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Ogoniland clean-up: Activists ask government to declare state of emergency

Despite the announcement of the supposed take-off of the Ogoniland clean-up exercise and a $10 million take-off grant in 2015, the institutional framework is still not in place to give hope to the Ogoni people that anything tangibe will come out of the process.

Bayelsa State Commissioner for Environment, Iniruo Willis (standing), Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Dr Godwin Ojo (sitting by Willis' right), and some other participants at the event
Bayelsa State Commissioner for Environment, Iniruo Willis (standing), Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Dr Godwin Ojo (sitting by Willis’ right), and some other participants at the event

This was the submission of Dr Godwin Ojo, executive director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN) on Thursday (04 August, 2016) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in an address at an Advocacy Meeting on Monitoring Agenda for the Implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Clean-up of Ogoniland.

Themed: “Monitoring Agenda for the Implementation of the UNEP report cleanup of Ogoniland”, the daylong forum discussed new developments on the implementation of the report, including the announcement and inauguration of a 13-member Governing Council and Board of Trustees to oversee the take-off of the actual clean-up exercise by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

The participants declared that a state of emergency should be declared in Ogoniland and the entire Niger Delta in view of the mammoth environmental challenges inflicted on the region.

Additionally, they want the clean-up of Ogoniland to commence immediately without further delay, even as they underlined the need for a legal framework and supportive Act for the implementation of the UNEP report. The exercise, they noted, should include health audit of the people in view of declining life expectancy among the people of the region.

Ojo lamented that, five years after the release of the UNEP Assessment report, Ogoniland still remains an emblem of pollution and ecocide in the Niger Delta region.

Indeed, the gathering, which comprised representatives of Niger Delta communities, civil soceity, lawyers, community campaigners, academia and the media, observed that though government has shown a positive attitude towards implementing the UNEP report by inaugurating a Governing Council and Board of Trustees, the absence of a gazette or law to ensure the process is institutionalised and sustained beyond the Buhari administration is not in place.

According to them, there is still legitimate outrage among Ogoni on the inclusion of the same polluting oil companies in the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of the UNEP report implementation. They describe Shell sitting on the Governing Council and steering Board set up by the government to oversee the clean-up as an anomaly.

Shell, the participants allege, is orchestrating a strategy of hijacking the clean-up process in its attempts to evade justice and undermining the clean-up process.

“Since the publicised approval of the $10 million take-off grant which is a paltry sum for start-up compared to the UNEP recommended $1 billion for clean-up of Ogoniland made by President Buhari in August 2015, there has been no information in the public on how the fund will be expended, or how oil companies are to fund the clean-up exercise,” the forum declared, stressing that there is still no work plan or timelines for deliverables in the UNEP report implementation process.

They observed that civil society representation in the composition of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees in the UNEP report implementation is virtually nil and would make monitoring of implementation near absent.

Despite the current administration mantra of diversification from a monoculture economy solely reliant on fossil fuels, it still relies heavily on fossil fuel to the detriment of proven alternatives that are clean and sustainable.

The gathering further recommended thus:

  • Release of the gazette of the UNEP report implementation to ensure sustainability beyond the present administration since the clean-up will take 30 years to complete from the take-off date of commencement
  • Shell’s removal from the Governing Council of the UNEP clean-up exercise to ensure no conflict of interest in the work of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees
  • Need for unity among the Ogoni people to ensure the process of clean-up of Ogoniland is not stalled
  • The clean-up of Ogoniland should be the entry point of the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta region.
  • Adequate awareness creation on the clean-up process to address the concerns of the Ogoni and the generality of Nigerians interested in ensuring the current processes work
  • Adequate civil society representation in the Governing Council and BOT of the implementing committee
  • An independent monitoring system be set up with representatives of the Ogoni and civil society playing prominent and active roles
  • Nigerian government should wean itself of fossil fuels dependency and halt all forms of pollution by the oil industry in the Niger Delta by enforcing the deadline for the cessation of gas flaring and exploring safe renewables.

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