The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has hailed the Federal Government for approving a $10 million take-off grant for the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Assessment on Ogoniland and reconstituting the Governing Council of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), saying both moves indicated the current administration is on the right path in tackling oil pollution in the Niger Delta.
The $10 million grant is to begin a set of activities to fast-track the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Assessment on Ogoniland.
A statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adeshina, said that President Muhamadu Buhari also approved the re-composition of the Governing Council of HYPREP to include: One representative each from the Ministries of Petroleum and Environment, a representative from Rivers which is the impacted state, four representatives from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Others are two representatives from Ogoni, One from the United Nations and one from the secretariat.
In a statement issued in Lagos, ERA/FoEN commended the Buhari administration for the decision, but however cautioned that the HYPREP was still “a contraption” without the backing of the law as it was domiciled under the Ministry of Petroleum.
ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Godwin Ojo, said: “We are pleased that the present administration has started taking steps that correspond with its promise that within the first one hundred days in office it will start implementing the recommendations of the UNEP Assessment on Ogoniland.
“While we see a body language indicating the President wants to sincerely tackle the pollution in Ogoniland and the entire Delta, we are however not comfortable with the HYPREP which does not have a legal framework backing it which the Ogoni people demand. What the UNEP recommended is an independent body to oversee the implementation of the report not one domiciled in a federal ministry.”
The UNEP’s scientific study released in 2011 exposed the large-scale, continued contamination of the water and soil in Ogoniland, and the serious threat this poses to human health. In one case, UNEP found that a community drinking well was polluted with benzene, a cancer causing substance, at levels 900 times above the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline.
The report presented to the Goodluck Jonathan administration on 4 August 2011, was however not implemented throughout the life of that administration. Instead, the government hurriedly set up the HYPREP without the consent of the Ogoni people and started awarding projects that did not correspond with the recommendations of the UNEP.
“For us, this is the opportunity to reiterate our call for the establishment of an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority as an urgent priority; establishment of the Environmental Restoration Fund with at least $1billion of initial financing,” Ojo stated.
Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State Government has applauded President Muhammad Buhari for approving the implementation of the UNEP report on the cleanup of Ogoniland.
The Commissioner for Environment in the state, Iniruo Wills, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Yenagoa on Sunday applauded the President for initiating the implementation of the cleanup the oil-polluted Ogoniland.
Wills said: “President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of the steps to fast-track the cleanup and restoration of Ogoniland in line with UNEP’s recommendations is a positive signal for the hitherto relegated environment sector and for the Niger Delta region.
“This is an elixir, coming at the fourth anniversary of the release of the UNEP report, which happens to be the first anniversary falling within President Buhari’s tenure.
“We congratulate the Ogoni people and the entire Niger Delta.”
Wills further made a case for Bayelsa State and other states in the Niger Delta equally impacted by oil pollution, induced by oil and gas exploration and production.
He said: “We are very hopeful that the President and relevant Federal Government authorities will correct the crucial omissions in the measures approved, especially the non-incorporation/representation of other pollution ravaged states in the Niger Delta.
“For example, Bayelsa State is currently under the burden of about 1,000 recorded oil spills per year.
“The state of Bayelsa has been suffering the same fate as Ogoniland for 60 years, dating back to the start of Nigeria’s commercial oil production, which took place in Oloibiri in present day Bayelsa State.”
Wills noted that the pipeline explosion from Agip’s oil field in Bayelsa State, which claimed the lives of 14 people, including two regulatory officials, reflected the plight of the state.
He said: “Overall, we are excited at the new prospects for environmental protection and restoration in our oil producing communities.
“If these measures are faithfully implemented and replicated across the other ecologically degraded states in the region, they will place President Buhari on record as a president that is serious about the remediation of the ravaged Niger Delta environment.
“We therefore look forward to a total reversal of the Federal Government’s long tradition of handling the grave dangers of environmental degradation by half measures.”
Wills called on the Federal Government to adequately fund NOSDRA and to urgently enable the agency to establish the National Oil Spill Control and Response Centre mandated by the NOSDRA Act.
The commissioner appealed to the government to implement the proposal by NOSDRA to site the oil spill control centre in Bayelsa State.