The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has described statements credited to Minister of Environment, Hadiza Mailafiia, blaming the delay in implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Assessment on Ogoniland on the January 2012 protests over fuel subsidy removal as far-fetched, misleading and unacceptable.
Mailafiia, while speaking to State House correspondents after briefing President Jonathan on her ministry’s budget performance last Monday, said the unrest due to the fuel subsidy issue was responsible for the delay, even as she added that the government would commence implementation soon.
But in a statement issued in Lagos, ERA/FoEN said the deferment in implementation of the report was a disappointing turn in the quest of the Ogoni communities and indeed all impacted communities in the Niger Delta to get justice.
The UNEP report, submitted to the Federal Government on August 4, 2011, documented hydrocarbon pollution in surface water throughout the creeks of Ogoniland and up to 8cm in groundwater that feed drinking wells. Polluted soils with hydrocarbons up to a depth of five metres in 49 observed sites and benzene, a known cancer-causing chemical in drinking water at a level 900 times above World Health Organisation (WHO) acceptable levels, among others. The UNEP recommended a $1 billion restoration fund for cleanup.
“No rhetoric justifies the Federal Government’s attempt to shield Shell from justice through delayed implementation of the report or any other actions aimed at pulling wool over the faces of the Ogoni people. The Ogoni and other impacted communities of the Niger Delta reject the minister’s excuse and demand the immediate implementation of the UNEP recommendations,” said ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey.
Bassey explained that rather than embark on the recommended cleanup, the government is looking for excuses to protect oil corporations and keep the people in the dark by engaging in diversionary exercises such as the setting up of a Hydro-Carbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) which it claims will speed up the implementing the UNEP assessment report.
“Our concern is that there was no provision in the 2012 national budget for a project like the HYREP so it is clear that the initiative was hurriedly put up a few days to the one year anniversary of the UNEP report to make the government “seem” like acting on the report. Then, is it not ironic that government is not telling Nigerians what recommendations it wants to implement and which ones it does not want to?”
ERA/FoEN Director, Programmes & Administration, Godwin Ojo, said: “It beats the imagination that in spite of all its mouthing of the Ogoni pollution issue, the government, perhaps, as a result of a convergence of interests between it and the oil companies, is yet to commence the recommended cleanups.”
“It is woeful that Ogoniland has become the emblem of pollution and environmental degradation in the Niger Delta. We reject the government’s untenable and embarrassing excuses on why Shell must not take responsibility for its environmental assault on the Ogoni communities. The UNEP report should be implemented without further delay,” Ojo insisted.