WORRIED by the evils of crude oil in the oil-bearing communities of the Niger Delta, Bitumen-bearing communities of Ondo, Ogun, and Edo States of Nigeria, rose from a consultative forum in Benin City, the Edo State capital, with a strong voice, clamouring for a national conference on the matter.
They are agitating for the convening of a national forum of bitumen communities with adequate representation from all communities that fall under the bitumen belt. They said they are calling for such a forum because they do not want the evils of the oil in the Niger Delta to be visited in the bitumen communities.
Bitumen is however, another form of fossil fuel that is more heavier than crude oil. Environmentalists say it possess as much danger as oil.
The event which was organised by Environmental Rights Action (ERA), a foremost environmental rights advocacy group in the country was attended by ERA management and staff, community representatives including traditional rulers, chiefs, women and youths from Ondo, Ogun and Edo States as well as volunteers who brainstormed on the status of the planned bitumen extraction in the country.
They particularly focused on the alleged failure of the Federal Government to consult with the local communities in all the processes.
Setting the tone for the event, ERA's Director incharge of Programmes& Administration, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, explained that the meeting was called to validate the group’s fact-finding visits and documentation of findings to Edo, Ondo, Ogun, and Lagos States where it was observed there is lack of information on government’s plans to exploit bitumen and apathy among the people on plans to relocate them even without due consultation.
Participants observed that he Nigerian economy is still highly dependent on fossil fuels and this has given undue powers and influence to the extractive industry as government continues to place revenue generation above lives and livelihoods.
They also observed that the extractive industry continues to pollute the environment and act with impunity and this has greatly impacted on livelihoods of the local people that is leading to violent conflicts.
According to them, in the planned extraction of bitumen, the Nigerian government has not allegedly learnt from the examples of oil extraction in the Niger Delta where non consultation with locals have led to crisis, oppression and deaths ;; that government is about to signed contractual agreements with some new companies, the contents of these agreements have not been made public.
Adding, they said like the earlier companies, the new investors in the planned bitumen extraction have disregarded any form of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is yet to be carried out in the communities andby implication, the uplifting of the standard of lives of people in communities where their project is sited is not a priority.
In a communique that was read out by Dr. Ojo, the participants are demanding as follows:
* Convening of a national bitumen communities forum to address the genuine concerns and aspirations of communities in the bitumen belt
* An equity share in the revenue from bitumen proceeds as is being proposed in the Petroleum Industry Bill currently before the National Assembly. The government must ensure the protection of the people and ensure the sustainability of a healthy environment.
* Government should immediately start to engage bitumen communities in dialogue. This will create awareness and unity amongst host communities in the agitation for a better environment.
* An MoU to specify communities roles and responsibilities including benefits between government and oil companies. Contractual agreements made with the new bitumen companies must be made public. The Nigerian government explore cleaner alternatives to fossil fuel extraction and diversify from a petroleum-based economy
* Locals should be adequately empowered if and when they are relocated from their communities in the commencement of bitumen extraction in the communities
* Government and extractive companies should at all times consult with communities and not individuals / families to avoid the divide and rule tactics experienced in the oil exploitation in the Niger Delta
* Periodically benefits from the proceeds of bitumen should be reviewed upwards.