Medee: Federal Government Should Look Inwards And Commit The Ogonis
A Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics, University of Port Harcourt, and resident of Kagote, an apex and leadership social cultural group in Ogoniland, Dr. Peter Medee spoke with ANN GODWIN on the implementation of UNEP report and the need to get the locals to drive the process.
What is your reaction to President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive to cleanup Ogoniland? The President’s determination to fast-track actions towards the cleaning of Ogoniland is a welcome development.
The Ogonis are very proud of the directive. We are actually not surprised on the directive because he did promise during his electioneering campaign that in his first 100 days, he will initiate actions that will fast-track the implementation of the UNEP report.
We are very happy, we congratulate him on that move and we are extending our hand of fellowship to him on this great action that will transform the Ogoni land. Of what importance is this move to Ogoni people? Well, this move will have direct impact on Ogoniland, first, our contaminated land will be cleaned and that will create a great prospect to agricultural and other activities that have gone into extinction.
Secondly, benzene and MTBE contamination at Nsisioka Ogale, which is a greater contamination site, will also be eliminated. Now, the benzene level in Ogoniland is about 900 times greater than the level approved by the UNEP report.
So, this effort will be able to cleanup those contaminations. Also, there will be a cleanup of some sediments; our land will be cleaned. There are lots of refineries going on now in the Niger Delta, so, the Ogoniland will definitely be restored by the activities of the clean up.
There will be a restoration and rehabilitation of the mangrove areas and that, to a greater extent, will restore the fishing and farming activities.
There is also a greater part of it, which involves emergency measures to ensure that areas where emergency exits can be ameliorated, especially the area of water supply.
The water level in Ogoni land now is not ideal for drinking; part of the recommendations by the UNEP report is that water supply should be provided for Ogoniland. So, provision of water is necessary and that will also create jobs and alternative water sources and you know quality of life can be assured by quality and safe water; life expectancy of the Ogonis will certainly improve.
Apart from that, there is going to be a centre of excellence created in the area and that will generate skills, capacity building and also, human resource development.
In the effort to clean up the Ogoniland, there is going to be massive human capital investment, which entails that the efforts on the project is going to be in-house; Ogonis should be able to provide the manpower that is required.
We expect that alternative employment would be created for those in artisanal refinery site when working on the site and I think all these would boost the economy of the area.
Are you concerned that it took four years after the report was published for government to take action? I will say that we are very concerned, that’s why we were all crying out; MOSOP, Kagote, elders, youths, women and even children.
Every group in Ogoni has been very concerned, crying out all these period, because of the level of devastation of our environment. So, we are very, very concerned that it took four years before these actions are being fast-tracked. The level of devastation is very high. Yes, the UNEP investigation was in-depth, but there were areas it may not have covered.
However, we are happy that this is just a case study of the devastation in Niger Delta. We are hopeful that by the time the areas that are covered by this report are cleaned, it will raise the need for other areas that are also devastated to be cleaned and that will certainly expand the scope.
Has government ever made an effort to alleviate the plight of the people before now? Well, the last administration did try to kick-start the process of discussions, which provided the framework, the basic and takeoff of what President Buhari is doing now.
I remember the State Government under former Governor Chibuike Amaechi also made efforts to provide alternative water for the people. Although these efforts were not significant enough, which was why we continued to cry, they could not go to the level of activities that was required to stabilize the place.
Are you worried that this effort might be sabotaged along the way? What we need is credible people that would man the process and when credible people are identified, they would be taken seriously; people will build confidence in them. The level of restiveness will reduce, because the people will be assured that the proper thing would be done. For example, Nigerians are now taking the President serious because over the years, he has been seen to be very credible.
Well, the last administration did try to kick-start the process of discussions, which provided the framework, the basic and takeoff of what President Buhari is doing now. I remember the State Government under former Governor Chibuike Amaechi also made efforts to provide alternative water for the people. Although these efforts were not significant enough, which was why we continued to cry, they could not go to the level of activities that was required to stabilize the place
So, for those that would be appointed to man the process, they should know that sanitising Ogoniland is the main objective. That way, Ogoni should be at the driver’s seat of the project.
Another thing is to note that those, who wear the shoes, know where it pinches. This is not a situation where someone from another tribe, who does not know the level of devastation, is appointed to drive the process; that will incapacitate the effort.
I am very sure that no sane Ogoni man will see this effort and sabotage it; it is not possible considering the pains, difficulties and traumas we have been through.
Ogonis are determined people, for example, when we asked Shell to leave our land, shell had no choice but to leave because the Ogonis were not ready to compromise their stand; there are other communities that may take such decision but when money comes from the back door, they change their minds.
But Ogonis cannot do that, we are very mean people; we have the requisite manpower to carry out the process. So, the Federal Government should look inwards and commit the Ogonis so that their people can hold them responsible. But when someone is brought from outside, he will continue to play politics with the place and sabotage the system.
At the end, the blame will go back to government that it has failed in its promises. The government should ensure that the Ogonis are entrusted the major part of these activities and that will go a long way to fast track the project.
Are there indications that the environment might have degenerated more, considering that UNEP report came four years ago? Definitely, the environment is worse off because we long expected this; the exploring activities started since 1958 and since then till today, you can imagine the level of devastation.
We sent the Ogoni Bill of Right in 1990, if they had done the cleanup then, the level of contamination we have now, would have been minimized.
The time -lag has created additional devastation and the environment has become more contaminated beyond reasonable doubt. What should government do to ensure that oil companies do not destroy the environment? We expect government to put in place appropriate regulatory framework; not just putting it in place, but to have the will to be able to implement it.
The Petroleum Industry Bill should be able to specify what should be industry practices and what should not be industry practices. That will go a long way in sanitizing our environment.
Every activity of the industries must have that bite to ensure that it does not go against the rule. Government must also do a lot to regulate gas flaring and ensure that every activity that will contaminate the environment becomes a thing of the past.
They should put in place adequate framework to regulate the oil industry activities and show enough commitment to implement them; that will show that government is serious and the companies will in turn take government seriously.
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