Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, on Wednesday, inaugurated the Bayelsa State Commission of Inquiry on Environmental Degradation.
The 10-member commission is chaired by the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu.
Governor Dickson said the commission, which is comprised of Nigerian and foreign scholars and experts in various fields, had a nine-point terms of reference, which include to investigate the environmental, health, socio-economic, cultural and human damage caused by operations of both local and multinational oil companies.
He also charged the commission to analyse the legislations governing the operations of multinational oil companies in Bayelsa State and in Nigeria as well as establish a set of recommendations that would lead to the development of a new legal framework that ensures accountability.
A press release by his Special Adviser on Public Affairs, Mr. Daniel Alabrah, quoted the governor as saying that Bayelsa had suffered vast environmental and human damage despite her contribution to the socio-economic growth of the country.
Governor Dickson noted that the state accounts for 40 per cent of Nigeria’s oil wealth and hosts the operations of all the major multinational oil companies.
According to him, oil companies operating in the state have for decades acted with impunity and with little regard for the environment and people, causing multiple oil spills leading to environmental degradation and loss of lives.
He said that the primary aim of setting up the commission was to prevail on oil companies to adopt best practices in the conduct of their operations in Bayelsa as they would in Norway, Scotland or the United States.
On the dangers posed by oil spills, the governor cited the 2011 United Nations Environment Programme report, which indicated that life expectancy in the Niger Delta was about 10 years lower than that of the national average.
He also recalled that a United Nations survey showed that crude oil spill over the years had resulted in the death of about 16,000 infants within their first month in the Niget Delta.
He noted that the region had recorded not less than 40 million litres of oil spill annually as compared with 4 million litres annually in the United States.
“Oil and gas exploration and extraction has had an incalculable impact on the people and environment of Bayelsa State. It has threatened local livelihoods and economies, impeded agricultural development, fuelled health disorders and caused tensions in the social fabric of our communities. The people of Bayelsa State have paid too high a price for the growth of Nigeria’s oil sector, without reaping any significant benefit,” he said.
The commission, which is to hold public and private hearings, is expected to submit its report and findings within nine months.
Responding, the chairman, Dr. John Sentamu, said the commission would spare no effort in shedding light on the impact of oill spillage in the Niger Delta.
Dr. Sentamu, who described the effects of oil pollution as shocking, urged the international community to join forces in the protection of the environment, which he noted is a common heritage of mankind.
He assured that the commission would ensure that international standards were observed in the exploration and exploitation of crude oil activities.
“I believe that it is essential that light is shed on the impact that oil spills have had on the land and people of Bayelsa State, that multinational oil companies are held to account, and new solutions identified to address this environmental and human crisis.. This is why I have accepted the position of Chair,” he said.
The Commissioner for the Environment, Hon. Ebipatei Apaingolo, in his remarks, expressed regret that people of the Niger Delta now consume crops with traces of carcinogenic hydrocarbons.
Former President of Ghana, Dr. John Kufour, Baroness Valerie Amos, Prof. Engobo Emeseh and Dr. Anna Zalik are members while Dr. Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou is secretary to the commission.
Other members are Prof. Roland Hodler and Prof. Michael Watts while the state former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr. Kemasuode Wodu, will serve as Legal Counsel.