*Gov. Dickson gets accolades as environmental campaign wins Paris photo awards
The effort to internationalise the campaign against environmental injustice in Bayelsa State has caught the attention of the United Kingdom Parliament with the Africa All Parliamentary Group (AAPPG) holding a session to discuss the impact of oil spills in the state.
The event was chaired by Chi Onwurah, a Member of Parliament and Chair of the AAPPG, which has a membership of over 200 parliamentarians from across parties and houses. It is also one of the largest and most active APPGs in the UK parliament.
This is coming on the heels of a similar recognition for the environmental campaign, Rise for Bayelsa, which won seven awards at the recent Prix de la Photographie Paris (Paris Photography Prize) held in Paris, France.
The pictures showing environmental and human devastation as a result of oil spills in Bayelsa State were taken by award-winning photographer, Arteh Odijida.
The Rise for Bayelsa Campaign, which is supported by the Bayelsa State Governor, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson, was launched in March this year and followed up by empaneling of the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission (BSOEC) chaired by the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu.
Chair of the BSOEC Expert Working Group (EWG), Dr. Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou, who represented the commission at the parliamentary session, said the event was an excellent opportunity to highlight the challenges of the people of Bayelsa State at an international forum.
Nwajiaku-Dahou told journalists in Yenagoa at the end of the commission’s week-long stakeholders forum across the eight local government areas of the state that other panelists, which included Alexander Sewell, a Lead Researcher on Niger Delta at Stakeholder Democracy Network, and Martin Day, former chair of Greenpeace UK as well as guests commended Governor Henry Seriake Dickson’s commitment to tackling the issue of environmental injustice in the state and its potential impact on the Niger Delta region.
“The event provided the Commission with an excellent opportunity to share its work alongside high-profile stakeholders while simultaneously highlighting the challenges of the people of Bayelsa State in an international forum. The session focused on discussing environmental disasters and accountability of the extractives sector, specifically looking at lessons learned from the Niger Delta and planned clean-up.
“Guests received warmly Governor Henry Seriake Dickson’s commitment to tackling this issue in Bayelsa and its potential impact on the wider Delta. It was attended by a number of interested parties, including representatives from non-governmental organisations, Members of Parliament, individuals who had worked on clean-up in the (Niger Delta) region and lawyers who represent affected communities in the Niger Delta.”
She said the parliamentary group looked forward to the outcome of the BSOEC report.
The Rise for Bayelsa expressed delight that its campaign was beginning to get international attention.
The environmental group said its campaign was awarded a Certificate of Achievement at the Paris photography event and that the photos taken by Odijida received international accolades by a panel of high-profile judges.
The Paris Photography was founded in 2007 and is one of the most prestigious photography awards in Europe.
“The powerful images taken by Odijida capture the devastating impact of multinational oil companies in Bayelsa State and showcase the human and environmental damage as a result of oil spills in the state. This is a fantastic recognition of Governor Dickson’s commitment to lead a global campaign on the environment. I believe this is just the start of a number of accolades he will receive on this matter, which will firmly place him as the only politician in Nigeria that has truly attempted to tackle this issue from an international perspective,” it said.
Meanwhile, the week-long stakeholders forum organised by the BSOEC was rounded off on Saturday with sessions held in Sagbama and Kolokuma/Opokuma local government areas respectively.
At the Sagbama centre, the oil producing communities expressed sadness that the oil companies with the support of the federal government allegedly invaded their land and that after years of operation, no compensation had been paid.
Rev. Marc Anthony David, Chief Jacob Akpane and Ruth Dimaro, all from Ofoni as well as Kpodo Oyindiepreye from Asamabiri and High Chief Barigola Martins narrated their different communities’ ordeals with the oil companies, particularly Agip.
Some of their complaints included lack of environmental impact assessment report during their operations, sand dredging, non-remediation of impacted environment, lack of infrastructure and wrong implementation of the Global Memorandums of Understanding (GMoUs) with the communities.
BSOEC members told journalists at a press briefing in Yenagoa that the tour was an eye-opener and that it will assist the commission in its mandate to investigate the impact of oil exploration activities on the communities.
Professor Michael Watts alongside Dr. Nwajiaku-Dahou expressed dismay at the neglect of host communities by the multinational oil companies.
“The oil spills and gas flares have been on for many years. But there has been no compensation. And even when the compensation is paid, the manner it is calculated is very unclear. This is done by the companies without participation by the communities,” Watts said.
Professor Emeseh Engobo, on her part, noted that although they have met with various stakeholders and gone round communities, their job was far from completion.
“Now we have got lots of information. Our work will be to go back, think through them very carefully and try to understand how we make recommendations to help address some of these complex issues. We are meeting all stakeholders and certainly we will also be inviting the companies that are operating in this state because we will like to hear from them,” she said.