The National Human Rights Commission on Monday threatened to shut down oil companies whose operations have resulted in environmental degradation to the detriment of the people and their host communities.
The Executive Secretary of the commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, issued the threat while speaking with reporters after inaugurating an investigative panel on the complaints of some host communities about environmental pollution caused by the activities of the oil companies.
Angwe expressed his disappointment that past reports issued by various government regulatory agencies and institutions were shunned by the affected companies.
The NHRC chief, who disclosed that the commission had earlier raised a team which carried out an on-the-spot assessment of the affected areas, said the era of impunity was over as the commission would ensure that its own report was implemented.
He said, “We will not allow this impunity to continue. So we have decided to carry our special investigations into their activities.
“After this, we will take the report to the Federal Government of Nigeria and in line with our mandate, we will ensure that the report is implemented to the letter.
“Like we have said, this commission will not hesitate to shut down the oil companies that today violate the rights of the people of Nigeria.”
When asked if the commission had the power to shut down the erring companies, he said it was part of the mandate of the NHRC to investigate all issues bordering on the rights of Nigerians.
Angwe also restated the commission’s resolve to protect the rights of Nigerians even when “strong multinational oil companies” are involved.
He said, “We are also sad to note that the reports that were issued by government’s agencies and institutions that have the power to assess, to monitor, to regulate the operations of the oil companies were ignored by the oil companies.
“I want to tell you that this commission has the mandate to inquire into the alleged violations of rights of Nigerian people and petitions relating to the violation of the rights of Nigerians.
“Apart from the fact that Nigerians do have environmental rights, there is a specific part of the complaints that borders on the enjoyment of Nigerians.
“I also want to say that from what we have monitored, we have observed that there are indeed issues that will require this commission to investigate and inquire more into and our findings will be made available to Nigerians and know that we do have the mandate to protect them even against the strong multinational oil companies.”
The panel set up by the commission was given two months to complete its investigation and turn in its report.
The panel, which is headed by Mrs. Oti Ovrawah as Chairman, has Tony Ojukwu, A.A. Yakubu, Nduka Ezenwugo, Saka Azimazi (Secretary) and Yemisi Akhile (Assistant Secretary).
Some of the panel’s terms of reference are, “To consider all complaints on oil spillage and similar activities of oil pollution of the environment;
“To invite memoranda from members of the public on any action, omission, negligence leading to such oil spillage, non-effective clean-up of such pollution or spillage, non- payment or wrongful payment of compensation, to find out persons responsible for any acts of alleged environmental pollution or degradation as complained, to make recommendations as to measures to prevent further acts of oil spillage, non-effective clean up of oil spillage, environmental pollution or otherwise as stated in these terms of reference.”