Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, reflects on the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Assessment on Ogoniland, three year after its release
I draw our collective attention to the blood stained banner of ecological catastrophe hanging over Ogoniland, which has been acclaimed globally as one of the most horrendous in human history. It is on a sad note that we mark the third year of the release of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Assessment on Ogoniland. Since the release of the report, neither Shell which is the chief polluter, nor the Nigerian government which is the supposed regulator of oil companies’ operations, has done anything significant to implement the UNEP report recommendations.
The ERA/FoE Nigeria, Friends of Earth International, Amnesty International, Platform and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) have released a report showing the lack of progress in implementing the UNEP recommendations. The report highlights evidence gathered by numerous experts, who show that Shell manipulates information and avoids accountability for old and leaking pipes. The pipes are so old that the company will feel ashamed to disclose their age or integrity status publicly.
On 4 August 2011 the UNEP published a scientific study on Ogoniland which showed Shell’s environmental atrocity on the Ogoni people and their environment through frequent oil spills and gas flaring that ruined the environment and rural livelihoods. The report findings from three years of intense investigation showed hydrocarbon pollution in surface water throughout the creeks of Ogoniland and up to 8cm in groundwater that feed drinking wells. Soils were found to have been polluted with hydrocarbons up to a depth of five metres in 49 observed sites, while benzene, a known cancer-causing chemical was found in drinking water at a level 900 times above World Health Organisation (WHO) acceptable levels.
The UNEP study also documented that fisheries have been destroyed and that wetlands around Ogoniland are highly degraded. These combined, have led to irreparable loss of livelihoods and will take 30 years to remediate. Besides, the report recommended a high level Ogoni Environmental Restoration Authority, and a Clean up and Restoration fund of $1 billion. Shell and the Nigerian government have done little that depicts action but are mere fig leafs for business as usual. For example, the erection of warning signposts beside polluted water bodies and contaminated soil without the provision of alternatives has yielded poor result. It is heart rending that government is complicit in the plot to deny environmental justice to the Ogonis.
Shell for over 50 years has dolled out baskets of lies and deception in oil extraction activities. Recently, but diabolically Shell blamed the Nigerian government for not putting in place the requisite framework to make the company to commit funds into remediation. It is vexing that the accused which is the Nigerian government is maintaining sealed lips and, like Shell, not making any commitment. In the face of such provocation and impunity, the Nigerian government is unable to bring Shell to order. The lack of meaningful action gives the impression that Shell is able to get away with the environmental and human rights abuses in the Niger Delta. Clearly, the shame of a nation lies in the fact that Shell the regulated has become the regulator, and the regulator has become the regulated.
Since the UNEP report, Shell has disputed some of its findings – but without providing any scientific basis for its claims. Shell has defended its clean up methodology – which the UN said should never be used because it is outdated, not appropriate for such areas, and thus ineffective. Shell would not obey the laws of Nigeria and would not accede to the implementation of UNEP report recommendations.
We re-iterate our demands, among others, that the Ogonis in collaboration with other Niger Delta communities and civil society approach the United Nations to appoint a Niger Delta Reconciliation and Restoration Commission with autonomy and authority to do so. We are not only demanding $1 billion for the Ogoni environment restoration but the sum of $100 billion restoration fund for the Niger Delta to address clean up, restoration and compensation. We also recommend that HYPREP be scrapped forthwith since it is a mere administrative unit under the Federal Ministry of Petroleum and not statutorily set up by law. Rather than HYPREP to usurp the functions of a rather weak NOSDRA, the agency should be strengthened and empowered with adequate resources for them to conduct their statutory duties.
We hereby declare Ogoniland as ecological disaster zone and urge the Federal Government to do same by declaring Ogoniland as a national ecological tragedy. Ogoniland is a crime scene from ecological and human rights violations or ecocide which the oil companies and their CEOs must be held accountable. CEOs that persistently take decisions that consistently lead to destruction of livelihoods, human rights violations and death should be held accountable for the crime of ecocide.
Doubtless, ecological devastation is the root of the state of conflicts engulfing the nation. While oil extraction has destroyed rural livelihoods in the Niger Delta, northern Nigeria is faced with deadly desertification that is similar to the pains and misery of the Niger Delta. The west is faced with deforestation while the east is ravaged by gully erosion. Thus, rural people throughout Nigeria have been impoverished. Our position is: rather than amnesty to select few we submit that a social security in the form of National Basic Income Scheme (NaBIS) of about N10,000 for all Nigerians who are unemployed is the solution to the spate of violence. Such social security will account for all unemployed in Nigeria including old age poverty. For our nation, a NaBIS is long overdue and has the potency to unlock creative potentials, reduce crime rates and promote peace and harmony in our society.
Civil society, lawyers, policy makers, community-based groups including representatives of the Ogoni communities will look at the issues thus far and come out with concrete ideas to compel Shell and the Nigerian government to act on this damning report.