The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) has kicked off the second phase of its grassroots campaign against crude oil theft and illegal oil refining activities in Ogoni land. The first phase of the campaign in 2014 reached over 7,000 community people from Eleme, Gokana, Khana, and Tai local government areas.
“The 2015 campaign is targeted at Ogoni youths for whom we have designed some alternative empowerment programmes such as the Ogoni LIVEwire which in January trained 105 Ogoni youths in different skills and offered them start-up funds and support,” said the Managing Director of SPDC and Country Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria, Mr. Osagie Okunbor.
“We are therefore focusing on raising awareness among the youths on the environmental, socio-economic and health risks associated with crude oil theft and sabotage of pipelines,” Osagie said, adding that the initiative was in collaboration with the Rivers State Government and the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA).
Speaking at the launch in Biara community, the Director, Inspectorate and Enforcement in the Rivers State Ministry of Environment, Charles George commended the people for their efforts towards reducing pipeline vandalism. He reiterated that meaningful development can only take place in Ogoni land if crude oil theft activities end, and assured that government is working with relevant stakeholders to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.
“Crude oil theft and artisanal refining are criminal acts that are not only against the law but capable of mortgaging the future of the community,” said Melvin Ododo, a Principal Environmental Scientist who represented the Zonal Director of NOSDRA, Rivers State at the event.
An Ogoni monarch, King Barnabas B. Paago Bagia, said that the campaign had the blessings of the council of elders in the area. King Paago Bagia, who was represented by Chief Pegior Raphael, added that the elders were doing all they could to educate the youths against crude theft activities that were causing the communities untold hardship.
SPDC’s Ogoni Restoration Project Manager, Augustine Igbuku, said the campaign is a key pillar of the implementation of the UNEP report which recommended, among others, that Ogoni communities take actions that will stop further environmental pollution resulting from crude oil theft and illegal oil refining. He said, “The response to the first phase last year has been very encouraging. We hope that the people will seize the opportunity to join the crusade against crude oil theft and artisanal refining in Ogoni land.”
The campaign against crude oil theft in Ogoni land will run for six months and will be delivered in 12 open-air sessions by Ogoni professionals and government agencies to reach a wide range of community stakeholders.
The messages are aimed at motivating the communities to take a more active stand against individuals who break into pipelines to steal crude oil. Creating more awareness would also foster an enabling environment in which the government and other stakeholders can effectively play their roles in the environmental restoration and socio-economic development of Ogoni land.