Making Mockery Of Ogoni Clean-Up

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President Muhammadu Buhari, while presenting the 2018 Appropriation Bill to the joint session of the National Assembly on November 7, announced the allocation of an estimated N27.369billion to the Federal Ministry of Environment for its recurrent and capital expenditures. Out of this figure, an estimated N9.524billion was set aside for capital projects, N11.6 billion for contractors’ debt servicing, while a whooping N250 million was allocated for the ministry officials’ travel expenses.
Sadly, the Federal Government shamelessly allocated a paltry N20.226million for the all-important Ogoni clean-up, despite all the years of empty promises of commitment to addressing the agitations of beleaguered Niger Delta people.
The Tide considers the paltry sum allocated for Ogoni clean-up as an insult on not only the Ogonis, but the entire Niger Delta people. It is a sharp contrast to the President’s promises that, “We are working hard on the Ogoniland clean-up project, and have engaged eight international and local firms proposing different technologies for the mandate.”
We recall that part of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report specifically recommended that “an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland should be set up with an initial capital injection of $1billion contributed by the oil industry and the government.”
We are also aware that the UNEP report clearly recommended specific responsibilities for the government, the oil companies and the Ogoni communities in the clean-up and remediation processes, “projected to last between 25 and 30 years”. In this regard, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria has domiciled $10million (approximately N3.598billion) as its funding obligation towards the commencement of the clean-up exercise.
While we agree that $10million is a far cry from Shell’s share of the $1billion recommended as initial commencement sum over the first five years, we cannot fathom the embarrassing allocation of N20.226million in the 2018 budget by the Federal Government for the so-called ‘oversight and governance’ mechanisms of the Ogoni clean-up exercise. We cannot also understand the government’s reluctance to accept responsibility for the devastation and its refusal to commit funds commensurate with its 55 per cent stake in the Ogoni clean-up.
We are gravely disappointed that the Federal Government, which pocketed the huge revenue earnings from its 55 per cent stake in the joint venture operation, would turn around in 2017 to shirk its core responsibility of leading the way in the funding of efforts to restore the environment crassly degraded and polluted by several years of oil exploration and production activities in the Niger Delta.
The Federal Government’s posture, to say the least, amounts to an abdication of key social responsibility to remedy environmental degradation in Ogoniland for over 40 years. It also smacks of brazen insensitivity and callousness to the plight of the Ogoni people in particular and the entire Niger Delta in general.
Given the sharp contrast between the mouth-watering promises by the Federal Government to remediate Ogoni environment and the paltry sum committed to the project, we are constrained to think that the Buhari administration is only using sustained propaganda around the Ogoni clean-up exercise to gain cheap political mileage ahead of the 2019 general elections. Otherwise, how could a government which dissipated so much energy and resources on a presidential flag-off of such a sensitive project more than a year ago, turn around and renege on its statutory funding obligation of the same project?
We, therefore, urge the political leaders in the Niger Delta, especially members of the National Assembly, to reject the paltry allocation for the Ogoni clean-up. The National Assembly should be fair and just in their debates over the paltry allocation, and ensure honest review that should up the ante for the clean-up exercise.
Meanwhile, we task President Buhari to gallantly shove away the shame of this dismal allocation by proposing a supplementary appropriation to fund the government’s huge responsibilities in the Ogoni clean-up process, bearing in mind that 55 per cent of the $2billion clean-up cost over the first two years must be borne by government.