In this interview with the Publisher, Nigerian NewsDirect, Dr. Samuel Ibiyemi, the Director General, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Mr. IDRIS O.Musa speaks at length on the review of 2019 regulatory activities of NOSDRA and Year 2020 agenda in monitoring the downstream of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. He stressed that the Agency in its own part, will work assiduously in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision to strengthen the economy, security and fight corruption in the oil and gas sector. Excerpts.
Can you give an update on the review of your activities in 2019 and your plans for 2020 to ensure cleaner environment?
Recall that we gave you a list of some activities that we wanted to carry out in 2019 and then by the grace of God we were able to carry out quite a number of them. We spoke about going into the downstream sector fully in view of the incessant failure of tankers which may lead to accidents in view of the pollution of ground water through the underground storage tanks of the petrol dispensing stations across the nation. We also spoke about the general improvement in the environment and I think we kept our words within the limit of the funds available to us.
First, on the issue of the downstream sector last year, 2019, we had stakeholders’ consultation with the media and we also tried to enumerate what roles we want to play in the downstream sector and how we want to manage that sector properly. We held meetings with Depot and Petroleum and Products Marketers Association ( DAPPMA), Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria ( MOMAN) and Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria ( IPMAN). Luckily, the faction of the IPMAN that we actually held meeting with towards reaching out to the downstream sector got the judgment in its favour at the Supreme Court. So, we are very happy that our effort was not in futility, because if it had gone the other way we would have to start all over. So, right now, we are very prepared for the downstream sector management. As a matter of fact, today January 16,2020, we had a meeting with one of the actors in the downstream sector on some of the impacts of his stations on the environment. We were able to put the management of that outfit through, on how to go by way of environmental management and how to prevent such occurrence in the future. That is, with respect to pollution of ground water; very well received, they were very happy.
We are also going to start in this first quarter a meeting with the stakeholders on geopolitical zone basis. This implies that we are starting from the North Central geopolitical zone which will be held in Abuja for the final sensitization of the downstream sector with the geopolitical zones. We have met with their executives; we now want to reach out to all the other people and because of that we are doing the sensitization on geopolitical zone basis. We are starting with the North Central headquarters in Abuja and again what we do with the meeting held in Abuja. We are also going to the other zones as time goes on. We are commencing the monitoring of downstream this January, and of course as it stands today, our officers already prepared for the monitoring of the downstream sector. There are documents that are available on preparation for the monitoring of the downstream. We have already captured them on Geographical Information System (GIS) to know the location of the various stations as geo-referenced and captured in our records and data. So, there is no problem as to who, where and how; we are set for that.
What exactly are you looking for in terms of monitoring?
In term of monitoring, we look at their facilities and ask them questions. We already have a set of questionnaire and we also have specimen of the type of certificates that will be issued to them; the same goes for the tankers sales department. We have some of these specimen readily available.
Still on certification issue, you said you are going to validate them, is this going to be in terms of their capability to prevent spillage?
To prevent! As we all know, prevention is better than cure. We want to be guiding them on how to prevent. We are going to teach them how to go about remediating and then of course, under the poll-interface principle, they will have to be responsible for the pollution that they caused.
Will there be a certificate given to them?
Yes! After it has been cleaned and we are satisfied that it is done properly, we take samples for laboratory analysis and once we are okay within the regulatory limit, we certify them. So, we are going to do that.
The next one that I mentioned was with respect to the tankers. In the National Council and Environment conference which held in Kaduna in November last year. There was a memo brought to the council by us and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and there, we decided that we would work jointly to monitor those tanker. This is because we will approach it from the environment side while they will approach it from the operational side. This is because since they registered them and licensed them in terms of the capacity of the drivers. We also make sure that the product they are carrying are well protected. There will be no leakages. Some times on the road, you do see leakages trailing some tanker driver; we want to prevent that. Anyone that has been taken note of will be labelled with the template of the documents that we have here.
The other side is the general environment. When I came in, we took bold step to complete our office complex in Port Harcourt. The office complex was designed to hold an administrative block and also a space for conference, because part of our mandate is to mediate between the oil spillers ( the operators) and the host communities. By the grace of God, we concluded it last year and January 10, 2020, the Honorable Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timpre Sylva graciously commissioned both the office complex and the laboratory.The commissioning was attended by the Governor of Rivers state who was represented by the Deputy Governor.
With our office completed, we had meeting there with about four oil companies whom one of their host communities had disagreement and the outcome of that meeting was positive. Indeed, we are going to do a follow-up in less than two weeks.
Hitherto, we had challenges in taking samples for analysis because of cost involvement and then now, we have our own laboratory. Our worry will be on the cost of placing agent and then making sure that our laboratory equipment are in good standard. In addition to that, we have a GIS laboratory, in which when we return from the field, we can easily plot the geo-references of the area we went to and produce the map, and indeed that day, we produced the map of additional refining areas and oil export areas which we presented to the Deputy Governor and the ministers to see that we are really out and moving. So, in a nutshell, those areas that we promised to look into last year, we were able to meet them. Of course, we have also set new targets for 2020. We want to have a stakeholders meeting on the amendment to our establishment Act which is due for review and we need to get it stronger. We are also looking through that amendment for better source and means of funding which will make us more active. We are also looking to make sure that we train and retrain our officers to enhance their capacity. Training is not static; it has to be a dynamic process which officers go through regularly.
Do you think sanctions on spillage is adequate and could this become part of the review?
Well, the sanction is going to be part of the review. I am not involved in sanctioning by the way of penalties; certainly penalties will go up. But again, our agency is not essentially for generating revenue because if you say you want to rely on sanctioning companies to generate revenues, you are also going to encourage pollution of the environment. It is only when they pollute that you can sanction them. So, it is better for us to guide them in a way that they will not pollute so that we will not sanction them and spend money on pollution.
Looking at the capacity and quality of pipelines, of tankers and facilities, what is NOSDRA doing in terms of monitoring?
Well, with respect to gas, in the establishment amendment Act, gas monitoring will form a critical part of it. That is part of it and we need to take over as a part of the environment management that we need to look at.
In recent times, we have seen how gases pollution has caused a lot of a setback for us as a nation. We lost people in Enugu and even a Professor in Kaduna.We have been talking to our partners.A loss is a loss as long as life is involved.We are not happy with the death of people resulting from gas explosions. And in fact, we have seen
some areas where we believe the way and manner those who were given certificates were not proper and we have drawn the attention of the Department of Petroleum Resources ( DPR) that such permits are rescinded or they be directed to move away from wherever they are. We are waiting for their responses, we wrote a letter to them, no response yet and we have sent a reminder to DPR; we are just looking at the space of two weeks from now.We sent the reminder about one week ago with no response from the DPR.If we failed to receive response of the DPR, we will take it to the ministerial level.
We have received serious complaint on gas refilling stations and one of them is located beside a primary school at Suleja in Niger State. We have drawn their attention and expect that they will do the needful by directing the owner of the plant to move away where they are to another location.
The refilling gas station is to move to a place that is very safe instead of locating it next door to a school or where people are living. First, if there are leakages, the gas fumes can cause death and if in the course of that leakage, there exist any fire, the whole place would be engulfed and we do not want to wait till that happens. So, we have written a reminder to DPR to take a look at that location. It may not be the location those people indicated in their forms which was approved by the DPR. We need to draw the attention of the DPR to it so that the officials can go there to check.
What if DPR denies the allegation in licensing the refilling gas stations?
The DPR cannot deny that they did not give them the license. The refilling gas stations have certificates; permits and that is why we are saying they need to take a look at those permits, perhaps to examine what was not done before issuing the permit and revoke the permit or ask them to relocate.
What is the state of your staff strength to ensure adequate monitoring?
We have over a thousand staff. We are located in Lagos, Akure, Warri, Yenegoa, PortHarcourt and in some other states. So, we are able to cover up and we have our staff in different fields; engineering and science fields. We have chemical, mechanical, electrical, electronics engineers, geologists, geographers, biologist, chemists and so on.
What value is NOSDRA bringing on board in 2020?
We want to improve on every aspect in what we have been doing more than ever before and of course, like the vision of President Muhammadu Buhari and his manifesto, which is in three areas, namely: improving the economy, fighting corruption and ensuring security of our nation .We are also into that one with him in ensuring that we follow all of these. We are not going to drive out any business by way of regulation. We will encourage, guide them on how to do their business and at the same time preserve our environment. We are going to ensure prudence in our spending and also make sure that we do not put gratification before we do and after we did it because that is corruption.When things are done normally, there will be no conflict. By way of security, we will make sure that things are done normally. There will be less conflict which breeds insecurity. So, those are the key areas of focus. If we are able to do this, improving on the services we had given before, then we will be in tangent with President Muhammadu Buhari’s next level agenda. That is how we want to go about it.