Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), says on Tuesday at a forum in Nchia-Eleme, Ogoni, that cleaning up the polluted Ogoniland is not akin to fighting a losing battle
Environmental monitoring is often carried out to ensure that standards are maintained to ensure environmental and human health. In other words, we monitor to ensure that nothing goes wrong, and so that we detect when anything goes wrong. That is the standard idea of environmental monitoring.
In the case of the Niger Delta, the matter is not about what may go wrong; the situation is that everything that can go wrong has already gone wrong. What do you do when what can go wrong has gone wrong? Are we preparing to fight a losing battle? No.
We are gathered in a community whose ground water was found to have an 8 cm layer of refined petroleum products floating on it. We are gathered in the territory where the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found the water our people drink to be polluted with benzene, a known carcinogen, at a level 900 times above World Health Organisation’s standard. We are gathered here to say that our present must be detoxified and our future must not be poisoned.
Things have gone wrong. Yes. The environment is so polluted that the Niger Delta has gained the unsavoury reputation of being one of the most polluted places on earth. We are saddled with historical, current and continuing oil spills, gas flares and toxic dumps. We have the task of monitoring to ensure that the tide of despoliation is halted. This requires physical observation. It also requires social engineering.
Physical observation can be easy when you have the right tools and the right knowledge. It is doable when you know what you are looking out for and how dangerous these could be. In essence, you are spotting the blight and at the same time keeping safe. This is one of the objectives of our monitoring training. We are also training to monitor the process of environmental remediation of Ogoni and the wider Niger Delta environment.
When the clean-up eventually begins in earnest, we want to be sure that milestones are known and that progress is measured against these milestones. We will keep our sights on national and environmental standards and insist that these are adhered to. We want to be sure that when the environmental is said to have been cleaned that it has been cleaned indeed. This is a key objective of our monitoring training.
The social engineering aspect of our training is not physical but is extremely important. It has to do with our mind-set. We have to agree that a clean environment should stay clean. We have to agree that a cleaned up environment stays clean. We have to agree that a clean environment is intrinsically more valuable that receiving cash pay-outs while remaining stuck in the mire. Staying clean is not only good for humans, it is good for other species. And many species have been decimated already and it take some lifetimes for them to recover.
We must all agree that pollution should not be come from the actions and inactions of any of the stakeholders in the Niger Delta – not the oil companies, not the contractors and not the citizens. Our mind-set must be one that accepts that a polluted environment is a threat to our health and wellbeing as well as those of future generations. This mind-set understands that a clean environment is a living environment and supports life, promotes health, peace and dignity.
That is what monitoring means to us. We are the eco-defenders determined to ensure that enough of pollution is indeed enough and now is the time to clean up and stay clean. Each training is a seed sown for a harvest of a future of hope, a future that thinks beyond today. That is the basis of our commitment. That is the basis of our call to everyone to look beyond today and even beyond tomorrow.