The Ogoni clean-up project

The euphoria that greeted the launch of the Ogoni clean-up project has not only faded since nothing has been done almost two years after, the report, the other day, of the budget of a paltry N20 million for the exercise in the 2018 spending plan has advertised a certain unseriousness on the part of government that breaks the heart. It is not clear what the problems are but, naturally, Nigerians and the Ogoni people especially would feel short-changed if nothing is done to remedy the situation soon.

Indeed, against the backdrop of this seeming neglect of the people, the Ogoni, under the aegis of the National Youth Council of Ogoni People (NYCOP) has given the Federal Government a 21-day ultimatum to mobilise workers to the site and commence the clean-up of their polluted land.

According to the group, the Federal Government should be ready to face the people in a fresh legal and internationally-recognised opposition should it fail to heed the warning.

President of NYCOP, Young Npkah, even expressed worries on insecurity, fresh pipe-line laying and resumption of oil exploration even as there is a mindless delay in the clean-up process.

He said some unknown persons laid pipes in Tai and Gokana Local Government Areas without negotiating with the Ogoni people or even taking environmental degradation into consideration. He warned those involved in such acts to stop immediately, noting that it is quite regrettable and shocking that those whose only interest is to pillage the nation’s God-given resources went ahead to lay pipelines without bothering to negotiate with the people or take their interest aboard.

He warned that neither pipe-laying nor oil exploration would be allowed without an all-encompassing negotiation and due diligences.

It is not surprising that the people of Ogoniland are anxious to see action on the clean-up project. Two years into a promise is enough time to mobilise the needed workforce for a project that is billed to last for 30 years and the sooner work begins, the better, as that would build confidence in the people.

Indeed, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, recently stated in total frustration that the Federal Government was not serious about the clean-up of the Ogoni region of his state.

The governor, who spoke to members of the Senate Committee on Environment who were on a visit to the area, said the Ogoni clean-up programme remains a mere public relations project aimed only at gaining political mileage and nothing else. He justifiably added that the people of Rivers State were tired of procrastination in relation to the execution of the clean-up.

Certainly, such a negative perception of an otherwise noble plan should not be allowed to build up any longer.

It would be recalled that the Muhammadu Buhari administration did well to announce its unwavering commitment to the issue of equity and justice in the Niger Delta and early in the life of his administration, the president took actions that were deemed credible in fast-tracking the development of the region.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP’s) report on Ogoniland which mapped out what to do on Ogoni and its degraded environment was released in August 2011 under the Goodluck Jonathan administration but nothing was done about its implementation.

The Buhari administration came and gave a renewed hope when soon after inauguration, it took actions to kick-start the implementation process.

The UNEP report shared responsibilities among four critical stakeholders, namely, government, multiple stakeholders, operators and the communities with each having a duty to perform in the process of implementing the report.

The Federal Government, for instance, is expected to create an Ogoniland Restoration Authority distinct from all existing institutions, create an environmental restoration fund, co-ordinate multi-stakeholder efforts and oversee institutional as well as regulatory reforms.

As part of government’s duty, President Muhammadu Buhari has since approved the setting up of a board of trustees to commence the process of implementation and also a trust fund to finance the programme. All stakeholders are expected to contribute about N2 billion.

As the process kicked off, each group was expected to fulfill its own part of the deal. Even the Ogoni communities have their own role to play and it is expected that they would initiate action on their own and not expect government alone to do everything.

At this juncture, the most important thing is for the Federal Government to lead the way and take further steps towards implementing the report, having shown commitment by setting up a framework. These next steps are necessary to allay the fears of the people.

On their part, however, the Ogoni people should be patient.
Finally, all hands must be on deck in the process of restoring not only the Ogoniland but the entire Niger Delta region that has been devastated by oil exploration to the path of safety, peace and prosperity.

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