Wednesday, August 4, 2021 is the 10th year anniversary of the submission of the UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland Report to the Federal Government of Nigeria in 2011.
The report was a crystallisation of the many years of campaigns and agitations on the state of the environment of not just Ogoniland but the entire Niger Delta by environmental justice campaigners led by the iconic figure late Kenule Beeson Saro Wiwa.
The report among others revealed the extent of environmental contamination and threats to human health with drinking water pollution in some parts of Ogoniland so serious that immediate emergency actions were needed. The report further revealed that full environmental restoration may take up to 30 years if all polluting of the area is stopped before the clean up.The report also called for an initial $1 billion fund to kick start the clean-up, among others.
After years of playing politics with the clean-up of Ogoniland as directed in the UNEP Report, in 2016 Federal Government approved the implementation of the report and on June 2, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari through the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the cleanup of Ogoniland.
Since the flag off with its attendant fanfare, the government has to its credit in this direction the establishment of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) with the mandate to remediate the environment and restore the livelihood of the people. The agency was saddled with the responsibility of coordinating, overseeing and managing the clean-up implementation process in accordance with the recommendations documented in the UNEP Report.
With the establishment of the HYPREP, the Ogoni people and Nigerians at large thought that action will begin immediately especially the emergency recommendations but alas, part of the emergency actions embarked upon by HYPREP was the mounting of signposts to warn of the polluted areas.With the inauguration of the governance structures of HYPREP and at some point, release of some funds to them, the pace of work did not improve as sites were only identified and demarcated for clean up and handling of soil remediation activities, with contractors mobilised to oil impacted sites without addressing issues related to emergency measures as recommended in the UNEP Report.
The emergency measures and other significant recommendations include Construction of Contaminated Soil Management Centre, Building of Centre of Excellence, Provision of Potable Drinking Water for the people, Audit of the Health of the People, addressing livelihood issues especially those related to youths involved in acts of oil theft and artisanal refining, etc. HYPREP had earlier advertised for these measures, received biddings but swept them under the carpet and/or abandoned them completely and instead, went ahead to request for new applications for cleanup and awarded contracts.
Regrettably, not all the sites have been certified cleaned and completely remediated till date.
For an emergency measure of water provision, the federal government only in March, 2021 (close to 10 years after), in a ceremony led by the Honourable Minister of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, flagged off six water projects as part of the clean up of Ogoniland activities!
CSOs and environmental justice campaigners in commending the federal government for mustering the political will to flag off the clean up of Ogoniland, however calls for urgent and expedited action as what is true of the pace of work 5 years after the flag off exercise can only be likened to the leg movements of millipedes!
Environmental justice campaigners are afraid that if the current sluggish pace of work is maintained, the purpose of the cleanup would have been defeated because pollution would have moved further down beyond the depths first envisaged and in other cases, there could be re-pollution and contamination of sites not properly cleaned or abandoned. Also, other actions like the water project and the needs assessment being undertaken now should have been done much earlier than this as emergency actions.
We therefore call on the government to take the lead and organize other stakeholders to mandate the execution of the UNEP recommendations to the letter – giving it the required speed. By extension, environmental assessment of the entire Niger Delta should be carried out with the aim of cleaning up the region.
On the basis of the above, the government is scored below pass mark so far. Believing that improvements are possible with a view to correcting the situation and gaining the support and goodwill of the people for a better environmental deal for the Ogoni, the Niger Delta and the Nigerian nation, demand thus:
1. The immediate audit of the cleanup process to evaluate progress made vis-à-vis the timelines and recommendations of the UNEP report.
2. The identification and mapping of the entire polluted Niger Delta communities and elsewhere in Nigeria for cleanup.
3. There should be health audit in the whole of Niger Delta communities and elsewhere where oil and gas and other forms of extraction is taking place.
4. The provision of potable drinking water for the people. This was part of the emergency measure and it has not been provided till now even-though the flag off of six water projects has been done, the people are yet to see the water flow four months after.
5. The Construction of Centre of Excellence and Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre which HYPREP cannot say they lack funds to do. HYPREP has enough funds to do this.
6. HYPREP must utilise and invest immediately the funds for the provision of alternative livelihoods for youths involved in artisanal crude oil refining in the area to stop re-pollution, including, empowering other youths engaged in legitimate endeavours to avoid the temptation of engaging in illegitimate businesses.
We call on men and women of goodwill across the world to join hands with the people of Ogoniland, Niger Delta, Nigeria and environmental justice campaigners to demand that the oil companies involved in the polluting of Ogoniland and the Niger Delta must not run away from the havoc they have caused by divesting from the polluted areas but must first clean up their mess and put down a Niger Delta Environmental Restoration Funds of a minimum of $100 billion!
Signed: 1. Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (Chima Williams); 2. Health of Mother Earth Foundation (Nnimmo Bassey); 3. Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (Akinbode Oluwafemi); 4. Lekeh Development Foundation (Nbani Friday Barilule); and 5. Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface)