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We the People’s Webinar Highlights Urgent Need for Environmental Accountability in Oil Industry Divestment in Nigeria

In a thought-provoking webinar organized by We the People and held on the 8th of June
2023, renowned experts and activists shed light on the need for accountability in the moves by oil companies in Nigeria to divest their onshore and shallow water assets. At the webinar titled ‘DIRTY EXIT: EXAMINING THE DOWNSIDE OF OIL COMPANY DIVESTMENT IN NIGERIA’, discussants stated the need for a just transition in the face of long-standing environmental and social injustices occasioned by oil and gas extraction.

The virtual event drew participants from diverse backgrounds, including activists, researchers, policymakers, and the media. The discussions centered on the urgent need to hold international oil companies accountable for the damage caused by their operations, particularly in the Niger Delta, a region that has suffered over six decades of ecocide.

The webinar provided a platform for dialogue and critical analysis, emphasizing the need to challenge the oil companies' public relations machinery that often attempts to shift blame onto affected communities. Through the discussions, it became evident that communities have been unfairly portrayed as responsible for their own plight, while the companies responsible for environmental degradation continue to profit and evade responsibility.

Leading experts, including Ken Hensahw, the Executive Director of We the People, delivered a compelling analysis of We the People’s divestment report titled "Dirty Exit: Why Oil Companies in Nigeria Are Selling Off Assets and How It Denies Communities of Justice’. The report examines the incentives behind the divestment trend and its impact on affected communities. He delivered a compelling presentation that shed light on the reality faced by communities living in oil-producing regions. He highlighted the occupation and exploitation of sacred lands, the violation of rivers, economic decline, health impacts and overall deprivation resulting from crude oil and gas extraction.

Other speakers stressed that without accountability and restoration measures, the communities left behind would continue to grapple with the long-lasting consequences of pollution and health hazards. The emergence of stranded communities, burdened with decades of environmental damage, was deemed both unjust and criminal. Chima Williams, the 2022 Winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa and Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action, focused on the legal remedies available for addressing the adverse impacts of oil extraction on communities. His presentation emphasized the importance of legal measures in holding oil companies accountable for their actions.

Mr. Henry Eferegbo, an environmental activist and community leader highlighted the far-reaching consequences of oil pollution and its detrimental effect on the livelihoods of communities. He underscored the urgent need to address the devastating impacts of oil extraction on local communities and their economic well-being.

Dr. Biebeye Briggs, a prominent public health practitioner, shared crucial insights on the health impacts of hydrocarbon pollution resulting from oil operations. His presentation highlighted the severe health challenges faced by communities exposed to pollution, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing public health in any discussion on oil company divestment.

Nnimmo Bassey, the Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, contributed to the discussion, providing additional expertise and perspectives. His insights added valuable depth to the conversation and further emphasized the need for environmental justice and sustainable practices in the oil industry. The discussions also delved into viable alternatives and strategies to ensure a just transition for affected communities. Participants engaged in productive conversations on promoting civil spaces for community engagement, analyzing government and private sector policies, and advocating for increased accountability of public institutions to all stakeholders.

The webinar called on the people of the region to take a stand and demand accountability from divesting oil companies, through public awareness, grassroots movements, and policy advocacy to bring about meaningful change and ensure a more just and sustainable future for all. It also resolved that it is only through collective efforts, stringent accountability measures, and responsible divestment can affected communities reclaim their rights, and pave the way or a more equitable and sustainable future.