Five Years after the United Nations Environmental Programme turned in its report on polluted communities in Ogoniland, Adebiyi Adedapo reports that President Muhammadu Buhari will in a matter of weeks launch the clean-up project

Following several agitations from right groups in the Niger Delta area, particularly the people of Ogoni communities in Rivers State, the federal government of Nigeria in 2009, commissioned the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to carry out an Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland. The UNEP report was released on the 4th of August 2011, and former President Goodluck Jonathan, immediately set up a Presidential Implementation Committee (PIC) to review its findings.

Sequel to consultations on the recommendations of the UNEP report, the PIC’s report, and the Petroleum Industry’s Action Plan; the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources with the approval of the then president established the Hydro-carbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) in July, 2012.
HYPREP was set-up as an offshoot of the ministry to among other functions: restore all communities impacted by hydro-carbon contamination in Nigeria and any or all matters that the federal government may (from time to time) assign to the project; implement the actionable recommendations of the UNEP Environmental Assessment Report on Ogoniland; design and provide a robust, independent coordinated guidance for the surveillance and monitoring of all petroleum infrastructure in Nigeria.

However, despite various promises, both at the national and international forums, the planned implementation didn’t see the light of the day. The immediate past Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Dizaeni Alison-Madueke had in 2014 promised the international community of commencement of the implementation by 2015.
The former minister who made the promise at the follow-up meeting of technical working groups on environment restoration of Ogoniland, in Geneva, claimed that the federal government was in a hurry to begin the implementation in the year 2015, four years after release of the report which recommended the spending of one billion dollars as initial capital injection contribution for environmental restoration of Ogoniland by government and the oil industry. The oil spills have terrorised the oil producing community for decades.

“Yes the government feels it is important to start the process in an aggressive manner. We also think that there are some quick-wins that can be started as early as January next year. If we do not get to do this within a very short period, we may not get to do it again. The federal government is ready to fulfill its own counterpart funding that will not be path of the regular budgetary provision and that is why an independent body has been set up to manage the fund. On our part, government is committed to ensure this process is kick-started and will continue to take practical steps to encourage all the stakeholders to see to the success of the implementation.”

Unfortunately, conflicting political interests and inadequate political will on the part of the federal government militated against the planned-implementation, therefore the process couldn’t go beyond the conceptualisation stage.

The UNEP Report
The UNEP report is considered as a fair reflection of the scale of the pollution and then clean-up challenge facing Nigeria. Niger Delta has suffered from continuous environmental degradation from oil spillage and gas flaring ever since the start of oil production in the late 1950s. Today, the environmental devastation is indescribable, and the clean-up according to the Minister of Environment, Ms. Amina Muhammed, would take a period of 25-30 years.

Some environmentalists and chemical engineers cast doubt that there will ever be a clean-up, as it would cost huge amount of money, which parties concerned are not interested in parting with.

According to experts, most of the problems arose because in Nigeria, pipelines were laid above ground because it is cheaper, and companies wouldn’t always bother to fix the smaller leaks caused by poor maintenance and corrosion, leading to the majority of the spills.

The Nigerian government that is a major partner in the oil ventures, and according to the report, the government will have to provide 60 per cent of the clean-up cost, which, amounts to 600 million dollars. Many believe this is not likely to happen in a foreseeable future.

Since successive governments refused to instill stiff measures against the pollution, oil exploration companies will simply hide under this weakness and look away from what ordinarily should be their responsibility.

Rekindled Hope
President Muhammadu Buhari, during the electioneering in January 2015, promised the traditional rulers and the people of Ogoni a speedy commencement of implementation of the UNEP report.

To this end, the President of the Supreme Council of Traditional Rulers in Ogoniland, and Gbene Mene of Tai, King Godwin Gininwa, conveyed support of the Ogonis to Buhari’s candidacy.

The Ogonis received Buhari at the Sakpenwa, headquarters of Tai Local Government Area of the state. While assuring the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) of his people’s support, Gininwa said; “Ogonis have cried a lot, we want a redeemer and we believe you are the one.

Fulfilling Electoral Promise

Premised on the electoral promise of President Buhari to the Ogoni people, the Minister of Environment, Ms. Amina Muhammed recently announced that the president will in a matter of weeks launch the clean-up project.

Although, the minister noted that the process of complete clean-up of polluted communities would take about 25-30 years, for the current administration, kick-starting the project is a major achievement.

Muhammed, who visited some polluted communities in Niger Delta region in the company of the Minister of States for Environment, Ibrahim Usman Jubril as part of preparations for the formal launch of the project, noted that cleaning-up the polluted water, land and air of Ogoni communities was not just a Nigerian issue but an international obligation.

“The only thing we can do is to deliver, if we do not deliver it is a failure on our part, and it is not my intention to fail. Hold us into account, we have promised to deliver. It is not a Nigerian issue, it is an international obligation, and any clean-up in the Niger Delta region begins with Ogoniland.

Fear of Political Hijack

To buttress the negative contribution of conflicting political interests to implementation of the UNEP report, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, while receiving the Minister of Environment, Ms. Amina Muhammed and her team on a courtesy visit to the Government House, warned federal government against patronising political interests.

Governor Wike in his cautionary words, noted that the clean-up would not be achieved if the federal government allows a particular political class to dictate or drive the process.

“Let no one tell you that don’t worry, I am in-charge, let no one toss you to where you will not be able to explain. I don’t know who compiled the lists of the stakeholders, I know that traditional rulers are involved, we must be careful not to introduce politics into this, environmental issues does not have political affiliation, if we are not careful we may not achieve what we want to achieve,” he said.

According to Wike, communities do not care so much about political parties, but how to survive as a people.

“Communities do not know about political parties, what communities know is about how to survive, it doesn’t matter the political party that anybody belongs to, environmental issues does not affect a political party; it affects the entire state and the entire Niger Delta as a whole. And so, I will advise that we approach it in such way that it does not look political, particularly in Ogoniland, it is a very complex place; you have to be extremely careful. Because if you are not careful you may not achieve what you intend to achieve.”

The Communities

While the minister seeks cooperation and supports of all stakeholders, traditional leaders in the communities and their subjects, there seem to be a discordant tune amongst various interest groups in Ogoni.

Even the supreme council to traditional rulers in Ogoni recognised this challenge, but urged the federal government to be undeterred in its determination to clean-up the area.

President, Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, Gininwa, disclosed that; “Splinter groups have sprang up everywhere, laying misleading claims capable of distracting the government., but as the father body of all organisations in Ogoniland, I assure you of the commitment of all important and notable stakeholders in Ogoniland. Ogoni people are eternally grateful to Mr. President fulfilling his campaign promises to the Ogoni people, this marks the actualisation of the collective dream of the Ogoni people.”

The council also enjoined the federal government to mop-up illegal arms from arms-bearing criminals in the communities, ahead of the clean-up.

“The genuine intention of the government to sanitise Ogoniland from arms and ammunitions in the recent military operation was politicised. We hereby support the deployment of military operatives to Ogoniland until the last arm is mopped-up, while they maintain professionalism. This is most important as the clean-up is coming.”

Despite the call for military presence by the traditional authorities in Ogoni, various groups have protested the militarisation of the communities, particularly the killing of some residents, when the military stormed Bua-Yeghe community, in search of a former militant leader, Solomon Ndigara. Some residents have also threatened to resist further attacks on innocent community members.

Pollution beyond Ogoni

Although, the UNEP report suggested that the clean-up of polluted communities in the Niger Delta area should begin with Ogoniland, the suggestion might be just as a result of the long standing campaign of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) founded in 1990, by late Ken Saro Wiwa.

Other oil producing communities are equally affected by what the Bayelsa State Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson described as ‘environmental terrorism’.

Dickson, while receiving the ministers, who paid a courtesy call to his office, shortly after the stakeholders meeting in Bori-Ogoni, said the pollution started from the Ijaw land, in present day Bayelsa State.

While acknowledging the provisions of the UNEP report, which stipulated that clean-up should begin from Ogoniland, the Governor noted that pollution by oil producing companies started from the Ijaw land in Bayelsa State.

“Bayelsa is the heart of the Niger Delta, with all its blessings, prospects and challenges, this is where it all started. Let the truth be told, Bayelsa is the headquarters of pollution, environmental degradation and environmental terrorism, Bayelsa is central to the story of Nigeria’s oil production.

“If you take the blood sample of our people and carry out a toxicology test, you will be surprised at what you see, from 1958 till now, we have borne the brunt of providing revenue to the whole nation, we are happy to do so, but the side effects are injurious. It is imperative for the clean-up to begin in Ogoniland, in all of these, this is where the oil production started, gas flaring started here, we witness pollution activities everyday, even today as we speak.”

The Optimism

The Federal Ministry of Environment has initiated informal meetings with key stakeholders, including the Special Adviser in charge of Amnesty programme to ensure consideration and inclusiveness. Other stakeholders consulted include the traditional rulers in Ogoniland, international oil companies, state government and security agencies.

The consultation, according to the minister, will bring on board Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will provide a guarantee that clean-up areas will not be re-polluted. Also, modalities have been put in place for the pre-launch, launch and post launch for the successful implementation of the report, and awaiting final approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

The minister explained that emergency measures for ensuring community access to potable drinking water, development of community engagement and communication plan as well as dispute resolution mechanism will be ensured.

“Preliminary activities will also commence on the establishment of the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre. In the implementation of these plans and programmes, the government will ensure that the solution to our environmental challenges will provide tangible benefits to the people including employment of provision of basic services.”

The federal government, through Muhammed assured a cross section of Ogoni people including women and youths, who gathered at the Peace and Freedom Hall in Bori-Ogoni, that government intends to use the clean-up to jump start a sustainable livelihood agenda for the Niger Delta that is less dependent on oil.

Plea for Peace

Muhammed, while soliciting support and cooperation of stakeholders towards the implementation, urged all groups within the Ogoni communities to embrace peace. According to the minister, without an atmosphere of peace, there wouldn’t be a meaningful development and respect for human rights.

“We underscore and plead that peace should be the watchword for everybody, peace is going to be key, the environment needs to unite. The environment does not belong to any one group than the other, without peace, there cannot be development and respect for human rights. We plead for cooperation in the clean-up of soil, water and air of Ogoni.”