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Activists lament state of Ogoniland, three years after UNEP report

Monday August 4th, 2014 marks the 3rd year anniversary of the damning report of the assessment of Ogoni environment conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the request of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The comprehensive report unambiguously confirmed fears and anxiety that Ogoniland is a ticking ecological bomb.

KalabaIn a reaction, Nnimmo Bassey, the director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), regrets that after three years a situation that required the declaration of environmental emergency was yet to elicit any serious response.

“We are deeply shocked that we are marking three years of inaction on a report that clearly showed that our peoples are walking and living in the valley of the shadow of death. We are scandalised that we are not marking three years of concrete actions to salvage what is left of the Ogoni environment,” Bassey says.

Oluwafunmilayo Oyatogun, media officer of HOMEF, declares in a statement that Ogoniland has become a metaphor for unconscionable ecological ruination that petroleum resource extraction has wreaked on the Niger Delta. “Despite the fact that oil extraction activities was forced to halt in Ogoniland in 1993 following the expulsion of Shell by the Ogonis people under the leadership of the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ogoniland remains arguably one of the most polluted areas of the world,” she emphasises.

“There are no tenable reasons for government and Shell to fold their arms and watch our people wallow in a chronically polluted environment all through their lives. Why should anyone have to drink water containing benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline and 1000 times above Nigerian drinking water standards?” Bassey wonders.

“The Niger Delta is tragically the most severely petroleum-impacted ecosystem I have seen anywhere in the world – and I have seen many. The extraordinary environmental and social damage has continued for over 50 years now, and continues to this day. As has been said by many, Nigeria is an iconic example of the oil curse”, says Professor Richard Steiner, a conservation biologist with the Oasis Earth in Anchorage Alaska.

According to Oyatogun, the peaceful but consistent cries of the Ogoni people against the destruction of their environment have gone unheard by Shell and the Nigerian government.

She adds: “We recall that Ogoni people issued the Ogoni Bill of Rights in 1990 and categorically demanded for environmental, political and socio-economic justice and protection. Regrettably, despite a formal presentation of the document to the government nothing have been said or done by the way of response or engagement.

“It is unacceptable that three years after the UNEP report was released, no structure has been set up that would indicate any serious process for transparently tackling the ecocide that has been visited on the Ogoni environment.”

“It is regrettable that rather than setting up a process of remediation with full popular participation in setting goals and targets, the best we have are politics of pollution signposts from the government and arguments by Shell over who should warehouse $1 billion they are allegedly ready to place on the table for the clean-up,” notes Celestine Akpobari of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum.

The demands made by HOMEF at the second anniversary of the UNEP report remains appropriate one year after, recalls Bassey, listing these to include:

  • Declare Ogoni land an ecological disaster zone and invest resources to tackle the deep environmental disaster here.
  • Urgently provide potable drinking water to the people across Ogoniland.
  • Commission an assessment of the entire Niger Delta environment. An assessment or audit of the environment of the entire nation should equally be on the cards urgently. As recommended by the UNEP report, establish a Centre of Excellence for Environmental Restoration in Ogoniland for learning on pollution and clean up actions across the Niger Delta.
  • Ensure that those who have committed crimes against the people and the environment are brought to book and made to pay for their misdeeds. Blame for oil thefts must go beyond the diversionary focus on the miniscule volumes taken up by bush refiners. The major crude oil stealing mafias must be uncovered. Crude oil and gas volumes must also be metered as a basic requirement for transparency and accountability.
  • Engage in dialogue with the Ogoni people as to the time-scale and scope of actions to be taken to restore the environment. Issues highlighted in the Ogoni Bills of Rights and the UNEP report provides good bases for dialogue. This should be extended to the whole of Niger Delta.
  • Ensure that the actions to tackle the ecological disaster in the Niger Delta is not use as a job patronage for cronies or the boys; rather the UNEP should play a principal oversight role in area of finance, ensure quality, build confidence in the process and most importantly tackle corruption.
  • Scrap HYPREP and set up an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Agency to be domiciled in the Ministry of Environment and should not by any means be under the polluting Petroleum Resources Ministry. Equally set up an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, as recommended by the UNEP report.
  • Order Shell to urgently dismantle whatever remains of their facilities in Ogoniland along with toxic wastes dump in the territory.
  • Order Shell to replace the Trans Niger Delta pipeline that carries crude oil from other parts of the region across Ogoni territory.
  • Require Shell to fully implement the UNEP report.

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