By Akanimo Sampson
The massive dead fishes floating near the Atlantic coastline in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s vastly polluted oil and gas region has sparked off a worrisome row.
The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) says it found no oil spills linking the dead fishes floating near the coastline in Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom states.
But, Furoebi Akene, an environmentalist, is attributing the dead fishes littering the oil region’s coastline to discharge of toxic chemicals from the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas major, Shell’s operations at Forcados oil export terminal.
NOSDRA was established by the National Assembly Act of 2006 as an institutional framework to co-ordinate the implementation of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) for Nigeria in accordance with the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC 90) to which Nigeria is a signatory.
While Akene agrees that the dead fishes were not caused by oil leakage as found out by NOSDRA, he maintains that the disclosure was capable of misleading conclusions as the investigation results were being awaited by stakeholders.
Akene who is chairing the Board of Trustees of the Centre for Environmental Preservation and Development (CEPAD) is alleging that Shell discharged toxic materials in the Atlantic off Delta coastline at Ogulagha.
“It has also become a common knowledge that Shell discharged sludge mixed with chemicals into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The discharge through one of their waste disposals pipes from the Forcados Terminal around Ogulagha, was not oil spill from any of the trunk line pipes conveying crude oil from the Forcados terminal.
“The conspiracy between Shell and NOSDRA which has become very strong since the DG of NOSDRA is making all efforts to down play the act and divert attention. It is heart breaking and surprising that the Federal Government regulation agency, NOSDRA is just waking up with a press release.
“The NOSDRA Director-General, Idris Olubola Musa, acted belatedly almost three months since the incident happened around the end of January 2020, having earlier given the excuse that the COVID-!9 was a hindering him.
“Not only the belated nature of the response but the premature position while the results are awaited is intended to shield or conceal the real cause of the matter, the facility that caused it and the owners of the facility.
“This is quite unfortunate of a regulation agency. We are using this medium in appealing to NOSDRA to for once do the right thing as they are statutorily mandated to do. In the same vein we are urging the governments of the affected states of Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ondo and their respective National and state legislators to rise up to their responsibilities to pursue this matter to its logical conclusion for the lives of their citizens”, Akene says.
Apparently piqued, Musa, the NOSDRA big boss is busy dismissing Akene’s claims, and restating the commitment of the spill agency to its mandate and a more stringent regulation of the maritime domain within Nigerian territorial waters.
Musa says NOSDRA was coordinating a muli-agency investigation aimed at unraveling the cause of the reported massive death of fishes within the country’s territorial waters and was looking beyond the oil spill.
He explains that other regulatory agencies with mandates of safety in the maritime space were deploying their expertise in the ongoing investigation assuring that the process was being carried out with best practices.
“The event of the death of fishes in large numbers makes it expedient to look beyond oil spillage as the likely cause death of fishes in such large numbers as we found no trace of leakage to link with the dead fishes.
“The Agency proceeded to collect samples of water, sediments and some of the dead fish for laboratory testing. In doing so the agency brought onboard other relevant agencies of government that have mandate on our territorial waters.
“Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigerian Instutue of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR), Federal Institute of Fisheries Research. Also included is the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) for an all hands on deck assessment of the possible cause or causes of death of the fishes in such large numbers,” Musa says.
He said the results of the ongoing laboratory analysis will be compared with results from the participating agencies to proffer an effective solution, and to ensure more stringent regulations in future.
He added that it was situations like this that informed the agency’s limitations to the use of chemical dispersants in the water bodies near human settlements and assured that NOSDRA remains committed to a sustainable environment.
Public Affairs officials of Shell have, however, declined comments when contacted for a reaction on the allegations of discharging toxic chemicals from the oil major’s operations.