From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa

The dust is yet to settle over the Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) to the Oil Mining Lease (OML), 29 Santa Barbara South field Well 01 blowout in Nembe, Nembe Local Government, Bayelsa State. The well leak, which spewed crude oil into the Santa Barbara River and its environs has spread to Abureni in Ogbia and Abua/Odual local governments in Bayelsa and Rivers states respectively.

Controversy, which had trailed the spill since November 1 when it was first noticed, came to head when the JIV report was released. It indicated that the blowout was caused by third party interference.

Dated December 22, 2021, the JIV was signed by the trio of Akindele Olubunmi, Ohaji Nwabueze and Ismail Baba-Ahmed for the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), the duo of Adetoyinbo Adeyemi, Ingo E.A of Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) and Bilong Agustina Amaka, Andrew Oni and Ebi Bomo-Eric of Aiteo. It stated that representatives of the community and the Bayelsa State Government insisted that it was caused by equipment failure.

These sharp divergent views on the cause of the spill were not resolved, prompting representatives of the community and government not to sign the JIV.

Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Biriyai Dambo, who also heads the state technical committee on the spill, noted that  government, Nembe LG and the affected host community, observed that the very accessories/instruments of the wellhead to be inspected, had been removed and replaced, which amounted to tampering with and concealing the equipment and evidence:

He said similar incidents of oil spillage, though of lesser magnitude, from the same Santa Barbara Wellhead 1 in OML 29 occurred in 2018 and 2019. He questioned the neutrality of NOSDRA and NUPRC: “During the course of the JIV, the behaviour and utterances of representatives of NOSDRA and NUPRC called into question their independence and neutrality.

“We are convinced that NOSDRA and NUPRC are biased and are playing a script in cahoots. We have very convincing evidence (which we will bring to light at the appropriate time and through the appropriate fora) that NOSDRA and NUPRC are completely biased and have taken a premeditated position in favour of AITEO against the interest of the people of Bayelsa State and the Niger Delta. This is terribly sad and unfortunate given the fact that NOSDRA and NUPRC are supposed to be regulators and as such should be unbiased and act at all times with integrity.

“The Government of Bayelsa State states that the cause of the spill is equipment failure, and shall take all appropriate steps to pursue environmental justice for it and affected communities, to put an end to the perennial pollution of our environment through reckless and irresponsible oilfield practice that is condoned by a weak or compromised regulatory system.”

However NOSDRA and NUPRC insisted that it was caused by third party interference. Adeyemi of NUPRC explained: “We are here to establish the cause of the incident that happened at the Santa Barbara Well 1. From the findings, there is no spill anymore. Where the spill came out from is from the wing valve.

“The wing valve has been replaced now. That means, the wing valve, the way it was, is not designed to fail like that because there are bolts surrounding it, well designed to keep the pressure in place.

“If it had not been taken off, there is no way it could have moved from there. When it was reported initially, there was no valve in that place, and none was found. To us, it is an act of sabotage.”

His counterpart at NOSDRA, Baba-Ahmed argued that from his expertise in fluid mechanics, his own physical examination at the site and his interactions with the wellhead experts who plugged the leak, only vandalism could have led to the blowout.

NOSDRA and NUPRC’ positions were, however, punctured by other experts in the Niger Delta region. King of Ekpetiama Kingdom, Bubaraye Dakolo, said: “Today, the whole world is believing we sabotaged it and that is why we have to be punished by not paying us compensation, perhaps by not cleaning it up. You can see how callous the country is. So, with a naval houseboat, which means battle ready, people are there within 200 metres of radius of that place, how did the saboteur get there?

“The saboteur must have gotten there because they wanted him to get there. It means NOSDRA, NUPRC, AITEO, JTF and oil industry wanted the saboteur to get there. That is why he got there. The saboteur cannot be any village fisherman. It cannot be a village chief. So, it has to be the oil industry player.”

He said close scrutiny of beneficiaries of the different contracts that would be awarded from plugging the leaking wellhead to clean-up would reveal those whose interest it served for the blowout to have happened.    

Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director, Health of Mother Health Earth Foundation (HOMEF), said: “I don’t think the investigation was appropriate. From what came from investigation, the leaking wellhead had already been replaced, so the regulators did not know what happened.

“They are basing their judgment on hear-say. I must applaud the state government for setting up the technical committee. Government should insist on an independent forensic investigator to investigate the leak. They should insist on proper clean-up and health audit of the community people including the naval personnel guarding the facility.”

An activist, Annkio Briggs, said: “To say at this point that it is sabotage with the damage it has done to the Nembe people and environs. This spill has entered Rivers State in Soku and Kula. All these happening are to show that for whatever reasons, economic or not, Ijaw people want out. We are tired of this arrant nonsense by the government and the oil companies, Ijaw nation must begin the process to leave Nigeria.”

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Source: news