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Gas flare compromises men’s generative capacity, exacerbates poverty in Niger Delta

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Rev. Father Edward Obi

The Coordinator, National Coalition on Gas Flaring and Oil Spills in the Niger Delta (NACGOND) Rev. Father Edward Obi, in this interview with KELVIN EBIRI, explained that research has proven that gas flaring attacks men’s generative capacity in the Niger Delta. He also informed that since flaring
contributes to depleting the country’s gas deposit, the prevalent abject poverty in gas producing
communities would worsen once the resource is exhausted.

MANY are of the view that gas flaring has impacted the Niger Delta adversely over the years. Do you also hold this view?
YES.

The impact of gas flare are numerous because it is continues day and night, and in a place where gas is being flared day and night, the flora and fauna have no way of distinguishing between night and day; they have no way of distinguishing when it is time for them to procreate, because it is all day light the whole time. 

So, the procreation of these animal species is depleted because there is no distinction between night and daytime.

Plant life is also affected as the chlorophyll also depends on the light produced by the sun, even as there should also be dark moments to complete the cycle. So, something is obviously wrong or amiss if at all times the whole place is always daylight.

Some of the gas being flared happens at sea because that is where some of the rigs are. To do this, pipes are laid all the way into the sea bed where a platform is built on top of the water and a vent for the gas shoots out from there.

So, all the aquatic lives in that part of the sea are also affected.

Fishes may now run away from that part of the water to other parts that have some darkness, and each time they come where the rig is and they find that it is all bright, they again runaway from that area.

Consequently, fishermen from that area have to go farther away in order to catch fishes because the fishes have all disappeared from the nearby shores.

There are several of these instances, cases both in agriculture, and in healthcare, and the impact also extends to the normal generation of new plant life, aquatic life and so on. All of those things are tainted and decimated on account of gas flare.

Is human health also adversely affected by the flare in these communities?

Even worse is the health implications of these. When gas comes out from the ground, it is wet, meaning that it comes out with a whole lot of salt, alcohol and all kinds of mixtures.

In order to get the real gas, you need to strip it of all those contaminants. As far as I know, many of these companies are using a chemical called ethylene glycol. 

Ethylene glycol on its own is not a dangerous chemical, but because of the process it undergoes when it is heated in order to remove all those impurities from the gas, it becomes dangerous. What is done is that it passes through a contactor heated.

Now that contact with heat energy makes the ethylene glycol to bond with the salt and alcohol and thereafter become a dangerous carcinogenic substance.  

Carcinogenic means that it is cancer-laden and then in each facility, they have to scrape it out of the machine once in maybe two weeks or so because if that is not done, it will damage their machines.

Whatever they scrape from there is a serious carcinogenic compound. Where do they dump it? I have been asking them this question in the last eight years, and they have never told me where they dump it.

One smart engineer in one of the companies that I went to, told me that their system is a close system, anything like that gets dumped into the sea. And I said, really? Is it the sea that we harvest the fishes that we eat? Is it the same sea that supplies water that we drink?

All these show you what people are eating without knowing, and the health impact of that is quite extensive.

Is there truth in the claim that the generative capacity of men could be compromised by gas flaring?

An expert told me that the endocrine gland in a male that is responsible for making the man potent is adversely affected by gas flaring.

Therefore, all males in this region are exposed to the disruption of the endocrine gland on account of the effluence that comes from flaring gas.

Now, that means that the potency of a man, maybe adult men may not be as badly affected as younger children and infants, once the endocrine gland is attacked, a man loses virility, loses fertility and productivity because the sperm are destroyed or tainted.

So, a time is coming when men will not be able to have sex the way they will normally be able to have sex with their wives. And even when they succeed in having sex, they may not be able to fertilise the ovaries of their wives.

In other words, gas flaring and the product of gas flaring attack the human person in a very core place, that is, affecting the generative capacity of men (not so much female).

To an extent, however, the female is also affected because the female person is going to find out that the ova are only partially developed, so they cannot really be fertilised because they are not fully developed.

By that token, the generative capacity of the female at the level of the ovaries is also affected, and there will be more cases of the cancer of the uterus, as well as other different kinds of cancers.

Already, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) are warning that many of these cancers that they are seeing now are strange cancers, which their manifestations around this region cannot be explained.

It appears communities are really unaware of the consequences of the adverse effect of gas flare?

They are not aware of the consequences because nobody has told them, and by the way, if you tell them, what are they going to do? Will they evacuate their villages and go elsewhere?

So, what I do and what my organisation does is to raise the awareness of people who are living in the midst of the gas industry that this industry is not as innocent is as it looks, so, you must be careful.

First of all, do not try to burst gas pipelines because you can cause a fire that will decimate the entire community. Do not try to farm around gas pressure pipelines because of danger of accident, and if you are living near a gas plant be careful.

We have also told them that if they drink rainwater, or dig boreholes or wells, the water may well be contaminated. So, I try to sensitise people. I think a lot should be done as public service to enlighten people on the dangers, which the gas industry poses.

Already, there are sicknesses of all kinds. There are also other social effects in rural communities, where the gas industry is operating. They need to improve their livelihoods.

Do you think that past governments have done enough to assuage the plight of gas producing communities?

I don’t think so. You ask yourself, are there significant health facilities in these areas where oil and gas are being produced? I will give you an example, in the whole of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni area, the only significant health facility they have is in far away Ahoada.

What is there in Omoku is just a clinic and there is no regular doctor there. I have checked this out myself. So, if they really fall sick, they have to go to Ahoada.

So, what is wrong with the one in Omoku being raised to a fully functional hospital knowing that your gas is being flared there day and night, and there is the likelihood of people coming down in with diverse health issues? There is a powerful king in Omoku who is well connected, why has he not used his influence to ensure that there is a truly functional hospital in Omoku?  

Gas has enriched countries that have it in abundance, as well as, their communities. Why is Nigeria’s case different?

Nigeria’s case is a very unique one. But the first thing I need to let you know is that wherever natural resources exist, there is a very potent danger of all kinds of maladies that are associated with poverty, but you can point to Norway, Qatar and many places in the world where they have made a success of their own industry.

Why is it so difficult for Nigeria to do that? It is difficult for Nigeria to do that because of entrenched interest.

There are too many fingers on the pie and they would not give way to real, effective development of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria.

And you know that fossil fuel, oil and gas are time bound. It is a fact that they cannot renew themselves; they don’t have that capacity. They are depletable resources.

So, if we continue to harvest and harvest, a time will come when they would be finished.

When people know this and know that this is a depletable resource, then they have a right to seek to get something out of it now that it is still available, and that is why there are many fingers on the till wanting to get something out of it before it is completely depleted.

Now, focus your attention on communities in the Niger Delta, they are poor and they will be worse off when the resources are completely depleted because by that time, Nigerians will go back to their homes wherever they live in Sokoto, Kano, Maiduguri, and say that is their business.

If their water is all tainted; if their atmosphere is full of radiation, denuded, it is none of our business let them take care of it. So, you can see how today’s activities are putting us in perpetual penury for a long time to come.

When I say many fingers on the till, many fingers in the pie, I am not talking only of the northerners, our own elites in the Niger Delta are also part of it, so let us not point our fingers too far away.

Many of our own elites have not been sincere; they have not cared much about the people because they are going into oil and gas business looking for something for themselves also.

How feasible is government’s latest promise to end gas flaring by 2020 through a three-point strategic agenda?

I can tell you for a fact that President Muhammadu Buhari, when he went for the climate talks in France, two years ago, signed that Nigeria will end gas flaring in 2020, whereas others were all signing to end it in 2030.

He came back from there and ended up in London taking care of his health. Till now, as I am speaking with you, very little has been put on the ground for that plan to come to fruition.

So, I understand when the NNPC makes a statement like that because the President signed this not in private, but in full glare of many people.

So, the NNPC is simply repeating what the President said. But as an insider, and as somebody who is working in that area, and who is looking very carefully, I don’t see very much that they have put in place in terms of infrastructure.

There are beautiful policies, but actual action on the ground is very little.

There is the Nigerian Gas Flare Commercialisation pro gramme that is set up to deal with all issues relating to the commercialisation of gas flare.

Policies are in place; the organisations are there now, they are at the point of calling for bids from individuals, corporations, and interested parties for the expression of interest.

Anybody who wants to come and make money from the flared gas would bid; they would be assessed and considered to engage in that business. But all of that is still on paper. I cannot wait for it to commence because it is a win, win.

The more gas we flare, the more impact it has on the local communities, the atmosphere, the ozone layer and many other things, but any gas that is sequestered, bought off and utilised for power generation or whatever purposes it can be used, is a bonus.

Apart from that, money will be made, and jobs would be created. So, rather than continue to flare gas, the right thing that ought to have been done 40 years ago was to start this programme like Qatar, Norway, Saudi Arabia.

These are countries that have made it big having utilised their natural resources.

Will investment in more liquefied natural gas trains help reduce gas flare?

The Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd is another kettle of fish. It is another big avenue for corruption in the country. By the way, NLNG is still flaring gas. If you go to Bonny, in fact, you don’t need to get to Bonny, just off the sea you will see gas that is still being flared there every single day and night.

The best thing that NLNG could do is to demonstrate leadership in this area and begin by capturing their own gas and utilising it; there are things to work upon there.

It is not like the best case scenario as some people tend to present it, but it is something that if it is well managed for the good of the people, it can be the beginning of that transformation you are seeing in Qatar and other places.

Are you concerned that Nigeria is ranked as the second most gas flaring nation?

Yes. I should not be proud about that. Russia is number one, but you know the whole area called Siberia in Russia, nobody lives there.

It has a landmass almost as big as Nigeria. It is desert and ice. If Russia is flaring, it is not a good reason for Nigeria to emulate her.

They have all the wide sky in Siberia and they can flare as much as they want, but where in Nigeria, can you go for twenty kilometers without meeting human habitation?

In Siberia, you can go a hundred kilometre without seeing any human being anywhere. So, Nigeria should not be proud to rank next to Russia in terms of gas flaring.

Nigeria has a reputation for shifting deadlines set to end gas flare. Will the situation be different this time around?

I am quite prepared to reach 2020 and hear that it has been shifted to 2025 or to any other date. The reason why Nigeria is not doing much in terms of stopping gas flare has to do with the influence of the oil companies.

These companies are quite happy to be fined the negligible amounts that they are fined for the tons of effluence they put into the atmosphere because it is really negligible.

And on top of that, there is a revelation that they don’t even pay. A research has just been concluded by one of our sister organisations that even that paltry sum that they should pay for flaring gas is not being paid, and Nigeria is losing several billions of naira on account of that alone.

So, this kind of rub my back and I rub your back is not helping this country. We need to take the oil and gas sector completely away from government; leave it in hands of private entities to run it the way it is run in so many other countries.

If at all there is government share in it, it should be very negligible share, but the way it is now, the government sees the oil and gas as raw cash whenever it needs it. There is best practice out there and we can learn from it.

The consequences of a further shift in the deadline to end gas flare will be more of the same. They have shifted it severally. I hope it does not happen.

I don’t know what was in President Buhari’s mind when he made that declaration and signed to end gas flaring in 2020.

Now, more than half of his presidency has passed and nothing much has been done.

Is it in the next one year that he is going to end gas flaring? And what guarantees him the opportunity that he would have a second term and will win an election to continue what he started?

If per chance there is a new president and they tell him his predecessor pledged to end gas flare, he will say give me a break.

Our work is cut out for us, let us see what can happen within one year. My interest is in the safety and wellbeing of the people of the Niger Delta, where I live and work. I think there has been a lot of insincerity with these people.


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