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We the People holds Legal Roundtable on Addressing Oil Company Divestment and Environmental Remediation in the Niger Delta

On 29 th April, 2024, We the People convened a legal roundtable on the pressing issues of oil company divestment and environmental remediation in the Niger Delta. The roundtable gathered legal scholars, environmental advocates, community representatives, and policy makers to engage in a comprehensive discussion on the legal pathways for ensuring accountability and justice in the wake of divestment moves by Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron TotalEnergies, and Eni-Agip. The meeting aimed at assessing the scale and impact of environmental degradation linked to oil operations, and exploring actionable legal options for holding IOCs accountable for their environmental legacies.

In his keynote address, Prof. Ibibia Worika, former Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Port Harcourt, emphasized the urgency and complexity of the challenges facing the Niger Delta due to oil exploitation. He stressed to legal experts who were present, that the task is not just to navigate the existing frameworks but to innovate and enforce new standards that hold corporate entities accountable while fostering environmental sustainability. Prof. Worika also called for an integrated approach that involves local communities, government bodies, and international stakeholders, highlighting that the path to remediation and sustainability is a shared responsibility. His insightful opening served as a catalyst for the strategic dialogues focusing on crafting actionable plans that prioritize ecological integrity and community welfare in the NigerDelta.

In his presentation, Iniruo Wills, Esq., former Commissioner for Environment in Bayelsa state reflected on the Bayelsa Commission Report and the need for ecological justice. He centered on the critical findings of the recent Bayelsa Commission Report, which detailed the profound and pervasive impacts of oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Mr. Wills emphasized the report’s revelations on the inadequate responses to environmental degradation and the persistent neglect of affected communities. He further argued for a shift towards ecological justice and a framework that not only seeks to remedy past harms but also to restructure the legal and regulatory landscapes to prevent future environmental injustices. Mr. Wills called for actionable commitments from both the government and the oil companies, advocating for the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations as a baseline for accountability.

In a compelling intervention, Dr. Bieye Briggs, a public health expert, presented an in-depth analysis of the severe health implications resulting from environmental pollution and gas flaring in oil-producing communities. Dr. Briggs’s intervention detailed the toxic cocktail of pollutants released into the air and water, which include carcinogens such as benzene and toluene, highlighting their direct link to an increased risk of cancers, respiratory disorders, and other chronic health conditions. He further emphasized the specific impacts of gas flaring, which is rampant in the Niger Delta, citing studies demonstrating an alarming correlation between proximity to gas flares and higher incidences of asthma, bronchitis, and neurological deficits. Dr.Briggs advocated for a drastic reduction in gas flaring and stricter enforcement of environmental laws, stressing that the right to health must be a priority in the quest for ecological justice in the Niger Delta.

Community representatives expressed deep worry that the rapid divestment processes are bypassing thorough assessments of environmental damage and necessary reparations. A key resolution from the meeting was the unanimous agreement on the need for immediate solidarity and concerted action to temporarily halt these divestment moves. The consensus was that stopping the divestment process would provide the necessary time for a comprehensive evaluation of the environmental and social impacts caused by the IOCs and their reckless extraction. This pause is critical to ensuring that the rights and well-being of the affected communities are prioritized and that any transition away from IOC operations includes robust plans for environmental cleanup and compensation for damages.