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UNEP Report, Ogoni Clean-Up And Chameleonic FG

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For most members of the current Ogoniland community, chronic oil pollution has been a fact of life… Treating the problem of environmental contamination within Ogoniland merely as a technical clean-up exercise would ultimately lead to failure… Achieve long-term sustainability for Ogoniland will require coordinated and collaborative action from all stakeholders,” the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicated in the recommendations of its report on the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan on August 4, 2011, at the Aso Rock, Presidential Villa, Abuja.
In his well-crafted Forward to the report, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, noted: “The history of oil exploration and production in Ogoniland is a long, complex and often painful one that to date has become seemingly intractable in terms of its resolution and future direction. It is also a history that has put people and politics and the oil industry at loggerheads rendering a landscape characterized by a lack of trust, paralysis and blame, set against a worsening situation for the communities concerned. The reality is that decades of negotiations, initiatives and protests have ultimately failed to deliver a solution that meets the expectations and responsibilities of all sides.”
Steiner’s fears resonate in the fact that since October, 1956, when 22,000 barrels of crude oil was discovered and produced in Ogoniland, relations between the people and the operating stakeholders – the Federal Government, represented by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) with its co-venturers (Total Exploration and Production Company and Eni’s Agip Oil Company) – have shown serious lack of confidence, trust and commitment to fulfill obligations arising therefrom, and operate in line with global best practices. That fear still exists today, especially in respect of Federal Government’s commitment to lead efforts in the clean-up and restoration of polluted Ogoniland, particularly as it relates to the honest funding of the project.
Flagging off the clean-up and restoration of polluted Ogoniland, Thursday, June 2, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari, boasted the commitment of the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government to religiously implement the UNEP Report, warning that “The current oil theft and illegal refining will not be tolerated. The regulators in the oil industry must live up to expectations.” Represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the president cautioned the regulators to “ensure that oil companies carry out their operations in line with universal best practices.” In fact, the then minister of environment, who is now UN deputy secretary general, Amina Mohammed, captured the mood more succinctly when she said the government had taken stock of the work done in the past to start the implementation, which “requires transparency, accountability, genuine partnership and proper representation of the people at the grassroots in what we are doing in investing in their future.” But unfortunately, in spite of Steiner’s fears in the UNEP Report, and the minister’s remarks at the launch in Bodo, Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, it is on record that the same Federal Government that has till date, exhibited lack of “transparency, accountability” and readiness for “genuine partnership” in the implementation of the clean-up and restoration of polluted sites in Ogoniland. Indeed, the signs, body language and budgetary allocation by the Federal Government for the clean-up exercise justify this characterisation.
Before expounding on this, let me first recall the UNEP position on the funding of the Ogoni clean-up exercise. Of course, a closer examination shows that the UNEP report specifically recommended “that the Government of Nigeria establishes an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority (OERA) to oversee implementation of this study’s recommendations. With a fixed initial lifespan of 10 years, the authority will have a separate budget which will accrue from an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Fund (OERF). The overall cost of the clean-up should not be an obstacle to its implementation. Therefore, 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. To be managed by the authority, the fund should be used only for activities concerning the environmental restoration of Ogoniland, including capacity building, skills transfer and conflict resolution.” In fact, the report recommended that “The Fund should be established with financial inputs from the oil industry operators with prevailing interests in Ogoniland (currently SPDC and NNPC) and the Federal Government of Nigeria as a major shareholder in both these entities.” In Page 227 of the Report, UNEP recommended 11 line items on the clean-up and restoration template with “initial preliminary cost estimate of $1,012,448,640 over the first five years of the exercise”.
The template included Emergency Measures (80 per cent for providing alternative drinking water to communities with contaminated water supply) to cost $63.750million, while clean up of land contamination would cost $611,466,100. Clean up of Benzene and MTBE contamination and Nsisioken Ogale to cost $50million, clean up of sediments at $20million, and restoration of artisanal refining sites at $99,452, 700. It further captured mangrove restoration and rehabilitation to cost $25.5million, surveillance and monitoring at a cost of $21.468million, setting up of Ogoniland Restoration Authority (now Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project – HYPREP) at a cost of $44million, establishment of Centre for Excellence in Environmental Restoration to cost $18.6million, and initiative on alternative employment to those in artisanal refining activities at a cost of $10million. If these line items are put together, the total figure recommended by UNEP is $964,236,800. In addition to that, UNEP made provision for third party verification and international expert support to implementation of the recommendations at five per cent of total cost, and specifically put the cost at $48,211,840. This is what sums the total $1,012,448,640 required to fund the project in the first five years. And given the operating agreement for the SPDC JV, operator of the oil fields in Ogoniland, the Federal Government (represented by NNPC) controls 55 per cent of the stake; Shell 30 per cent; Total E & P 10 per cent; and Agip 5 per cent. This simply means that the Federal Government must lead the funding of the project and should naturally cough out 55 per cent of the total cost of $1,012,448, 640 for the first five years of the Ogoni clean-up and restoration.
Now, using the benchmark of the official exchange rate of N361.175 to a Dollar as at Saturday, January 6, 2018, the Federal Government is expected to pay to HYPREP $550million (approximately N198,646, 248, 399.700) over the first five years of the clean-up exercise, translating to $110million or approximately N39,729,249,679.940 each year. The SPDC ought to commit $300million (approximately N108,352,499,127.109) over a five year period, or pay HYPREP $60million (about N21,670,499,825.421) each year. Total E & P Limited is supposed to commit $100million (approximately N36,117,499,709.036) or $20million (about N7,223,499,941.807) each year for five years of the clean-up process. Agip must domicile $50million or approximately N18,058,749,854.518 to cover the first five years of the clean-up. In the alternative, it could annually pay to HYPREP $10million or approximately N3,611,749,970.903 each year for five years consecutively. This is what the UNEP Report recommends, and by committing to its implementation, all parties have agreed to fund HYPREP to deliver on its mandate. Besides, the UNEP Report also recommended a 10-year lifespan for HYPREP, renewable thereafter. It follows that another funding obligation of $1billion is required for the project to wrap-up the 10-year lifespan.
From a duty of care point of view, it is important to remind the Federal Government and Nigerians that UNEP did not give cost of the holistic clean-up and restoration of Ogoniland. No. In fact, in Page 226 of the report, UNEP stated that “A detailed costing of the various recommendations made in this report was not within the scope of the work and was therefore not attempted. However, it is clear that major investments will be needed to undertake the report’s recommendations. The preliminary estimates of the initial investments needed to rehabilitate and restore the environment are only provided so that there is sufficient funding to initiate follow-up actions.
“The final clean-up costs are likely to be different, indeed much higher, for the following reasons: Full environmental restoration of Ogoniland will be a project which will take around 25-30 years to complete, after the ongoing pollution has been brought to an end. The current cost estimates are operational costs of the new institutions over the first five years. The clean-up costs for contaminated soil will depend substantially on the remediation standards set. A more stringent standard will lead to higher clean-up costs. Another issue is that the cost of clean-up of groundwater is not included in this costing (except for Nsisioken Ogale). The clean-up objectives, standards and targets will first need to be decided before a volume estimate and associated costing can be attempted. No estimate is given for the clean-up of surface water. The response and clean-up costs for any new spills, or newly discovered spills, simply cannot be estimated. Cost of land for the Integrated Contaminated Soil Treatment Centre and mini treatment centres is equally not included. The costs of a set of asset integrity actions, which include better securing of the oil facilities and proper decommissioning of abandoned ones, are also not included. A major cost item will be the restoration of mangroves and forests within the creeks around Ogoniland. The current estimates are limited to a pilot area of impacted mangroves and forests around the Bodo West oil field facilities.” Without prejudice, operators of the oil and gas business in Ogoniland: Federal Government (NNPC), Shell, Total, and Agip should have known this by now. This is the crux of the matter, and a burden the government and its co-venturers must bear to prove that they are transparent, accountable and ready to promote genuine partnership with themselves and the communities for the sake of the environment and the future of the people.
Therefore, it is an understatement to conclude that the Federal Government has yet to show serious commitment to the Ogoni clean-up project, with regard to its financial commitments to the exercise. Of course, as noted earlier, the government, which has the highest share in the business necessarily should lead the funding portfolio with a commitment of the equivalent of 55 per cent of $1,012,448, 640, to HYPREP account for clean-up and restoration of Ogoniland. Anything short of that commitment only amounts to a lip service to the exercise, and an attempt to make the project fail from the start.
An examination of efforts towards funding the clean-up exercise shows that in 2017, the Federal Government allocated N148,387,837 for “Ogoniland Clean-up Programme Support”, out of a total recurrent and capital budget of N28, 588,353,295 for the Federal Ministry of Environment. In the 2018 Appropriation Bill presented to the joint session of the National Assembly on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari gave a total recurrent and capital allocation of N27,369,935,624 for the Federal Ministry of Environment. Out of this amount, the president allocated an abysmal N20,228,621 for “Ogoniland Clean-up Support”. The president effortlessly tried to justify this meager allocation to the clean-up project when he said, “We are working hard on the Ogoniland clean-up project, and have engaged eight international and local firms proposing different technologies for the mandate. This would enable us select the best and most suitable technology for the remediation work, and have asked each firm to conduct demonstration clean-up exercises in four local government areas of Ogoniland. Although the International Oil Companies (IOCs) will fund the project, we have made provisions in 2018 budget for the costs of oversight and governance, to ensure effective implementation.”
Ironically, a close perusal of both the 2017 Appropriation Act and the 2018 Appropriation Bill explains the Federal Government’s lack of seriousness and commitment to fund the Ogoni clean-up project. It also shows the desperate attempt by the same government to shirk its responsibility from driving the funding of the clean-up exercise.
Take for instance the allocations to the Federal Ministry of Environment of N31,438,173 in 2018 and N31.5million in 2017 for materials and supplies, including stationeries, consumables, newspapers, magazines, among others; N24.870million in 2018 and N22,323,600 in 2017, respectively for cleaning and fumigation of offices; as well as N185million in 2017 and N99,350,953 in 2018, respectively for local and international travels and transport. Others include allocation of N250million apiece in 2017 and 2018 for attendance of statutory and international bilateral/multilateral meetings; renovation and rehabilitation of offices in the 36 states at a cost of N36,533,993 in 2017 and another N32,768,583 in 2018; and clean and green programme at N111,387,837 in 2017 and N42,249,053 in 2018. Projects audit got allocation of N114,061,500 in 2017 and N108million in 2018 while monitoring and evaluation of projects got N124,822,728 in 2017 and N94,799,950 in 2018; tree planting got N210,764,946 in 2017 and N369,428,609 in 2018, while revision of Environmental Impact Assessment Act got N13.5million in 2017 and N9.655million in 2018.
Other areas of concern include allocation of N41,430,649 for institutional agreement for development of Bamboo and RATTAN as well as establishment of Bamboo processing machine at N30million in 2017; and establishment of Bamboo processing machines in six geo-political zones at N6.2million and collaboration with international network for Bamboo and RATTAN for Bamboo and RATTAN production for export (phase 2 of 3) at N45million in 2018; up-scaling of EIA Registry at N65.5million in 2017 and digitization of EIA Registry at N67.130million in 2018; as well as development and production of Environmental Assessment procedures and revision of existing ones (guidelines, regulations and standards) at N75.975million in 2017 and the same project at N25.005million in 2018. These are laughable allocations in the Ministry of Environment spending portfolio that are of less importance to the Ogoniland project, given its complex history, significance and revenue contribution in shaping Nigeria’s development.
According to the UNEP Report, oil and gas exploration and production activities spanned over 1,000 square kilometers across Eleme, Tai, Gokana and Khana, with 12 oilfields, 116 drilled wells, 89 completed wells, and five flowstations, with installed capacity for 185,000 barrels of oil per day for more than 40 years. Assume that we monetise the value of this volume of crude oil using the current oil price of $67 per barrel – a staggering revenue earning by the operators, led by the Federal Government – would suffice. In fact, 185,000 barrels would amount to $12.395million per day; $371.850million in 30 days; $4,462,200.000 in 12 months; and $178.488billion in 40 years. Therefore, spending roughly $6billion from $178.488billion over the next 30 years, no doubt, is enough sacrifice to make by the government and oil industry players which partook in the business before 1993 when Ogonis stopped oil exploration and production in the area.
Put in perspective, it is callously uncharitable and gravely disappointing that the Federal Government, which blindly pocketed the huge revenue earnings from its 55 per cent stake in the joint venture operation for over 40 years, 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 oil exploration and production activities it consciously, wittingly and aggressively led. No right thinking person, without intent to exploit and undermine, would preside over a government that suggests and allows Shell, which took 30 per cent, Total which went away with 10 per cent, and Agip, which smiled home with just five per cent, to bankroll the monumental cost of the Ogoni clean-up. It is doubly saddening that President Muhammadu Buhari would make such allusion in his 2018 Appropriation Bill presentation to the National Assembly. It is already shameful enough that Shell literarily funded the UNEP scientific survey, without compromising the damning report arising therefrom, as attested to by Steiner.
The Federal Government’s posture, to say the least, amounts to an abdication of key social responsibility to remedy the mess it led in creating in Ogoniland for over 40 years. It is a clear violation of the global best practice in the extractive industry that the polluter necessarily pays for any measures to prevent and control the environmental pollution and health risks its activities had wrought. In fact, the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which is the commonly accepted practice that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment, is well known and applies globally. Ignoring this principle smacks of brazen insensitivity and lack of commitment to redress the humongous plight of the Ogoni people in particular and the entire Niger Delta in general. It shows Federal Government’s reluctance to accept responsibility for the devastation of Ogoniland, and willingness to commit commensurate funds with its 55 per cent stake in the lucrative business to clean-up and remediate Ogoni environment it robustly benefited from for decades.
Unlike the Federal Government’s chameleonic double standard in funding projects in other parts of the country, especially the North-East, where it has secured $1billion from Excess Crude Account to fight insurgency and execute other initiatives, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, appears to have displayed more commitment to remedy the mess, and taken responsibility to right the wrongs of the past. This is because in line with the UNEP Report, it has undertaken a number of initiatives specifically assigned to it by the recommendations in the last six years in Ogoniland. Those initiatives would be attempted in a later piece.
Suffice to note that in addition to addressing those specific tasks, Shell, last year domiciled $10million (approximately N3,611,749,970.903) in HYPREP account as its funding obligation for the commencement of the clean-up exercise. SPDC General Manager, External Relations, Mr. Igo Weli, who disclosed this to journalists in Port Harcourt on Saturday, August 5, 2017, explained that the funds that would be used for the clean-up will come from the Joint Venture and budgeting process with the Federal Government through the NNPC making available 55 per cent, while Shell provides 30 per cent of its share in the funding arrangement.
According to Weli, Total Exploration and Production is expected to contribute 10 per cent of the funding for the clean-up of Ogoniland, while Eni’s Agip would provide five per cent. “SPDC JV commits to support HYPREP ….in the clean-up process. SPDC JV has made available the $10million take-off fund for HYPREP as part of its contribution towards funding its share of the Ogoni Restoration Fund. SPDC JV remains fully committed to continue supporting and contributing its share to the Ogoniland Restoration Fund (ORF) within the appropriate framework and governance structures. We encourage all relevant stakeholders to also remain committed to contributing their quota to the Ogoni Restoration Fund,” the Shell general manager clarified. To show further clarity to Shell desire to keep its part of the bargain, Weli was quoted on August 7, 2017, as saying that $200million was ready for deployment to HYPREP for the clean-up of Ogoniland.
That position appears to be what the Senator representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District, Magnus Abe, was alluding to when he said that the Federal Government has voted $190 million towards the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on Ogoniland. Abe had disclosed that fact in Port Harcourt on Saturday, April 22, 2017. According to him, “We (Senate) are still pressing to increase the budgetary provision to $200 million to enable the project to begin. The amount was part of this year’s contributions by Shell.”
Thus, if Shell had last year set aside $200million in addition to the $10million it already paid to HYPREP out of its $300million, where then is the Federal Government’s $550million share of the total cost of the project in the first five years? From the paltry budgetary allocation of N148,387,837 in 2017 and the wickedly projection of N20,228,621million in 2018, the Federal Government appears to be simply playing politics with the clean-up project. This is why the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike’s expressed fears that the body language of the Buhari-led Federal Government is to use the sustained propaganda around the Ogoni clean-up exercise to gain cheap political mileage ahead of the 2019 general elections, buys to the truth. It also justifies Wike’s argument that if $1billion could be approved from Excess Crude Account (ECA) by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) for the Federal Government to fight insurgency in the North-East, there was nothing wrong with the approval of same amount from ECA to tackle environmental challenges in the Niger Delta identified in the UNEP Report, for which $1billion had been recommended to be spent over the first five years of its implementation.
Speaking at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, shortly after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, on Friday, December 29, 2017, Wike said “However, we are talking about fighting insurgency, and no right thinking individual will say that he will not support the government to fight insurgency. But on the other hand, I believe that we have been talking about the environmental issues in the Niger Delta, particularly in Ogoni land. I believe that we can also take the same $1billion from the excess crude account to fund the problem in Ogoni land and other Niger Delta areas. That is my position.”
Wike’s position is shared by many stakeholders in the Niger Delta, who loath Federal Government’s apathy towards funding critical development projects and livelihood-sustaining initiatives in the region. Ogoni Youth Federation (OYF) is one of such groups. President-General of OYF, Mr Legborsi Yamaabana, in a statement, late last December, at the annual national congress of the body in Bera Community, Gokana Local Government Area, Rivers State, expressed the feeling of the youth. He said: “We have been in devastation for over 30 years, and the Federal Government has been very slow in the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report for over six years now, as nothing has been done to assuage the situation of the people. A huge amount of money has been approved for the insurgency that started a few years ago. We are saying that part of the money should be diverted to the clean-up of Ogoni so that the work can start.”
In a communique at the end of the congress, read by the Legal Adviser of OYF, Pyagbara Gabriel, OYF decried the lackadaisical attitude of Federal Government, international oil companies and the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), in the implementation of the recommendations on Ogoni clean-up, and insisted that any oil company willing to resume oil exploration in Ogoniland must enter into an agreement with the youth of the area. That is the same stance shared by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). While querying the approval of a whopping $1billion for the Federal Government to fight insurgency in the North-East, MOSOP said that the urgency painted by the UNEP Report makes it expedient that another $1billion should be withdrawn from the ECA to fund the Ogoni clean-up in line the extant recommendations. Speaking in Port Harcourt in reaction to the NGF’s approval, MOSOP President, Legborsi Pyagbara, noted that the Ogoniland clean-up deserves more serious consideration given the scientifically proven environmental and health implications identified in the UNEP Report.
But given what President Buhari has said thus far and the budgetary allocation verifiable from the Federal Ministry of Environment’s spending basket, it is difficult to understand where the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of HYPREP, Mr Wale Edun is coming from when he said that the Federal Government was “funding the environmental remediation in Ogoniland”. Speaking on Wednesday, September 6, 2017, on a programme on Arise Television, Edun said already, the government has properly funded both HYPREP’s Governing Council and Board of Trustees (BoT) – the two key elements of the governance structure required for the clean-up of the Ogoniland and other impacted sites. He said HYPREP’s BoT was working with the relevant stakeholders to develop a world-class framework to measure the agency’s achievements.
According to him, “We have escrow account; we have investment advisers; fund managers are in place; we have technical advisers so that when we are given a list of what else has been done, we can check it properly. In fact, from the perspectives of the Board of Trustees, we have funded the governing council, we have funded the budget office, and they are yet to apply those funds fully and come back for more. But in the meantime, one thing I like to point out is that the idea is not just that the government or the joint venture oil companies should fund this clean-up, we expect it to last for years, and we expect it to cost huge amount. So, we are putting in place a structure that allows other people, other philanthropists, other institutions – national and international – to also put money in that fund. So, it is not a project-based organisation that we are handling; it is a fund that can take money at any time and is committed to applying it properly; to applying it prudentially to the job of cleaning up Ogoniland.”
On whether the $1billion is meant only for clean-up of oil pollution or could be deployed in other initiatives such as providing health services, Edun said the fund would also be used to intervene in the health sector and in the provision of drinking water for the people of Ogoniland, whose environment was devastated by oil pollution. “It is holistic; it is comprehensive. So, it is for the clean-up of the land by remediation; clean-up of the water, provision of drinking water, restoration of the health of the people of Ogoniland, health intervention; restoration of the means of livelihood of the people as well. So, for the young people, we have training programmes; there are empowerment programmes as well as standards of restoring agriculture and restoring the fishing industry in Ogoniland. So, it is a comprehensive attempt to really restore the lives of the people,” Edun added.
However, this explanation by Edun does not add value to the argument that more than 18 months after, HYPREP is yet to record any measurable milestone on the ground to assuage the desperation and anxiety, and ultimately restore the confidence and trust of the people of Ogoniland, and indeed, the Niger Delta, and that the Federal Government is damn serious with the holistic implementation of the UNEP Report. It also buys into the school of thought which brandishes decades of Federal Government’s record of lack of commitment to previous engagements, and implementation of agreements designed to address the Niger Delta Question. The people need Edun to do more, empirically, to convince stakeholders in the region that Buhari was not sure of his position when he said that the oil companies would fund the project, instead of the Federal Government leading the funding in line with its 55 per cent stake in the business. Edun needs to carefully read and understand Page 226 of the UNEP Report before he speaks again on the readiness of his team to deliver on the tasks ahead. He needs to fathom the letters contained in Page 227 of the UNEP Report. He needs to thoroughly digest the entire 262-page report before he speaks again!
Time has come for National Assembly members from the Niger Delta to rise up, denounce the lukewarm strategy and collectively lobby other members with the aim of raising the 2018 allocation to a reasonable amount commensurate with the Federal Government’s 55 per cent stake in the oil business. It is also natural to remind members of the National Assembly from other parts of the country to, for once, 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. Justice demands that Buhari should boldly shove away the shame of this dismal allocation by proposing a supplementary appropriation to fund its huge responsibilities in the Ogoni clean-up process, bearing in mind that 55 per cent of the $2billion clean-up cost over the first 10 years must be borne by a sincere Federal Government. This is the paradox of the Ogoni clean-up project!

 

Nelson Chukwudi

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Soot: Can N’Delta Escape Doomsday?

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A popular saying in Nigeria’s ‘Pidgin’ English states: ‘Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’. It simply means that while the monkey (which is usually smaller in size than the baboon) is working very hard to eke out a living for itself, the baboon uses its larger figure to intimidate the monkey and survive from the proceeds of the monkey’s efforts. This, in a nutshell, explains the plight of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The import of this popular saying in the context of this discourse is that while the Niger Delta Region produces the crude oil, which has been the mainstay of the country for over sixty years, and also bears the brunt of oil exploration and exploitation activities, the northern part of the country, which views leadership of the country as its birthright, enjoys more from the proceeds of crude oil.
Much have been said and written by different people, including scholars, about the plight of the people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria, such that at some point, one may easily feel saturated, and possibly irritated, out of a feeling of over-information that now sounds hackneyed.
But the truth is that, from the point at which crude oil was first found in commercial quantity at Oloibiri, in present-day Bayelsa State, in Nigeria, till today, the life of the people in the Niger Delta region has never been the same. Rather than be a source of development to the people in all spheres as it is with the advanced climes, some of which do not have the quality of crude oil the region has, it has been a source of clear dehumanisation of the people.
The apparent euphoria that greeted the discovery of crude oil in the Niger Delta region of the country in anticipation of its implication in terms of what the people stand to benefit as host communities, at inception, soon gave way to nostalgic chronic acrimonious feelings as the days turned to weeks, months, years and now decades.
Perhaps what would amount to an inkling of what is now the fate of the people of the region today was the February 23, 1966 declaration of the Niger Delta Republic in what has become known as The Twelve-Day Revolution’ by the late Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro, nicknamed Boro.
Boro’s grouse was the exploitation of oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta areas which benefited mainly the Federal Government of Nigeria and, at the time, the Eastern Region with capital in Enugu, while nothing was given to the Niger Delta people. He believed that the people of the Niger Delta deserved a larger share of proceeds from the oil wealth.
Consequently, he formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), an armed militia with members consisting mainly of his fellow Ijaw ethnic group. They declared the Niger Delta Republic on that day and fought with Federal forces for twelve days before being defeated. Boro and his comrades were jailed for treason.
They were, however, granted amnesty by the Federal regime of General Yakubu Gowon on the eve of the Nigerian Civil War in May 1967 on the condition that they fight for the Federal Government against the Biafrans. Boro, and some of his comrades, most prominently Owunaro, his second in command in the NDVF, subsequently enlisted in the Nigerian Army.
Boro was commissioned as a Major in the Nigerian Army. He fought on the side of the Federal Government, but was killed under mysterious circumstances in active service in 1968 at Ogu (Okrika) in Rivers State.
But the struggle Boro started has taken different dimensions in the Niger Delta ever since, with seemingly less impact as far as the Federal Government’s response to the demands of the region is concerned. It’s such that after over sixty years of oil exploration and exploitation in the region, all the people have to show is what amounts to deliberate and planned, but gradual destruction of their sources of livelihood, leading to a life of penury, underdevelopment, and currently a possible end to their lives through endemic illnesses such as cancer and like ailments warranted by their exposure to the ravaging soot in the region.
Soot is a mixture of very fine black or brown particles created by the product of incomplete combustion. It is primarily made up of carbon, but it can also contain trace amounts of metals, dust, and chemicals. It is different from charcoal and other by-products of combustion because it is so fine. These tiny particles may be under 2.5 micrometers in diameter which is smaller than dust, mold, and dirt particles.
Beyond artisanal refining, possible causes of the soot also include emissions from asphalt factories, indiscriminate burning of mixed waste, burning of tyres and vehicular emissions, according to a Report by a technical team set up by the Rivers State Government in 2019, to generate preliminary air quality data in Port Harcourt. However, none of these has so infested the region’s cloud with soot as illegal oil bunkering.
Experts say that the small size of soot is what makes it so dangerous for humans and pets, because it can easily be breathed deep into the small passageways of the lungs, which is why repeated exposure to soot is linked to respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and cancer. Soot is, therefore, more than just an unsightly nuisance. It is a danger that cannot be left in the home or environment.
In 2017, a reporter, Yomi Kazeem, wrote, “Across Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger-Delta region, environmental pollution has long been a part of daily lives. But while residents have become used to multiple oil spills which have damaged livelihoods and farmlands, they currently face a new kind of danger: rising black soot particles in the air. Since November, residents of oil industry hub city, Port Harcourt, are complaining about increased soot residue on surfaces in and out of their homes”.
Back then, Nigeria’s Ministry of Environment declared an air pollution emergency in the affected areas. The Ministry claimed that preliminary test samples of the soot indicated it was caused by incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons as well as asphalt processing and illegal artisanal refinery operations.
In a bid to curb the pollution, Kazeem stated, the Ministry shut down an asphalt processing plant operating in the area. The State Government has also sealed off a Chinese company in the city for what it tagged ‘aggravated air pollution, and breach of environmental laws’.
On their part, residents petitioned the United Nations Environment Programme to intervene by investigating the problem while they subtly protested the increased pollution on social media, through the “#StopTheSoothashtag”.
Since then, the best that has been heard about addressing the issue of soot in the Niger Delta had been what can be easily dismissed as subtle complaints on social media by few concerned individuals and organisations involved in environmental health pursuits. Thus, the quantity of particles forming soot that is emitted into the air on a daily basis has increased almost unabated.
For the Federal and State Governments, their efforts so far had been at best mere media hypes in a make-belief establishment of modular refineries in the Niger Delta, which the Federal Government also wants established in the north that does not produce oil, like it did in building refinery in Kaduna State, an act widely viewed as misplacement of priority as far as establishment of modular refineries as a solution to soot is concerned.
In 2013, scientists found out that dirty air caused more premature deaths than unsafe water, unsafe sanitation, and malnutrition in Africa. The obvious implication is that if the Niger Delta is increasingly infested with soot and genuine necessary steps are not taken to check it, the region will most likely go extinct in years to come. The form this will take, and how soon it will manifest are the questions that currently prop up in critical analyses.
During one of such analyses, an environmental toxicologist with the Department of Animal and Environmental Biology, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Dr. Emmanuel Oriakpona, hinted that the most likely consequence of unchecked increase in soot infestation in the Niger Delta is loss of the region’s ecosystem and human health.
“We shall experience loss of our ecosystem and loss of our health. This is the summary of what will happen to us: major loss in our ecosystem. If you go to the mangroves and see the devastation by crude oil, and you also go and see what the people actually carrying out the refining process are going through, you’ll appreciate this better,” he said.
According to Dr. Oriakpona, the situation is worsened by the fact that there is an obvious collaboration between those involved in artisanal refining of crude oil and authorities vested with the responsibility of stopping it. The reason is that such authorities are rewarded with huge financial benefits accruable from the business. This is further buttressed by some key players in the illegal oil refining business whose locally made boats and products were at some points burnt by security agents who felt that their exploitation of the people involved in the illegal trade was challenged.

By: Soibi Max-Alalibo

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News Reporting In Covid-19 Era

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The request to give a talk on Reporting in Covid-19 Era serves as a form of uniting with my friends and colleagues after a long absence from the scene, to reminisce about newsroom experience and fun. Newsroom is a mad place that used to be stuffy with the acrid stench of tobacco, with no permanent seat for reporters. Sit wherever there is space and knock out your story.
Personally, I love being called a Reporter than an Editor. It is more dignifying to be addressed as Reporter because it is the foundation of journalism. Reporting is a craft; it is an art not easily acquired by many journalists. It is easier to write essays than reporting, where one uses the: who, when, where, what, and how to form an inverted pyramid.
There are other types of reporting that are different from newspapering. Formal and informal reports which are familiar with bureaucratic red tapism. Formal reports are schematic in layout: terms of reference, findings, conclusion, and recommendation.
Formal report takes the form of memo. News reporting is segmented, in other words, there are beats such as crime, court, assembly, sports, entertainment, airport, labour, seaport, and such like. They are specialized. These beats have their own languages, which the reporter is expected to master and speak effectively. Specialization leads to efficiency and greater output, but it also leads to boredom. Therefore, a good reporter is one who is versatile. He is a factotum because he can function in any beat. As a result, the chances of being bored in repeating one particular thing is minimal. There will be job enlargement and enrichment.
After having a cursory glance at reporting, let me also look at Covid-19. It is a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness in human. On December 31, 2019, World Health Organization (WHO) was informed of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan City, China. A novel Coronavirus was identified as the cause by Chinese authorities on January 7, 2020 and was temporarily named “2019-ncov”.
We are all living witnesses to the devastating effects of the pandemic. It swept like wild -fire across the globe, and decimated the population. Economic activities were paralyzed. No sector was spared. Movements were halted, and people were forced into self-imprisonment. It was a period of improvised fasting without sufficient prayers due to scarcity of food. Covid-19 was a plague that defiled all known orthodox medications.
In order to check further ravages of the pandemic, certain measures were put in place such as social distancing, wearing of face mask, washing of hands regularly with soap, application of sanitizer, maintaining good hygiene, subjecting people to tests, isolating those who tested positive in camps, and quarantining travellers from other countries for a number of days.
There was hue and cry about the claim of China that the cause of the menacing pneumonia was not known. Donald Trump believed that it was a mischievous act for economic reason. The rivalry between U.S and China to dominate the economy of the world is awful. Fingers are pointing at Bill Gates for having conspirational relationship with China to cause the disaster so that he could come up with his antivirus to enrich himself. When eventually China manufactured drugs to combat the dreaded Covid-19, America cried foul!
Something is fishy. Coronavirus started in Wuhan yet there is no adverse effect in nearby Beijing and Shanghai, while countries in Europe and America are seriously affected.
The United States is not blaming China for fun, because not a single leader in China has tested positive. Shanghai, the city that runs China’s economy did not experience lockdown. While the world’s major economic and political centres are closed, Beijing and Shanghai are open. This gives the picture that the Coronavirus is a biochemical weapon.
I have laboured to say what reporting is all about, as well as Covid-19. Let me now look at reporting in Covid-19 Era. How can reporters stay safe while reporting about the plague? They have to obey the rules spelt out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), coupled with the grace of God. It became imperative for newsrooms to make pandemic coverage a priority to inform and educate the public during these uncertain times.
The Covid-19 pandemic strongly impacted the journalism industry and affected the work of journalists. Many local newspapers have been severely affected by losses in advertising revenues. You know that if a paper is doing well, it is not only the rich editorial contents. It is mostly the number of pages sold, that makes the paper solvent. The editorial contents can sell all the copies printed, yet it is not enough to settle the bills. The cost of production per copy is more than the cost at the news stand. It is adverts that yield the revenue for its sustenance. Apart from the loss of revenues, journalists have been laid off, and some publications have folded.
Journalists across the globe faced unpredicted challenges to report the Coronavirus outbreak accurately and safely. These challenges led to the spread of misinformation, having cognizance of the physical and mental health of reporters fomented by social distancing. There was a revolution in online reporting.
Reporters need to look into the heart of the matter without fear or favour. They have the inalienable duty to inform and educate members of the public correctly without compromising their dignity.
The reporter is the newsmaker. People treat him the way he carries himself. He does not need to be arrogant, but confident of himself. He does not need to be over ornamented, but decent and smart, to earn respect.
He should seek the truth and reflect on his own power. Are we sure that the information being fed the public by NCDC is correct? How many laboratories do they have? How many positive cases have they confirmed? How many people are dead? There is the need for reporters to verify the authenticity of claims made by government officials. Unfortunately such verification was not possible because of lockdown. The reporter had to be contented with whatever information sifted out. There were elements of fraud by some countries who inflated the figures of confirmed cases in order to get more reliefs from WHO. It is a known fact that people were recruited to stay in isolation camps, giving wrong picture to the world, while enriching themselves through reliefs from the world body.
Nigerians received a rude shocker one fine morning when a minister alleged that billions of naira had been disbursed to them within seventy-two hours as relief package for Covid-19. It was the height of thievery. Uptil now, heaven has not fallen, while the money is resting coolly in individual pockets, to the detriment of hapless and helpless Nigerians.
As if that was not enough, what of people representing us in the National Assembly who allowed consignments meant for alleviation of the burden of the common man to crawl into their warehouse? While the people who elected them into power were famishing, and growing lean, they were eating like kings and developing robust cheeks.
Such fraudulent activities were condemned, but the condemnation was transient. The tempo should be sustained. Constant repetition of a thing will make it automatic. Those crooks should be tormented with follow-up stories. Reporters should summon the courage to seek accountability from leaders of Covid-19 relief fund or package. Now that the lockdown has been relaxed and the death figures remarkably reduced, reporters should heave a sigh of relief and make a departure from the seamy side to the lofty angle of Covid-19. It gave birth to the rise of online learning. The pandemic led to the closure of schools across the globe, and children resorted to learning online instead of classroom. It checked the activities of randy husbands who were forced to be at home. For fear of the contagious pandemic both men and women kept their distance. The level of promiscuity was drastically reduced. Children enjoyed the company of their fathers who were scarcely at home prior to the advent of the epidemic. Because of the lockdown which confined people, the major recreational activity was the act of procreation. Many wives were blessed with fruit of the womb.
Reporting has gone into coma in Covid-19 Era. It has to gain consciousness. Reporters should be resourceful. What game is WHO playing by trying to monopolize the discovery of the vaccine to combat the epidemic? Is the claim made by Madagascar that it has an answer to the menace of Covid-19 authentic? Reporters cannot afford to fold their hands and allow social media to misinform them.
There is the allegation that the vaccine government is coercing or cajoling people to take is not the panacea, because some people who obeyed the plea to take died as a result of its effect. Others claimed that the portion of their body where the vaccine was administered has become magnetic to metals.
According to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, at the moment journalism is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 nations. Some governments have punished journalists for reporting pandemic figures that are contrary to the official figures as authorities try to cover up the true situation on the ground.
In other instances, governments have totally banned media from reporting on the pandemic and jailed others for exposing scandals related to theft of Covid-19 supplies.
Yet now, more than ever, the public has the right to factual, credible and timely information, and journalism, in the words of the Press Freedom Index, is the vaccine against disinformation…
Gentlemen of the Press, I urge you to seek the truth and report the Coronavirus outbreak accurately and safely.
Albert-Briggs is a veteran journalist in Port Harcourt.

By: Fitz Albert-Briggs

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Failure Of Political Leadership In Nigeria

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At the end of the Cold War, African civil society movements striving for more democratic governance began to challenge authoritarian regimes on the continent. Declining living conditions within African countries and the failure of authoritarian African leaders to deliver the promises of economic prosperity they made to encourage the acceptance of development aid fueled the push for change. International donors’ insistence on democratic reform as a precondition for aid gave impetus for Nigerian civil society to push for domestic accountability. Thus, domestic pressure for political pluralism and external pressure for representative governance have both played a role in the calls for democratic reform in Nigeria.  
But despite some successes, corruption and socio-economic disparities within Nigerian democracy continue to run rampant. Since 1999, the democratic space has been dominated by political elites who consistently violate fundamental principles associated with a liberal democratic system, such as competitive elections, the rule of law, political freedom, and respect for human rights. The outcome of the 2019 Presidential Election further eroded public trust in the ability of the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise competitive elections unfettered by the authoritarian influences of the ruling class. This challenge is an indicator of the systemic failure in Nigeria’s governance system. A continuation of the current system will only accelerate the erosion of public trust and democratic institutions. In contrast with the current system in which votes are attained through empty promises, bribery, voter intimidation, and violence, Nigeria needs a governance system that will enhance the education of its voters and the capability of its leaders.
Statistically, Nigeria has consistently ranked low in the world, areas such as government’s effectiveness, political stability and the presence of violence and terrorism, rule of law, and control of corruption. Nigeria was perceived in 2020 as a highly corrupt country with a score of 25/100 while its corruption ranking increased from 146 in 2019 to 149 in 2020 out of 180 countries surveyed. While President Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 election on his promise to fight insecurity and corruption, his promises went unfulfilled; Boko Haram continues to unleash unspeakable violence on civilians while the fight against corruption is counterproductive.  
At the core of Nigeria’s systemic failure is the crisis of governance which manifests in the declining capacity of the state to cope with a range of internal political and social upheavals. There is an expectation for political leaders to recognise systemic risks such as terrorist attacks, herder-farmer conflict and police brutality and put in place the necessary infrastructure to gather relevant data for problem solving. But the insufficiency of political savvy required to navigate the challenges that Nigeria faces has unleashed unrest across the nation and exacerbated existing tensions. The #EndSARS Protests against police brutality in 2020 is one of the manifestations of bad governance. 
The spiral of violence in northern Nigeria in which armed bandits engage in deadly planned attacks on communities, leading to widespread population displacement, has become another grave security challenge that has sharpened regional polarisation. Because some public servants are usually unaware of the insecurities faced by ordinary Nigerians, they lack the frame of reference to make laws that address the priorities of citizens. The crisis of governance is accentuated by a democratic culture that accords less importance to the knowledge and competence that political leaders can bring to public office. These systemic challenges have bred an atmosphere of cynicism and mistrust between citizens and political leaders at all levels of government.  
Political elites in Nigeria also exploit poverty and illiteracy to mobilise voters with food items such as rice, seasoning and money. The rice is usually packaged strategically with the image of political candidates and the parties they represent. The assumption is that people are more likely to vote for a politician who influences them with food than one who only brings messages of hope. The practice of using food to mobilise voters is commonly described as “stomach infrastructure” politics. The term stomach infrastructure arose from the 2015 election in Ekiti State when gubernatorial candidate Ayodele Fayose mobilised voters with food items and defeated his opponent, Dr Kayode Fayemi. It is undeniable that the Nigerian political culture rewards incompetent leaders over reform-minded leaders who demonstrate the intellectualism and problem-solving capabilities needed to adequately address systemic issues of poverty and inequality. 
Jason Brennan describes the practice of incentivising people to be irrational and ignorant with their votes as the unintended consequence of democracy. Brennan believes specific expertise is required to tackle socio-economic issues, so political power should be apportioned based on expert knowledge. As Brennan suggests, Nigeria lacks a system of governance in which leadership is based on capability. Rather, the political system in Nigeria is dominated by individuals who gain power through nepotism rather than competence, influence voters with food rather than vision, and consolidate power through intimidation or by incentivising constituents with material gifts which they frame as ”empowerment” to keep them subservient and loyal political followers. By implication, the failure of governance in Nigeria is arguably the result of incompetent leadership.
Nigeria needs a new model of governance in which political leadership is based on the knowledge and competence of both political leaders and the electorate. One solution is to establish what Brennan refers to as ‘epistocracy’, which is a system of governance in which the votes of politically informed citizens should count more than the less informed. For Justin Klocksiem, epistocracy represents a political system in which political power rests exclusively on highly educated citizens. This idea drew its philosophical influence from John Stuart Mill, who believed that the eligibility to vote should be accorded to individuals who satisfy certain educational criteria. The notion that educational attainment should be the prerequisite for the electorate to choose their leaders as proposed by Brennan, Klocksiem and Mill is an important proposition that should be taken seriously. 
However, one cannot ignore that such thinking originates from societies where civic education is high and the electorate can make informed choices about leadership. In Nigeria, the majority of citizens are uneducated on political issues. Simultaneously, those who are highly educated are increasingly becoming indifferent to political participation; they have lost faith in the power of their votes and the integrity of the political system. For an epistocratic system to work in Nigeria there must be significant improvements in literacy levels so that citizens are educated about the issues and can use their knowledge to make informed decisions about Nigeria’s political future. 
It is important to mention that Nigeria’s political elites have exploited illiteracy to reinforce ethnic, religious, and political divisions between groups that impede democratic ideals. Since the resultant effect of epistocracy is to instill knowledge, raise consciousness and self-awareness within a polity anchored on the failed system of democracy, decisions that promote the education of uninformed voters are the rationale for an epistocratic system of governance. The Constitution must ensure that only citizens who can formulate policies and make informed decisions in the public’s best interest can run for public office. When the Constitution dictates the standard of epistocratic governance, informed citizens will be better equipped to champion political leadership or determine the qualifications of their leaders. Epistocratic governance will be the alternative to Nigeria’s current dysfunctional democratic system while retaining the aspects of liberal democracy that maintain checks and balances.  
We are not, however, oblivious that implementing such an epistocratic system of governance in Nigeria potentially contributes to more inequality given its highly undemocratic and exclusive nature. Our argument takes into consideration the contextual realities of poverty and illiteracy and the realisation that poor and illiterate constituents have less power to evaluate the credibility of public servants or hold them accountable. The benefits of electing epistocratic leaders are that many citizens would desire to be educated in preparation for leadership. The more educated the population the more likely it is that political leaders will be held accountable. However, the kind of education that is needed to significantly transform the governance landscape in Nigeria is civic education. 
We propose three policies to promote epistocratic governance in Nigeria. First, aspiring leaders must demonstrate the intellectual pedigree to translate knowledge into effective, transparent, and accountable governance that leads to national prosperity. As Rotimi Fawole notes, the bar should be higher for those aspiring to executive or legislative office “to improve the ideas that are put forward and the intellectual rigor applied to the discussions that underpin our statehood.”
Second, the government must increase access to education through government-sponsored initiatives that integrate civic education into school curriculums. Currently, little opportunity exists for young Nigerians, particularly those in underfunded public education systems, to learn about their civic roles at the local, state, national, and international levels, including how to emerge as participating citizens through academics.
However, I think 2023 will be interesting for the future of the country, if the government should engage the support of local NGOs to promote civic education across Nigeria in culturally appropriate ways. The NGOs should be empowered to define the legal concept of citizenship and summarise specific civil rights enshrined in the Constitution into a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities modelled after the Canadian Charter. The Charter should include value positions essential to an effective democracy, such as the rights of citizens, social justice, good governance and rule of law. It can then be commissioned as a resource for civics education in Nigeria.

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