The UNEP Report On Ogoniland
BY taking actions aimed at fast-tracking the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland, President Muhammadu Buhari, the other day, demonstrated, in no small measure, his unwavering commitment not only to development but also to the issue of equity and justice in the Niger Delta. The UNEP ‘Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland’ was released in August, 2011 but since then, nothing has been done towards its implementation.
There was a failed expectation that the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration, on whose watch the report was released, would kick-start the implementation process. But that never happened and the Ogoni people constantly expressed outrage over the dumping of the report. UNEP had in the report shared responsibilities among four critical stakeholders, namely, government, multiple stakeholders, operators and the communities.
For instance, government is required to among other things create an Ogoniland Restoration Authority distinct from the existing institutions; create an environmental restoration fund; co-ordinate multi-stakeholder efforts; oversee institutional and regulatory reforms.
Accordingly, Buhari has appropriately approved the setting up of a board of trustees to commence the process of implementing the report and also a trust fund to finance the programme. Stakeholders are expected to contribute N2bn within 30 days. Besides, Buhari approved the amendment of the Official Gazette establishing the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), to reflect a new governance framework and a new implementation template has also been evolved at the instance of the President.
The environmental clean up of Ogoniland would commence as soon as the President inaugurates the HYPREP Governing Council and the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund. President Buhari deserves praise for kick-starting the process of implementing this very important environmental restoration programme in Ogoniland and he should take the process as a personal mission.
It is, however, worth stressing that Ogoniland merely represents an entry point on the issue of environmental degradation caused by oil exploration and exploitation in the Niger Delta. As a matter of fact, the entire Niger Delta requires restoration and the N2 billion earmarked for this programme is not enough. While focusing on Ogoni, the President should also initiate a comprehensive framework to clean up the entire Niger Delta where the oil producing communities have been devastated by oil spills.
Consequently, the people’s traditional occupation – fishing and farming, have been destroyed and lives have become short and brutish. The communities lack potable water. There are no social amenities. Instead, people are exposed to acidic rainfall with its deleterious effects on humans, plants and animals.
The Ogoni people brought to global limelight the plight of the Niger Delta, especially through the agitation and the eventual execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his nine compatriots by the late Gen. Sani Abacha, for campaigning against environmental degradation in Ogoniland. The people fought many battles and won cases to get to this stage just as many paid with their lives. Several other communities in the Niger Delta are at various stages of their own battles. Some have dragged different oil companies to court while demonstrations have been staged at different times and fora.
Recently, for instance, the Supreme Court found the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell culpable for oil spills in four Niger Delta communities namely: Obotobo, Sokebolo, Ofogbene (Enzon Brutu) and Ekeremor Zion (Ezon Ase), after 32 years of legal battles, and awarded various sums of money amounting to over N30bn as compensation. Not all the ravaged communities can fight for their rights but good conscience and morality demand that government ensures that justice is done to all the people.
Before oil was discovered, the people lived normal lives with total dependence on their marine ecosystem that has now been ravaged.
Interestingly, oil is mined elsewhere around the world and the people benefit from the resource. But the people of the Niger Delta get little or nothing. Government should not wait for the people to resort to violence again before taking action for not until justice is done to the Niger Delta would there be genuine peace, stability and development in Nigeria.
To this end, the only lasting solution is genuine federalism. Peoples of different regions should take full control of the resources in their domain and pay tax or royalties to the Federal Government. Some feeble attempts have been made in the past to bring succour to the Niger Delta without sustainable success. Monies channeled through the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission, (OMPADEC) never got to the people but were looted by privileged and powerful individuals. Thereafter, government created the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Amnesty Office and Office of Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs.
Unfortunately, these establishments have failed to live up to expectation. Powerful individuals and cronies of government appropriate the funds to themselves and become stupendously rich leaving the real people even worse off. Sixteen years of democracy have effected little change in the area and mass poverty still reigns. The state governments in the Niger Delta get 13 per cent derivation fund from the Federation Account as part of the feeble efforts. Such monies ought to have been applied judiciously to tackle the problems confronting the region including environmental degradation but the opposite has been the case.
Sadly enough, the foreign oil companies perpetrating environmental injustice in the Niger Delta act differently in other climes. But Nigeria’s top government officials who should speak against injustice and champion the cause of the people are compromised. There is no doubt that a lot has gone wrong in the Niger Delta and the people must get justice for Nigeria to know peace.
With the implementation of the UNEP report, Buhari would have begun to chart a new course on which he and indeed, Nigeria must stay.