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Govt should establish $1bn fund to clean-up entire Niger Delta – Ojo

Bothered by the seemingly slow pace of work in the clean-up of Ogoniland by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) and the environmental degradation from gas flaring and oil spills covering the entire Niger Delta, Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), in this interview with EnviroNews, underlined the need for the government to set up a clean-up and rehabilitation fund of US$1 billion to commence the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta. Excerpts:

Godwin Uyi Ojo
Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN)

The spate of environmental degradation in Nigeria appears to be worsening. Climate change induced incidents such as aridification/desert encroachment, shrinking of the Lake Chad, extensive flooding of riverside communities, deforestation, gully erosion, loss of biodiversity and coastal erosion are severely battering the nation. What can be done to address these occurrences?

Humanity has ample window to redress the colossal environmental degradation and the impact of climate change on the environment and people if it shows greater ambition to curb climate change. There is the need to roll back carbon footprints and restore degraded ecosystems such as the shrinking of Lake Chad which millions of people depend on for their fishing and farming livelihoods. Desert encroachment is decimating rural lives and livelihoods in northern Nigeria forcing the herdsmen migration to the southern Nigeria. Such open grazing that is unmindful of farmlands and crops has generated serious farmer-herdsmen conflicts and loss of lives. Instead of open grazing, the modern techniques of ranching with its improved technologies should be immediately deployed and cattle ranchers trained.

The General Assembly of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) recently commended the resolution of the Senate over its commitment to break the nearly 20 years jinx that is said to have bedevilled the Petroleum Industry Bill currently before the National Assembly. Kindly shed some light on this action by ERA/FoEN.

The critical issue remains the devolution of power to the communities as stakeholders with states in the development process. In this sense there is the need for equity stakes of about 10 per cent devolved to the host communities that can allow them to conduct development projects through Community foundations and development initiatives. The controversy around the issue of host communities to oil companies need not arise to cause dissension and division in the ranks.

Host communities are all communities that will suffer potential impacts in the event of oil spills and gas faring or other disturbances. Host communities also means communities primarily hosting oil facilities in their communities. Combining these definitions will help save blows and fisticuffs among host community members who should agree to work together and ensure that the gains of the struggle are not lost.

Your organisation has consistently maintained that pace of work in the clean-up of Ogoniland by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) is slow. Why have you taken this stand, what can be done to reverse the trend, and what have you done to ensure the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta?

The legacy project of the federal government is not up to speed because the procurement process is unduly delayed, and funds released are yet to be expended. The clean-up itself is politicised and most Ogoni leaders and community members are dissatisfied with the slow progress made. The Key performance indicators are not robust and, in any event, it is short of livelihoods restoration.

The focus on Ogoni has given the impression that the government cares about environment but the reverse is the case when you consider the environmental degradation from gas flaring and oil spills covering the entire Niger Delta. There is the need for the government to set up a clean-up and rehabilitation fund of US$1 billion to commence the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta.

You have also relentlessly stressed the need for a Just Energy Transition. How relevant is it to the Nigerian economy, and what does the nation stand to gain by adopting this process?

As a result of global warming and climate change, there is need for energy transition from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas to alternatives in renewable energy sources such as solar and energy saving stoves for cooking. As the world is moving towards an energy revolution in renewable energy sources there is the need for a post petroleum economy for Nigeria, which is transiting from oil and gas to renewable energy sources. There is need to divest public finance, loans and subsidies from fossil fuels and to invest them in renewable energy sources.

Since oil is polluting and international market price dwindling, the need for alternative energy sources is gradually being embraced with new and cleaner technologies that reduces carbon footprints. The nation stands to gain from being the hub for energy in Africa, generation of green jobs and improved energy access to citizens especially remote areas without national grid or most areas and cities that the national grid has either collapsed or dysfunctional.

If ERA/FoEN were to be given the responsibility to midwife the implementation a Just Recovery initiative in Nigeria, how would you go about it?

Just recovery requires equity and participation in the management and use of natural resources and the equitable distribution of basic amenities such as energy, food and water. Since the carbonised economy is dependent on fossil fuels there is the need for diversification to other productive sources particularly in non-oil sectors in ways that empowers the population. There should be less dependence on petroleum resources and investment in the agricultural sector as well as renewable energy sector to generate green jobs. The energy poverty in Nigeria is directly the root cause of poor development and opportunities hence meeting the energy needs should be prioritised to improve energy access to all.

Tell us about the state of the Renewable Energy Bill. How did it come about? What does it entail? How is it beneficial to the country? What role is your organisation playing to actualise it?

The renewable energy bill is currently before the National Assembly and experiencing some unexpected delays due to unforeseen circumstances. Nigeria stands to benefit from the Bill once passed since it will harness and harvest all clean and green energy models for optimal benefits including the need for quicker transition from dependence on oil to investment in renewable energy sources.

It will also ensure diversification of the energy access and ensure grants and loans do not any more go to fossil fuels development. We will continue to conduct policy engagement with policy makers to train and them to be abreast with current realities of climate change and the alternatives in renewable energy.      

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