Despair hangs over the entire Ogoni land like a plague, as the people hope against hope over the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recommendations on the remediation of the battered Ogoni environment.
Like most oil producing communities in the Niger Delta, Ogoni bears the brunt of environmental pollution accruing from decades of oil exploration and exploitation in the area.
The hitherto docile population was however roused up through the activities of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by the late environmental activist, Ken Saro Wiwa in the early 90s to confront the Royal Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to account for its operations and activities in the area.
MOSOP specifically demanded that Shell should pay reparations to the Ogoni people for the resources carted away from their land, restore the natural environment or quit.
Shell did not heed to the Ogoni demand, rather the entire Ogoni land was thrown into crisis that led to the decimation of the elitist population of Ogoni.
Pundits referred to the carnage in Ogoni land as a “punitive doze of brutality” over the effrontery of the people to confront their formidable foes; Shell and the military junta.
According to analysts, the military unslaught in Ogoni land was intended to serve as a deterrent to other oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta who may want to raise their head against the powers that be.
In the face of persecution, the Ogonis remained undaunted in spirit and perhaps became the epitome of ethnic minority rights consciousness in Nigeria. The Ogoni crisis attracted global attention and the United Nations rappateurs came to Ogoni for an independent impact assessment on the environment with recommendations now known as UNEP report.
In apparent response to the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, the Federal Government last year flagged – off the clean up exercise of the Ogoni environment.
The official flag off of the clean up exercise, which was done by the Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo received commendations from various stakeholders.
The peasant population of Ogoni who are the major victims of environmental pollution kept faith with the decision of the Federal Government to clean up the environment and restore their natural sense of existence.
As predominant farmers and fishermen, they were hopeful that life will bounce back through the clean up exercise. But that hope remains elusive as nothing has been done in terms of the palliative measures which are part of the UNEP recommendations to alleviate the plight of the people or the actual clean- up exercise.
The people still continue to drink contaminated water and live on bare subsistence with their means of livelihood destroyed.
A youth – based pressure group in Ogoni land, the Ogoni Youth Federation, believes that the delay in the implementation of the Ogoni environmental clean-up is a deliberate political girnmick designed to frustrate the Ogoni people.
National Coordinator of the body, Comrade Legborsi Yaamabana, who spoke with The Tide in an interview in Port Harcourt, recently, accused Shell and the Federal Government of insincerity in the Ogoni clean-up exercise.
He said both Shell and the Federal Government see Ogoni as intractable given the guts with which they revolted against their over bearing tendencies.
“It is obvious that both Shell and the Federal Government are prancing with the sensitivities of the Ogoni people. Their antics show that they are not committed to the restoration of the Ogoni environment, there is no reason why Ogoni communities will still be drinking benzene as water.
The average Ogoni person domiciled in Ogoni land is prone to cancer and other diseases. Shell is more interested in resuming oil exploration activities in Ogoni than cleaning the environment they polluted”.
Comrade Yamaabana said the Ogoni Youth Federation would soon mobilize its rank and file to stage a peaceful protest at Shell Residential Area in Port Harcourt, for the company to provide portable drinking water to Ogoni communities.
He called on the company to also carry out a medical tour of Ogoni communities and provide medical treatment to the people who are vulnerable to different types of environmental infected diseases.
The youth activist also vowed that the group would resist any attempt by Shell to resume oil exploration in Ogoni.
Recently the Ogoni Youth federation also summoned major stakeholders of Ogoni to a round table discussion on the Ogoni clean-up at Londa Hotel in Port Harcourt.
In attendance at the meeting were the President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Comrade Legborsi Pyagbara, the President of KAGOTE, a Pan Ogoni socio-cultural organisation, Dr Peter Medee, elder statesman, Senator Gbene Cyrus Nunie among several others.
The Coordinator of the Hydro Carbon Pollution and Remediation Project, Dr Marvin Dekil was however absent at the meeting.
Issues raised at the round-table discussion included outright demands by the Ogoni youth over the clean-up exercise, especially on the remittal and management of funds by key stakeholders in the projects.
MOSOP President, Legborsi Pyagbara explained that the clean-up exercise was on course, but expressed regret over the indifference on the part of the Federal Government in the disbursement of fund for the project.
“It is a thing of regret that the clean-up exercise in Ogoni is still at a point of stagnation after official flag- off by the Federal Government, we expect full commitment on the part of Federal Government and Shell in the executions of the project”.
On the allegations of mismanagement of fund, the MOSOP president, who is a member of the Governing Council of HYPREP and Board of trustees of UNEP, said the $10 million so far released for the project was intact, adding that lack of disbursement of fund was stunting the project. In his remark, the President of KAGOTE, Dr Peter Medee also corroborated the MOSOP president, stating that the $10 million was intact.
Medee, who is also a member of the Governing Council of HYPREP, said vigilance was exerted on the management of the fund, as no single signatory would withdraw any money for any purpose without the consent of the board. He said: “I am an Ogoni, and I represent the interest of Ogoni, we will not tolerate any compromise against the people on the clean up exercise”.
He however called on Shell and the Federal Government to expedite action on the clean-up exercise by providing the necessary fund for the project.
On her part, the Rivers State Commissioner for Environment, Prof Roseline Konya said the clean-up exercise was still undergoing some planning stages at the moment, but called on Shell and the Federal Government to expedite action on the project by providing the necessary funds.
Konya, who is also a member of the Governing Council of HYPREP said 100% restoration of Ogoni environment was not possible due to the colossal damage but expressed hope in the remediation process which she said was a huge project to the tune of $1 billion.
In the interim, she said: “the Ogoni people have suffered so much and should be able to leverage on some social incentives especially good water supply among other palliative economic provisions while the project goes on”.
Musing over the clean up exercise, an activist, Comrade Lekia Christian said the high hope raised by the flag-off of the Ogoni clean-up has been dashed as the system has caved into the endemic pitfalls that are characteristic of the Nigerian system”.
He said a rebound can be sustained in the clean-up exercise when the key stakeholders demonstrate sincerity of purpose beyond sloganisation of the project.
Effort to speak with the coordinator of HYPREP, Marvin Deekii was abortive as he did not respond to his calls.