Saturday, December 9, 2017 7:09 pm
Complaints over the federal government’s delayed clean-up of Ogoni land, devastaed by years of oil exploration, will soon be over
Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcort
Understandably, both muffled and loud grumblings by Ogonis over the delay in the actual clean up of the crude oil impacted sites in Ogoniland of Rivers State are common place.The reason is obvious.The clean up was officially flagged off on Thursday 2 June 2016, by the Vice-President,Yemi Osinbajo on behalf the federal government in Bodo in Gokana local government area of the state. The latest signals emerging from the federal government and other key stakeholders in the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report, it appears the hiccups on the remediation of the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region would soon come to reality..
Leading the pack among the skeptics on the sincrerity of the federal government is the Former Chairman of Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, National Stakeholders Working Group, Mr. Ledum Mitee. He has accused the federal government of not being sincere with the clean up, adding that only a Presidential directive is required for the clean up to kick off without much red-tappisim. Mitee, who is an Environmentalist and Human Right Activist, complained that more than one year after the flag-off of the clean up by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, nothing has been done apart from incessant media hype. He explained that federal government has the primary responsibility to drive the whole clean up process, while the International oil companies have the secondary responsibility of providing counterpart funding for the clean up.
As far as Mitee is concerned, the UNEP clean up of Ogoniland is on the pages of newspapers and television screens, there is hardly anything on ground to say any action is ongoing. He pointed out that looking at what UNEP said in the report, the situation in Ogoniland is an emergency situation that has taken people’s lives and is still costing people’s lives and something should be done about it. Like other Ogonis, Mitee who is the immediate past President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, the position he held for 15 years, points out that more than one year after the vice president launched the clean up in Bodo, nothing has happened; the whole thing, he said, was just a sham and it’s a shame that the country has played this level of deceit on the people. “As far as I am concerned, if the high office of the President represented by the vice president come to a place to flag off an action, which means you have actually commenced something, but more than one year nothing has happened, except that launching ceremony, what other evidence do you need to say the whole thing is not real? The buck stops on the president’s desk and it is that presidential directive that is required.”
However, recent revelations indicate that six years after the submission of the UNEP report, the federal government, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and other major stakeholders have now shown some level of seriousness and commitment in the remediation of impacted communities in Ogoniland. Osinbajo, in a meeting with leaders of Niger Delta region, under the aegis of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), about a month ago disclosed that the federal government had set aside $1billion for the cleaning up and remediation of Ogoniland.
Osinbajo explained that $200 million would be released yearly out of the $1billion for the first five years for the project, adding that work on the clean-up would be conducted in line with international best practices. He also disclosed that water tests had been done in preparation for the clean-up exercise, while 15 technical assistants had been engaged to work with the professionals to ensure sustainable environmental standards in Ogoniland.
On its part, SPDC had released $10 million take-off fund to the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), the agency saddled with the responsibility of driving the remediation process in Ogoniland. The company’s General Manager, External Relations, Mr. Igo Weli, told journalists in Port Harcourt recently, that the international oil giant would continue to play its critical role alongside other stakeholders under a transparent governance framework.
Weli explained that 15 heavily polluted sites mentioned in the UNEP Report that needed attention had been remediated in Ogoniland and certified by the federal government, pointing out that the company had raised its standard on remediation approaches in line with the industry’s best practices. Although these interventions are coming somehow belatedly, it is re-assuring that something at last, is being done towards the full implementation of the UNEP Report. The bold steps taken so far by the critical stakeholders to give the Ogoni a new lease of life are necessary tonic to push the remediation project far taking note also that UNEP recommended a 30-year systematic clean. President Muhammadu Buhari,who is a titled chief in Ogoniland,has gone a step further by including the Ogoni clean up in the 2018 budget and the construction of the Bodo-Bonny road that had been abandoned over two decades.
A human and environmental rights activist, Celestine AkpoBari in his reaction to the latest development has commended President Buhari for the inclusion of some strategic projects for Niger Delta in the 2018 budget. AkpoBari said that the inclusion of the Ogoni Clean-up and other projects within the Niger Delta in the budget was a good omen. According to him, it shows that the Buhari-led government is serious about the development of the region.
The activist, who hails from Ogoni land, advised the government to ensure the implementation of all projects captured in the budget to boost peoples’ confidence in the administration. AkpoBari also urged Ogoni youths to remain peaceful and law abiding in their agitation for a better deal, adding that “ violence does nobody any good’’.
Ogoniland is among the worst hit in the area of environmental degradation. Several years of oil exploration and exploitation had left its massive landscape desolate and highly devastated, while the people’s means of livelihood have been at serious risk. About 22 years ago, attempts by some prominent Ogoni sons and daughters, to draw the world’s attention to the deplorable situation, with a view to getting remedial response, had left in its wake tears and blood. The hanging of popular environmentalist, Kenule Saro-Wiwa and three others by the Sani Abacha military junta on 10 November 1995,is still fresh in mind, even as several of his kinsmen also paid the supreme price.
Based on years of consistent resistance to further exploitation of oil in a nonviolent manner, UNEP was drafted to Ogoniland to ascertain the level of environmental degradation in the area and proffer solution. The agency, at the end of its assignment, submitted a report to the Federal Government in August 2011, with far-reaching recommendations on the remediation of the vast Ogoniland.
However, FG’s pussy footing on the exercise gave rise to a lot of complaints by concerned individuals and organisations. The Ogoni, at a point, called for adequate funding of the clean-up project by the federal government and other relevant stakeholders involved. They had regretted that the inability of some stakeholders to contribute their own quota of the $1 billion cleanup agreement is contributing to the delay of the exercise. They pointed out that appointing an Ogoni son, Dr Marvin Dekil as the project co-ordinator of Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), is not enough, but speedy implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Ogoni leaders also bared their minds during a consultative meeting with the Project Coordinator,Dr Marvin Dekil in Port Harcourt. Barinua Wifa, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who chaired the occasion said the HYPREP Coordinator will succeed in delivering the mandate given to him if all the stakeholders release their contribution to the one billion dollars required to fast-track the clean-up process. He, therefore, called on the federal government to be sincere and provide adequate fund for the project implementation in Ogoniland, stressing that Ogoni leaders are backing their kinsman, the project co-ordinator, Dekil.
Also, a member representing Tai Constituency in Rivers State House of Assembly, Dike Matthew, said their decision to task HYPREP to take urgent step in providing water to the affected communities was based on the recommendations by UNEP report, which states that water sources in the area are contaminated. Dekil said a lot had been done to ensure a successful remediation and restoration of the people’s livelihood.
The Ogoni leaders of thought including a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Barinua Wifa, former
Vice Chancellor of the Rivers State University, Professor Barineme Fakae, traditional rulers, politicians, businessmen and community leaders made their position known at a consultative meeting with the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, HYPREP in Port Harcourt.
During the 21st anniversary of the killing of prominent Ogoni sons on 10 November, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), gave the federal government till December this year, to commence clean-up of oil-polluted areas of Ogoniland in Rivers State or face the wrath of the people. MOSOP expressed dismay over delay in commencement of the clean-up since the federal government launched the exercise over a year ago. Speaking on the activities marking the 21st anniversary of Ogoni sons killed by the military, who struggled for the survival and development of the area, Secretary of the Martyrs Day Planning Committee, Mr. Bari-ara Kpalap, said since the flag-off of the clean-up and the ground-breaking, for the construction of the integrated contaminated soil management, nothing has been done in the area.
There is no doubt that there has been delay in the commencement of the clean up of polluted sites in the pollution ravaged Ogoni so much the UNEP Report .For instance,it recommended that Ogonis should no longer drink from underwater or Rivers in Ogoni because of cancerous benzenes and other dangerous chemicals.And as a matter of urgency alternative sources should be provided for the people.
However,the new vigour by the federal government, oil companies and other stakeholders,there is a vista of hope that the long awaited clean up will commence earlier than expected.