Comrade Sheriff Mulade is the National Coordinator/CEO of the Centre of Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ). In this interview with Francis Sadhere, he talks about how the immediate past governor of Delta state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghans eight years reign has taken the State twenty five years backwards. He also talks about the environment, gas flare and other burning issues confronting the oil and gas industry. Excerpt:

Comrade Seriff Mulade

Please introduce yourself to us.

My name is comrade Sheriff Mulade. I am an environmentalist and the National Coordinator/CEO, Center for Peace and Environmental Justice (CEPEJ).

Over the years we have had several Commissioners for Environment in Delta state, are you impressed with their performances so far and what do you expect from the incoming commissioners?

Over the years all the Commissioners that we have been having in this state are a bunch of disappointment. Most of them that were appointed to that ministry were not expert in that field. I see their appointments as political compensations. Most of them never had passion for the environment and when someone does not have passion for the environment he will not be able to perform well. They have not really done well in those ministries. What I want the new administration to do is to appoint technocrats who have a passion for the environment to be in charge of those ministries. I want his Excellency, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa to appoint experts into the ministry of environment so that the people will enjoy the environment and feel the impact of the government. Delta state is blessed with few cities and these cities need to be clean and beautified. Even the local governments are not doing anything about our environment and this is not good enough. We want Governor Okowa to appoint serious minded commissioner of environment that we can relate with as civil societies and NGOs. We as NGOs only set agenda for government while government implements. When we initiate ideas and send them to the ministry, we expect the ministry to adopt the ones they feel they can adopt and work with them. Government also needs to work with us when they are implementing these environmental ideas because they cannot do it all alone. We have carried out several programs and seminars to sensitize our people so that they will be aware of the challenges in our environment. Our environment is our heritage and we must make sure we protect and preserve it for our children yet unborn.

The new commissioner of environment that will be appointed by Governor Okowa should be somebody that has a listening ear and is ready to listen to environmental experts, NGOs and Deltans. He must be somebody who has a passion for the environment. He should participate in environmental programmes. It is so amazing that it is only in Delta that you will organize an environmental program and you invite the government and they will not attend. But if you go to Lagos, whenever the government receives an invitation from any NGO, the government will scrutinize the NGO and send someone to participate in the program. It is not about who is behind the NGO but about the ideas behind the NGO and what the man is trying to achieve. We want to urge the Delta State Government to try and participate in environmental programs organized by different NGOs.

I will continue to say that the immediate past Governor of Delta State, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghans administration has sent Delta State 28 years backward. I have said it severally. I could also remember that some years back I told everyone who cared to listen, that Uduaghan will not conduct local government elections in the state until the end of his administration where he will want to put in people who will help him fight his senatorial ambition. That revelation came to pass and we are all witnesses to what happened during that period. But God helped us and he could not succeed in his ambition and we thank God that that one has gone. We must note that if human beings cannot stop you from achieving something, God will stop you and that is what happened in Uduaghans case. The new administration should learn from what happened to Uduaghan and others.

My serious call to Governor Okowa is that he should encourage Deltans and Civil Societies by participating in their programs. Its not about giving them money alone but they should participate in their programs too. The Bayelsa state government is a good example in this area because when he receives a letter from Civil Societies to attend a program, he will acknowledge it and send somebody to attend. So Delta State should brace up to the challenge.

Gas flaring has become a hydra-headed monster in the country as government seems not to know how to put a stop to it, what do you think is the problem here?

Comrade Seriff Mulade

Gas flaring in Nigeria is not a new phenomenon. It is no longer news but I think we only need a leader like President Mohammadu Buhari who seems to have some level of integrity and political will power to implement this law and bring gas flaring to a stop. President Olusegun Obasanjo and the then National Assembly made some promises and comments but at the end of the day those promises and comments became political promises and comments. Also the immediate past President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan made the same promises too but nothing came out of it. So we are hoping that President Buhari will end gas flaring in the Niger Delta region in particular and salvage our environment for us. Gas flaring as a result of oil exploration and exploitation has destroyed the entire ecosystem and you will agree with that with the prevailing climate change – except government takes proactive step, Nigeria is not safe.

This issue of gas flaring is also as a result of corruption and I am very happy that the president during his campaigns has promised to end corruption. We know that he may not end corruption completely, but we are expecting a drastic drop in corruption in this country until another government comes and drops it further and end corruption.

Another problem we have in the oil and gas sector and why gas flaring has continued in Nigeria is that the multinationals are the ones regulating the Nigeria National Petroleum Company. The multinationals are dictating to the Nigeria government. This only means that we are an independent nation only on paper and not in reality because the multinationals are the ones in charge of our economy. Nigeria is running the economy with 95 percent revenue accrued from oil and gas and these multinationals are the ones running the oil and gas sector. So what do you expect from them? If the IOCs decide to shot their oil and gas facilities then Nigeria is doomed. So with this in mind, government is only romancing and pleading with them to end gas flaring in the country because they do not have the power to stop it on their own. The communities that are been affected by this gas flaring do not have any say because they do not have the wherewithal to fight the government.

Another expect responsible for this gas flaring is that when it come to pollution, we have conflicting agencies where laws and penalties are duplicated across the agencies. In the area of environment we have the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), we have the Nigeria Environmental Standards and Regulatory Agency (NESDRA) and we have the Ministry of Environment. These agencies are in conflict when it comes to process and procedures of environmental matters. For example, when there is a spill, the community cries out and the multinational companies will invite the Ministry of Environment and the other agencies for a Joint Investigation Venture (JIV). At the JIV, the multinational oil company will provide the logistics to convey the ministry of environment, NOSDRA and NESDRA to the venue of the spill. So at the end of the day, it is going to be the community against four others. At the end of the day the agencies will say it is a third party intervention and the community will shout no and they will embark on protests and they will be labeled as stubborn youths who have taken over the area and so on and so forth.

This is why CEPEJ is advocating that these agencies should be collapsed into one agency with one process and regulation. The agency should be fully independent and devoid of government interference. The agency should also be adequately funded because if they are not, the corruption we are talking about will not end. They could collapse all the other agencies into NOSDRA or redefine the name to embrace the other agencies.

We are also advocating that the headquarters of NOSDRA should be relocated to the Niger Delta region so that when there are spills the DG of NOSDRA could go down to the spill locations and see things for himself. We expect the DG and his directors to go round some of these areas that are heavily affected by oil spill where the communities are crying. But what we see today is that the DG is in Abuja while the affected communities are far away here in the Niger Delta region suffering. These are people whose means of livelihood had been destroyed by the heavy spills in their communities and who do not have money to go to Abuja to register their grievances. We want NOSDRA to be close to the people that is why we are advocating that the headquarters should be relocated to the Niger Delta area where we have so many cities that can accommodate the office. With this development, NOSDRA can take time to visit the affected communities to ascertain the level of damage caused by the spills. They should not see the affected environment as a Niger Delta environment, but as Nigeria environment that has been destroyed through the exploitation and exploration of oil companies.

What do you have to say concerning indiscriminate waste disposal by individuals in the country and the state?

Comrade Seriff Mulade

The indiscriminate dumping of waste across our cities and blocking of our canals and drainages have become a big problem in the state and I feel particular ashamed when I think about it, and this is why I said that past commissioners of environment have not done well so far. To solve this problem, I will not refer the state government to go to London or US to learn how to treat waste. I will refer them to go to Lagos and learn how to the state governor has been able to turn waste to wealth. In Lagos you will see waste to wealth. They have two recycling centers in Lagos and this has created a lot of jobs for the youths in that state. Also I can remember that in Abuja when the former minister, ElRufai was the minster of FCT the place was very clean. But today Abuja is very dirty as soon as he left office.

What we are saying is that Delta State should build recycling factories and create employment for our youths. Delta has five major cities and the waste generated in Warri alone is enough to generate employment for over five thousand youths. We have contact in London where we send people to for training. We have sold this idea to the Delta state government and other Niger Delta State governments because we believe that this is another way of creating employment for the youths. In Delta State for example, we want the state government to create two recycling centers in the outskirt of Warri and Asaba were all our waste would be taken to be recycled. If Senator Okowa is ready to give Delta State a new look, he should tap into this idea.

Though we lack discipline as citizens, the government is the driver and when government is in the drivers sit others have no choice than to follow him. When government drives the process the citizens will follow. Lagos state, for example was a very dirty place but when Fashola came and sat on the drivers seat, Lagos state began to take shape and this is a city of over 20 million. Delta state is just over four million and I strongly believe that if Ifeanyi Okowa will be on the drivers seat and have the political will to drive the process, Delta State will be clean. We are going to forwarded a bill to the state House of Assembly to create an agency for the waterways protection and city beautification, just like it is being done in Lagos.