Government prevaricates as Ogoni feeds on poisoned fishes, drinks contaminated water

Ogoniland

• MOSOP Tired of Gimmicks, Wants Action On Cleanup
• Best Practices Must Be Employed In Cleanup- OCDN

Thirteen months after the flag-off of the cleanup of Ogoni Land, the impoverished people of the area still languish in the jaws of untimely death.

Their rivers and farmlands, which have been heavily polluted by hydrocarbons, some up to about 1, 000 times above acceptable levels anywhere in the world by several oil spillages, have remained in that state for years.

As a matter of fact, six years after the publication of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the area, which recommended some immediate and long term measures to combat the rampaging effect of oil pollution, Ogoni communities, now deprived of their livelihoods are regrettably still exposed to risky benzene-contaminated drinking water. They also have to put up with lack of adequate healthcare facilities to cater for those already ailing from their exposure to the hazardous environment.

The President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration rekindled hope for the restoration of the Ogoni environment, which UNEP reckons could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil cleanup exercise, when it launched the cleanup programme in June last year.

It would be recalled that President Olusegun Obasanjo commissioned UNEP to carry out an independent environmental assessment of oil-impacted sites in the area.  And over a 14-month period (between 2009 and 2011), the UNEP team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, and reviewed more than 5, 000 medical records.

UNEP in its findings submitted to then President Goodluck Jonathan, on August 2011, revealed that drinking water in Ogoni communities were contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons.

It specifically pointed out that at Nisisioken Ogale, families have been drinking water from wells that are contaminated with benzene- a known carcinogen-at levels over 900 times above World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

While the people of the area anxiously awaited the commencement of the cleanup exercise, they were jolted in 2012 when the Jonathan’s administration decided to establish the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), instead of UNEP’s proposed Ogoni Land Environmental Restoration Authority, which would have overseen the implementation of the study’s recommendations.

Following widespread discontentment with the setting up of HYPREP, and the further delay in implementing the cleanup, a two-day stakeholders’ meetings was hurriedly convened in Geneva on November 24, 2014 by then Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, and facilitated by UNEP.

The meeting, which was attended by a 16-member Ogoni delegation, including incumbent president, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, government officials and oil companies’ representatives dealt with issues relating to local livelihoods, fund management, procurement, community engagement, as well as technical aspects of the required environmental remediation that have hindered progress to date. It was also agreed that the sum of $10 million should be earmarked for the commencement of the cleanup.

To give HYPREP the institutional framework it requires to operate outside government’s bureaucracy, and to guard against a possible abuse of funds, its gazette was reviewed to include governance structure such as: the HYPREP Governing Council, board of trustees and the project coordinator.

And in fulfillment of his electioneering campaign promise to the Ogoni people, President Buhari, who was represented by the acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, launched the cleanup of Ogoniland on June 2, 2016 in Bodo, which had been wreck by over 30 years of oil spillage.

After the fanfare of the flag-off, it wasn’t until August 4, 2016 that Buhari appointed a former Lagos state Commissioner for Finance (under Ahmed Tinubu), Wale Edun, as chairman of the 13-member Board of Trustees of the HYPREP.

Hope of the commencement of the world’s largest terrestrial cleanup had, however, began to wane due to Federal Government’s dillydallying tendencies, when the Ministry of Environment in January this year, announced Dr. Marvin Dekil, as the new project coordinator for the implementation of the UNEP report for a period of four years.

Despite all the promises made by the government regarding the cleanup, what has happened till date is the piecemeal implementation of the UNEP report. Consequently, the locals are still drinking water and eating fishes and other seafoods sourced from the highly contaminated rivers in their domain.

For Publicity Secretary of MOSOP, Fegalo Nsuke, the cleanup programme has become Nigeria’s latest image laundering propaganda, adding that progress made on the cleanup is known only to the Federal Government.

He wondered why the presidential approval of governing structures should amount to progress, when the people of Ogoni still do not have access to safe drinking water, electricity, basic schools and roads.

Nsuke maintained that one year after the very costly, elaborate and seemingly deceptive launch of the cleanup in Bodo, and also one year to the inauguration of the governing structures, there was nothing meaningful the government can pinpoint as its achievement in that regard.

He explained that when the government is short of an excuse for delaying the restoration of the Ogoni environment, it inaugurates boards to mark years of delays, disappointments and failures.

The MOSOP spokesperson added that Ogoni is passing through the worst degenerative experience ever-faced by humanity, noting that in less than one year, “those in government will return to Ogoni Land to seek votes from people whose humanity and dignity have been violated by their own government; people who will die of terminal diseases like cancer, and whose lives have become nightmares.

“What has been achieved within the period? Not even the construction of a laboratory- the Integrated Soil Management Centre (which should support the geological investigations) has commenced. Not a single water project has been fixed by HYPREP to provide water for the people. What we rather see are desperate attempts by government agencies like HYPREP to give a false impression about the real situation. But the fact is that Ogoni still drinks poisoned water and remains polluted, and these cannot be changed by internal processes and media promotions,” he said.

“We are tired of these gimmicks and we want action on the cleanup. We want Nigeria to respect us as Ogoni people and treat us as human beings with rights. We also want the NPDC to stay away from Ogoni Land. Nigeria and Shell should as a matter of urgency, cleanup their mess in Ogoni Land and respect our rights to live a dignified lives.”

The Guardian’s visit to Bodo, Nisisioken Ogale,  Barabeedom, K. Dere, Ajeokpori-Akpajo and some other communities in Gokana, Khana, Tai and Eleme local council of Rivers State, reveal that it is pertinent for the Federal Government to immediately address the plight of these people, by carrying out prescribed emergency measures in order to combat immediate and present dangers to the communities.

Out of the initial funding of U.S. $1 billion to implement the environmental cleanup within the next five years, only $10 million has been released by Shell. The Federal Government, through the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which was supposed to contribute 55 per cent of the funding is yet to contribute a dime.

The Guardian findings reveal that part of $10 million released for the kick-off of the cleaning process has been used to defray part of the debt incurred by HYPREP.

According to a source within the governing council, even the administrative funding for HYPREP has not been released by the government.

The Centre of Excellence in Environmental Restoration, which UNEP recommended should be built in Ogoni to promote learning and benefit other communities impacted by oil contamination in the Niger Delta, and elsewhere in the world has not been built six years after.

A source in the board of trustee said the centre was supposed to train persons to be engaged in the cleanup exercise.

Said the source: “Our expectation was that the cleanup will be done by products of this centre. If it is not going to be used for the training, what then do you need that centre for?”

In February 2017, then Minister of Environment, Mrs. Amina Mohammed, performed the ground breaking of the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, in Bori, without contract being awarded for the construction of the building. Today, that site has been overgrown by grasses. The centre according to UNEP recommendations ought to have been supported by hundreds of potential mini treatment centres, to treat contaminated soil and provide hundreds of job opportunities.

Sources disclosed to The Guardian that the environmental restoration exercise may be undermined by funding, greed, and political schemings.

Already, vested political interests within and outside Rivers State are already bearing their fangs and angling to get juicy contracts from HYPREP the moment the cleanup process gets underway. Certain committee appointments in the Senate, and the recently held interview of consultants bidding for jobs with HYPREP, which took place in Lagos State, have created further anxiety in Ogoni that the project might be hijacked.

However, secretary general of the Ogoni Environment Foundation, Dr. Tambeke Gbarakoo, said indigenous scientists have resolved to voluntarily monitor the process to ensure that Ogoni people are not short-changed.

“In as much as Ogoni people will welcome a contractor that will carry out the cleaning according to global best practices, they will not take for granted, contractors who just come to site, put up signboard, perform below standard and walk away with money. That will not happen. You can see we have our indigenous scientists who are geared up for the cleaning. So, any contractor that is coming with experts should be prepared to also make use of the indigenous people who are already there because there will be jobs that will not require experts to do too” he said.

On the issue of funding, NNPC, Shell, Agip and Total have, in the last three years had consecutively bad seasons. Hence, it might be difficult for them to conveniently cough out 45 per cent of the $200 million required annually for the next five years, particularly when the Federal Government claims to be financially broke.

The Guardian reliably gathered that the only way money can be easily released for the cleanup exercise is when some politically connected firms win some of the juicy cleanup contracts, even as there is every indication that nothing substantial will be achieved till maybe 2019.

That notwithstanding, the Ogoni cleanup project coordinator, Dr. Marvin Dekil, insists that HYPREP intends to conduct an extensive investigation of contaminated sites covered in the UNEP report to determine the extent of pollution, based on current environmental realities.

He has maintained that HYPREP, in collaboration with Shell, Rivers State government, and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), are making concerted effort to restore water facilities in Ogoni Land in order to provide the people access to potable water as recommended by UNEP in its report.

Dekil, who said prior to the advent of crude oil production, Ogoni people had fishing, farming and trading as their main sources of livelihoods, regretted that several years of reckless oil production activities has destroyed the Ogoni ecosystem and their means of livelihoods.

According to him, the whole essence of the cleanup is the remediation of the land and the restoration of the people’s livelihoods.

“We have a comprehensive data base of all the water facilities, functional and non-functional in the four local councils. For the purpose of implementing emergency measures as stated in the report…” he said.

MOSOP President, Pyagbara at the end of the Ogoni Special Congress held at the Peace and Freedom Centre, Bori-Ogoni, penultimate Saturday, urged HYPREP to make public its work programme to enable the community and other stakeholders follow-up on the implementation of the UNEP report

“Congress calls on HYPREP to immediately embark on the implementation of emergency measures particularly as it relates to provision of water, health evaluation of the people and the training of the youth and women,” he said.

On his part, President, Ogoni Community Development Network, Johnson Kuele, expressed concerns how HYPREP intends to conduct its cleanup without first putting in place critical structures like the Integrated Soil Management Centre, the Centre for Excellence, and the provision of water for all Ogoni communities whose sources of water supply will be affected by the remediation work.

The group accused “HYPREP of attempting to jettison standards and recommended procedures, to hurriedly move into the phase where contracts can be awarded to politicians seeking avenues to raise funds ahead of the 2019 elections. We call on the Ogoni public to stand up now and insist on the right standards and procedures.”

As the situation increasingly gets complicated, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, is imploring the United Nations to prevail on the Federal Government to implement the cleanup of Ogoni Land, based on UNEP’s recommendations.

The United Nations had earlier decried the delay by the Federal Government in commencing the implementation process six years after the UNEP report was made available.

Wike said large-scale environmental pollution in different parts of the state has led to environmental degradation, which negatively affects the people’s sources of livelihoods.

He said: “In the Senate recently, somebody pointed out that the Federal Government has not done anything as far as Ogoni cleanup is concerned. When we were saying it, they said we were playing politics. But now, it has dawned on them that nothing has been done. So, we urge you to intervene. Part of the problem we are having today is because of the lack of attention by the Federal Government when it has to do with Rivers State,” he said.

Wike therefore urged, “the United Nations to impress on the Federal Government that this cleanup is very serious.  Let it not be a political issue. We should not play politics with the lives of the people.”



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