The Process Of Justice Has Begun, Says Naanen
IT is a welcome news to all of us in Ogoni; at least that justice will be done. We welcome and appreciate it. We need immediate action.
How will it impact on the local economy?
We expect it will create some opportunities. There is supposed to be a social component that will take care of livelihood and sustainable developmental issues. Definitely, the process of clean up will create jobs, however limited it may be. We expect some opportunities to come from that angle and also when you improve the environment, when you remediate or restore it, the traditional livelihood, fishing and farming will come back because that has been some of the greatest problem. They (oil companies) have destroyed the people’s livelihood. When you destroy the environment of the local economy, you have eventually destroyed the livelihood of the people. Once you are able to restore the environment, the traditional livelihood will spring up again. So, we expect the clean up will create new jobs, improve local businesses and will rejuvenate the traditional economy of the people.
What was the extent of damage in the Bodo area of Ogoni?
It is extensive and cannot be reclaimed immediately. You have the remediation and restoration of the environment that will be carried out in phases. We expect when all these processes have been completed that the community will be better off economically and environmentally than it is now. We cannot reclaim everything, but at least, there could be some mitigating factor in the socioeconomic life of the people.
When the Ogoni struggle started, did you envisage the extent of environmental degradation UNEP uncovered?
It was not so obvious in the 80s, although oil spill had been occurring. One of the major oil spill occurred in the Bomu axis in the 1970s, I think that was very fundamental. I think after you had Bomu spill, other major spills occurred over the years. The real problem started occurring in the late 80s. The devastation has been cumulative. It has been there, but just that we did not have the opportunity of expressing this kind of damage to the outside world at that time, but it has become so obvious with the UNEP report.
So concerns about the environment triggered the Ogoni agitation?
Yes. Exactly with the kind of ridiculous compensation the oil company Shell was paying at the time. The compensation was very annoying and disgraceful. The kind of compensation that the people were being subjected fueled discontent. All these are part of the agitation in terms of compensation due to the damage to the environment, damage to livelihood and damage to the economic wellbeing of the people. These were all that led to the Ogoni struggle.
Are there measures to ensure the adherence to UNEP recommendations?
We can give the Buhari-led administration the benefit of the doubt. We are not doubtful that he has come up with a good motive. We need to encourage him by supporting him. I think that is the attitude of the Ogoni people at the moment. We don’t have to create an atmosphere of doubt until government gives us reason to think otherwise. I think something practical is going to happen finally, something that the people will look up to and thank God that they were able to see some measures of mitigation after years of destroying their environment.
Why didn’t President Goodluck Jonathan implement the UNEP report?
It is very difficult to say unless you are able to pry into the official mind of government. Personally, I don’t know why, because the report had been there and government is not going to pay for the clean up process; it is going to be undertaken by Shell and other joint venture companies. I don’t know why it was so difficult to commence the clean up process. All that the government needed to do was to muster the political will to create the framework for the implementation of the report. The reason it failed to do so, some of us do not know.
What should be done to prevent further environmental degradation in Ogoni?
There has to be a better environmental management regime on ground to ensure that the oil companies apply the best technology in their operations. Ensure that the pipelines are not leaking and that there are no illegal bunkerings. These are things that need to be built into the clean up process. It is importation to have a checking system that will not allow any of the polluting agencies to continue its activities in the area.
There is concerns in Ogoni that politicians might hijack the clean up. Any plans to forestall this?
It is a process that is going to be owned by the communities, not just the politicians, who are also part of the communities. They are not going to be given special consideration. It is not going to be very easy for the politicians to hijack the process because the people are prepared to ensure that every Ogoni person has an opportunity to benefit from the process and not only the politicians. Attempts to foist themselves (politicians) on the people will be resisted. I think everybody ought to have a fair share in the process.
Is the Ogoni environment worse now than four years ago when UNEP report was published?
Actually, more damages have been done. Remember the devastating oil spill in Bodo in 2008 and 2009. And there are other areas that have suffered more damage ever since. More damages have been done to the environment. In the process of cleaning you have to map all the area that have been impacted and make sure that they are effectively clean up.
What would happen to communities not covered by the UNEP study?
In clean up, it is possible to capture all impacted communities, but it is up to the implementation process to be able to map up all the communities that are affected and ensure that there is an effective clean up of all those affected. There has to be a mapping process.
Do you suspect this clean up as a ploy by government to resume oil production in Ogoni?
That is something to be decided by the Ogoni people; it is not just the government. The government can grant the license to oil producing company to operate, but it is up to the people to grant the freedom; I mean the social license to operate in the area. Whatever the government wants to do, it needs to bear in mind that the people have resisted previously, but if the proper thing is done, I think the people will ensure that there is commencement of economic activities in Ogoni under a proper and correct atmosphere. You clean up the area and if the people are confident things have changed for the better, why not, they allow for oil production because it will also benefit them. But what they have been against is that you have this whole impact still on ground and nobody has attended to them and then you now talk about oil production. Once the clean up is done, I think the Ogoni people will gladly allow the companies to operate, as in a partnership, not the previous situation where it was only a partnership between the oil companies and the government. The Ogoni people also have to be in the picture before any major oil activity can take place in the area.
Is Ogoni on the path to environmental justice?
Hopefully, we are about to see the beginning of seeing the process of justice being done. We are not there yet, but we appreciate President Buhari’s commitment to the process and I don’t think he is going to go back on that. We are looking forward to the full implementation of the report. What has been approved so far is just the beginning. We expect at the end of the day for justice to be done.
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