Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
SERAP’s case was brought on 23 July 2009 by its Solicitor Femi Falana, SAN, against the President of Nigeria, the Attorney General of the Federation, Nigerian National Petroleum Company, Shell Petroleum Development Company, ELF Petroleum Nigeria ltd, AGIP Nigeria PLC, Chevron Oil Nigeria PLC, Total Nigeria PLC and Exxon Mobil.
Article 15(4) of the ECOWAS Treaty makes the Judgment of the Court binding on Member States, including Nigeria. Also, Article 19(2) of the 1991 Protocol provides that the decisions of the Court shall be final and immediately enforceable.