Koluama gas explosion: Presidency faults ACN's claim

SUN Newspaper- Juliana Taiwo

The Presidency yesterday reacted to a claim by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), that the Federal Government has not done enough to assist victims of the gas explosion in Koluama, Bayelsa State, saying the party has missed the point.

In a statement by the presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, said President Goodluck Jonathan promptly attended to the incident when it occurred and it was the pressure from government that made Chevron to put out the fire in the first week of March.

He said the government was at the process of compensation to the communities and stressed contrary to ACN insinuations, it was not treating the issue with the people with “kid gloves”

The statement reads: “My attention has been drawn to the press release by the National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Alhaji Lai Mohammed, accusing President Goodluck Jonathan and the Federal Government of not doing enough to provide succour for the victims of the gas explosion in Koluama, Bayelsa State. Indeed, the ACN said “the response of the government has deepened the pains of the residents and raised the fears that they could face a repeat of the 1953 disaster that wiped off the ancient Koluama community”.
Having visited the Koluama community in Bayelsa State in the company of Mr. President, I can confidently assert that nothing could be further from the truth than the statement by the ACN Publicity Secretary.

The gas explosion at the Chevron platform occurred at the height of the fuel subsidy removal crisis, but the Federal Government gave priority attention to the matter by setting the necessary machinery in motion to manage the disaster.
The President promptly dispatched the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Maduekwe, to the scene for an on-the-spot assessment to determine its extent and what needed to be done to relieve the suffering of the community and ensure that the threat to the people’s lives and livelihood was contained.

The President personally visited Koluama community on February 27, 2012 to amongst other things, empathise with the community and confirm the requirements for addressing the damage done to the community. On his entourage were the Ministers of Petroleum Resources, Environment and the Niger Delta, the Directors-General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) as well as top officials of the Bayelsa State Government. Mr. President spent quality time listening to the concerned eight communities and the presentation of their harmonized position paper in which they articulated their short and long term needs.

After the President’s visit, the Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta Matters, Mr. Kingsley Kuku visited the island on March 6, on the direct orders of President Jonathan to commence skill acquisition programme for youths and women in the affected communities. The President further directed the Ministry of Environment to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in collaboration with Chevron.

To meet the people’s immediate needs, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Chevron, the Ministries of Environment and Niger Delta Affairs, were also directed to assist the communities and indeed they have been doing so by providing relief materials and other forms of assistance. Also in February, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had sent relief materials to the eight communities affected by the gas explosion.

Under pressure from the government, the company involved, Chevron Nigeria Limited, working in concert with NOSDRA, put out the fire in the first week of March, while the Federal Government is working with the company to ensure that compensation is paid to the host communities.

The Ministry of Environment in collaboration with government agencies such as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and NOSDRA, have been at the site of the explosion, monitoring the environmental impact of the disaster and taking proactive measures to contain the spread of gas radiation or gaseous hydrocarbon leakage just as the University of Benin has been mandated to launch an independent health assessment of local residents to manage any health risks from this incident.

All these are occurring even as an independent environmental consultant, Fugro Nigeria Limited, was brought in to commence the testing of air, sea/river water, sediment, soil, fisheries and vegetation to determine any impact on the environment to complement the efforts of governmental agencies already at work at the site.

It is not true that the Federal Government is treating Chevron with “kid gloves.” President Jonathan has been actively involved with the Koluama communities since his days as Deputy Governor and Governor of Bayelsa State; he understands their plight.

It is also not true that all the President “did was to praise the people for their “peaceful’ reaction to the disaster that has befallen them,” as claimed by Alhaji Mohammed. Alhaji Mohammed should resist the temptation to weep more than the bereaved. I would like to remind him that accidents involving oil spills and fires and other environmental disasters arising from the oil industry are complicated and are not matters that you rush over. In these matters, inordinate haste could amount to waste.

May I also remind the ACN Publicity Secretary that it took about 85 days to stop the release of crude oil after the April 2010 British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in the United States. Even till today, British Petroleum and the U.S. government are still not done working out the details of compensation to be paid to the victims.
In the case of the Koluama gas explosion, Nigeria has already achieved a lot. We have put out the fires, initiated the process of compensation for the victims and met their immediate needs through the provision of relief materials.


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