Shortly after his assump
tion of office, President Muhammadu Buhari approved several actions to fast-track the long delayed implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report on the environmental restoration of Ogoniland.
The president’s approval was a fulfilment of his campaign promise to the Ogoni people when he visited the area in January 2015 to solicit their votes.
Expectedly, the president will officially launch the onset of the clean-up in the coming weeks, according to the Minister of Environment, Hajiya Amina Mohammed.
Oil spillage and pollution in Ogoniland began in 1968 at Ejamah, Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State, and in 1970, the area recorded another spill at K-Dere in Gokana Local Government Area.
The multinational oil company, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited, is said to be responsible for the spills and its attendant environmental pollution.
Commenting on the spills, the Publicity Secretary of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni (MOSOP), Mr Fegalo Nsuke,0 1said that it was quite vexing to note that Shell made no tangible attempt to clean up the spills till date.
“Since Shell pulled out in 1993, there had been no normal activity in Ogoniland oilfields.
“However, we have had cases of illegal mining and stealing by Shell’s agents but no oil company is officially operating in Ogoniland today,’’ he said.
Nsuke stressed that the struggle for Ogoniland’s clean-up and the remediation of its environment had claimed several lives, including the lives of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Agbarator Otu, Edward Kobani Theo Orage, Barinem Kiobel and John Kpuinen.
As part of preparations toward the launch of the clean-up, the minister of environment visited Ogoniland between March 3 and March 4 to inform the people of the impending exercise and seek their cooperation with government on the project.
The minister’s first port of call in Ogoniland was the palace of Gbeneme of Tai kingdom, Godwin Gininwa, who is also the President, Supreme Council of Traditional Rulers of Ogoniland, where she met with traditional rulers and other leaders of the area.
At the meeting, Mohammed conveyed the Federal Government’s commitment to implementing the UNEP report and pleaded for the people’s cooperation.
Responding, Gininwa commended President Buhari for keeping to his promise to clean up Ogoniland.
“We are happy that he kept faith because less than 100 days into his government, the president directed several actions to fast-track the implementation of the UNEP report, as he promised,’’ he said.
Nevertheless, Gininwa appealed to Buhari to mop up arms in Ogoniland and rid the communities of violent militants, saying that this was very important as the area’s clean-up was imminent.
“Ogoni is faced with a dangerous situation as there are arms in almost all the communities; hence the Supreme Council of Traditional Rulers endorses continuous deployment of the military to Ogoni,’’ he said.
Sen. Magnus Abe, who was one of the dignitaries on hand at the palace to receive the minister, pleaded with the people to bury their differences so as to ensure the realisation of the clean-up’s objectives.
“I want to use this opportunity to appeal to Ogoni people that the implementation of the UNEP report is beyond politics. This is not a fight we started today.
“I do not think it will be right, proper or fair for us to do anything that will give anybody the impression that we cannot bury our differences for the sake of our land.
“If we do that, it will be very, very unfortunate. Anybody that creates that atmosphere is doing Ogoni people a great disservice and that will not be right,’’ Abe said.
After the meeting at Gbeneme’s palace, the minister proceeded to Bori, the headquarters of Khana Local Government Area, where she held a stakeholders’ meeting with a cross-section of Ogoni people.
Mohammed described the proposed clean-up of the area as a “right step to right the wrong of the past’’.
She believed that the exercise would mark the end of the long years of the struggle and the dawn of a new era for Ogoni people.
Mohammed admitted that the apathy of the government and oil companies to the plight of the Ogoni people, whose land had been degraded over the years by oil spillage and pollution, had created considerable tension in the area.
“We must protect the environment, it exists for our prosperity.
“Since the discovery of oil in Oloibiri (Bayelsa) in 1958, the environment in the Niger Delta area has been degraded and livelihood of the people negatively affected.
“This has led to agitations and public outcry, championed by notable sons and daughters of this region.
“Let me at this juncture emphasise that the Federal Government, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, is committed to changing the narrative of environmental degradation, pollution, erosion, desertification and unhygienic conditions in Nigeria,’’ she said.
Mohammed promised that the clean-up would be used to “jump-start a sustainable livelihood agenda for the people of the Niger Delta that is less dependent on oil.
“We intend to use the process to create jobs, improve capacity of the Niger Delta on environmental management and improve the economy.
“The process of the clean-up is being designed to ensure its ownership by Ogoni people and, indeed, the entire Niger Delta area,’’ the minister said.
The President of MOSOP, Mr Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, who responded on behalf of the people, said that the current efforts to clean up Ogoniland were the outcome of the struggle of the Ogoni people.
“Ogoni environment is bleeding. There cannot be sustainable development in Ogoni without a sustainable environment and vice versa,’’ he said.
Pyagbara, therefore, appealed to the Federal Government to use the opportunity of the clean-up to bring to an end the environmental degradation of the area, while addressing the myriad development challenges facing the area.
The MOSOP president emphasised that poverty was also a causative factor of environmental degradation.
“Any clean-up and remediation of Ogoniland, which is not backed up by a clear practical development framework or plan to address other socio-economic issues, is not likely to succeed in the long term,’’ he said.
Besides, Pyagbara proposed that the environmental rejuvenation programme should involve three phases: “oil spills’ prevention, oil spills’ clean-up and environmental restoration’’.
He said: “Nigeria will be judged not only by its efforts to promote national integration but also how it actually protects the weak, the vulnerable and those whose lives have been imperilled by oil exploration by multinationals.’’
Also speaking, a youth leader in the area, Mr Kennedy Goodfriday, said that the faith of the Ogoni people in the government had waned considerably because of the delayed clean-up of the land.
Goodfriday demanded assurance from the minister that the exercise would not be jettisoned after all, while an elder, Mr Baris Gbama, pleaded with all leaders of Ogoni not to betray the hope of the ordinary people.
A bishop, who preferred anonymity, also appealed to the political class in Ogoniland to close ranks and mobilise the people for the clean-up.
The cleric, however, appealed to the Federal Government to channel whatever benefits that would accrue to the people in course of the clean-up to “the real Ogoni people and not crooks.’’
A woman, who simply identified herself as Mary, said that women should not be left out in the process “because the women usually bear the brunt of environmental pollution and degradation in Ogoniland’’.
While receiving the minister earlier, Gov. Nyesom Wike of Rivers advised the Federal Government to refrain from any form of partisanship by including all stakeholders in the clean-up process to make it a success.
“What I will appeal to you is that when you say stakeholders, I don’t know who drafted or compiled the list of the stakeholders but I do believe that if you really want to achieve, you must be careful not to bring politics into it.
“It doesn’t matter which political party anybody belongs to; these environmental issues do not affect a political party, they affect the entire state and the entire Niger Delta as a whole.
“Communities do not know about political parties, what communities know is about how to survive.
“And so, I will advise that we approach the exercise in such a way that it does not look political, particularly in Ogoniland because it is a very complex place and you have to be extremely careful.
“This is because if you are not careful, you may not achieve what you want you intend to achieve,’’ Wike said.
The governor observed that some of the crises in Ogoniland had political undertones, adding that explained why previous administrations had found it difficult to do what they were supposed to do in efforts to clean up the area.
During the minister’s visit to Bayelsa, Gov. Seriake Dickson called for the strengthening of regulatory bodies in the oil sector to make multinational companies operating in the Niger Delta area to live up to their responsibilities.
Dickson said that the multinational companies, whose activities largely caused the area’s degradation, had often cashed in on the weakness of the regulatory institutions to short-change the region and Nigeria in general.
“All of us must work to address the weaknesses inherent in our institutions in this country — the weaknesses which some of these oil majors are exploiting to create double standards,’’ he said.
The governor, who welcomed the nascent move to clean up the entire Niger Delta region, beginning with Ogoniland, described Bayelsa as the epicentre of oil pollution the region.
Eyiangho writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)