Fighting ecocide in Nigeria

| 5th February 2014
Shell gas flare by Oloibiri in the Niger Delta. Photo: Rhys Thom via
Shell gas flare by Oloibiri in the Niger Delta. Photo: Rhys Thom via
Ecocide is a global problem, writes Bukola Saraki, and laws are desperately needed to hold companies to account for the damage they cause. Nigeria - long despoiled with impunity by the oil industry - is just the place to start.
As I have seen in Nigeria, oil spills cause major environmental damage and often there is very little compensation or accountability for them.

The EU should pay serious attention to the Ecocide Campaign. Whether it's 1,000,000 signatures or 112,000 it is still a large audience calling for desperately needed change - beginning with debate in the European Parliament.

However bringing an Ecocide Law to the EU does not have to be the first step in this fight. Ecocide is a global problem - and laws are being drafted and petitioned for in other countries that may set precedents for the EU to follow.

Environmental negligence must be pubished

I firmly believe that businesses need to be held accountable wherever damage to the environment happens because of their negligent practices.

As I have seen in Nigeria, oil spills cause major environmental damage and often there is very little compensation or accountability for them.

In Nigeria, I chair the Senate Committee on the Environment and Ecology. I see on a first hand basis how oil spills and pollution not only damages the environment, but also those whose lives and livelihoods depend on it.

Imposing financial costs on irresponsible companies

I have put forward a Bill that will impose financial levies on the companies who through negligence or irresponsible business practices cause damage to the environment in Nigeria.

The Bill is focused on oil spills and associated damage as this is causing the most severe problems for the communities of the Niger Delta.

It has not been an easy process to have the bill read before the Nigerian Senate, and as yet, it still has not passed in to law.

However, by addressing the issue of ecocide in my country, there has been a wider debate among environmentalists about the responsibilities of large corporations for paying compensation in assisting the clearing up, and future protection of the damage caused.

Nigerian oil spills many times greater than Deepwater Horizon

Let's look at this from a financial point of view. A stated aim of the Ecocide Campaign is to stop businesses using environmental damage risk in their business models and impose real fines or actual prison terms for executives responsible.

In 2010 BP accrued costs in excess of $7.8 billion for its Deepwater Horizon spill of 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

In the last 50 years, there has been over 500 million gallons of oil spilt in the Niger Delta. Very little has come forward for these on-going spills, definitely nothing near what BP paid. This can be put down to the lack of global attention and laws to impose fines.

If the proposed Bill is set in to legislation in Nigeria, then the financial compensation that the big businesses will have to pay will make it uneconomical to merely put the environment into risk categories in business plans.

Responsible business practices that have the environment as a key factor will become a business norm.

Natural Capital must be tracked in National Accounts

Aside from the work with the Senate Committee, I am part of the Global Legislators Organization (GLOBE International) and World Summit of Legislators.

As a group of environmentally minded legislators, our aim is to promote laws that work towards protecting our environment. Through the work with GLOBE, it has been found that ecocide is also a consequence of the unsustainable use of natural resources.

Exploiting natural resources can result in a short-term increase in a country's GDP, however, the country actually becomes poorer in the long term.

GLOBE and other legislators worldwide can play a central role in preventing ecocide by making sure the value of natural resources is incorporated into national accounts, making it harder for countries to make short-term economic gains at the cost to the environment.

Driving change a country at a time

Making governments see how longer-term budgets will benefit from taking stock of natural resources may be a wiser way of getting these countries to take greater responsibility for protecting against ecocide.

I am not alone in pushing forward these bills, and Nigeria is not the only country affected. For example the EU has many countries that could benefit from the attention paid by this high profile campaign.

GLOBE is doing what it can to shape the international laws and these will change, eventually. But we first need to make each country see that there needs to be change, which must start one country at a time. 

Nigeria, with its long history of ecocide in the Niger Delta at the hands of an unaccountable oil industry, is just the country to make that first move.



Dr Bukola Saraki is a member of the Nigerian Senate, and a member of the Global Legislators Organization (GLOBE International) and World Summit of Legislators.

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