OPINION: In the 63 years since oil production began in the Niger Delta, spills have degraded the biggest mangrove forest in Africa and fifth largest in the world.

The latest spill at an Aiteo-operated well in Bayelsa State continues to belch at least 10,000 barrels per day into the sensitive mangroves, four weeks after it began.

Had this event occurred anywhere else and had the operator been a Western supermajor, it would be headline news globally.

Sadly, because Niger Delta spills are commonplace and Aiteo is little-known, this blowout is almost a purely indigenous affair.

But this must not detract from the fact that Nigeria’s important mangrove habitat is atrophying from decades of spills that have swamped the ecosystem with at least 95 million barrels of oil since 1958.

One study estimates that these forests provide $25 billion of ecosystem service benefits to society every year — by acting as a nursery for 60% of the fish species in the Gulf of Guinea, as a bulwark against floods and storms, and as a carbon dioxide sink.

The 8100 square-kilometre forest is under assault on multiple fronts — oil pollution, development, wood harvesting and invasive species — with recent research estimating 12% of this ecosystem was destroyed in the decade to 2017.

Creating a fit-for-purpose oil spill response system would help curtail habitat loss because Nigeria's current arrangements — resorting in extremis to overseas help — do not stand up to scrutiny.

It beggars belief that a specialist well control organisation — paid for by an annual levy on oil companies — is not permanently on call in the stricken Niger Delta to quickly respond to blow outs. If not now, when?

This levy could also help to fund a beefed-up network of spill response centres with the latest equipment and building on the foundations of Nigeria's National Oil Spill Detection & Response Agency. What on earth is Abuja waiting for?

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)

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