James Emejo in Abuja
The House of Representatives on Tuesday declined a request to observe a minute silence in honour of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni people who were brutally hanged on November 10, 1995.
It however, passed other related resolutions condemning in strong terms the continuing pollution in Ogoni land and other parts of Niger Delta, and urged the federal government to declare Ogoni land an ecological disaster zone and invest resources to tackle the environmental disaster with and other parts of Niger Delta.
The lower chamber further mandated its House Committees on Environment and Petroleum to monitor the level of progress or otherwise of implementation of the clean-up and report to the House quarterly for further legislative action.
The resolution was consequent upon a motion brought under matters of urgent public importance by Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) on the need to remember Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni 22 years after their death as well as urgent need to expedite action on the clean-up of Ogoni land.
However, of the four prayers proposed by the sponsor; the first prayer seeking a minute silence in honour of the deceased persons was struck out on grounds that due process was followed in the process leading to their deaths and not a sudden misfortune.
In opposing the request to hold a minute silence, Hon. Benjamin Wayo (APC, Benue) said: â€œWhile I agree that the environmental situation in Niger Delta is pitiable, we have to be careful in adopting the prayer in the motion, calling for one minute silence for the late environmentalist.â€
According to him, â€œSection 33 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution says every person has right to life. Itâ€™s only permissible to be taken through constitutional means, just as it was done in this case.
â€œTherefore, it will be out of order to observe a minute silence for him (Saro -Wiwa) under this circumstance.â€
Hon. Ali Madaki (APC, Kano) also appealed to members to be wary in order not to breach procedures regarding governmentâ€™s pronouncements.
However, he said it would be in the interest of all to seek justice for the entire Niger Delta as the peopleâ€™s occupation and main source of income had been badly affected.
On his part, Hon. Onyemaechi Mrakpor (PDP, Delta) said whether or not thereâ€™s an observation of one-minute silence for the late environmentalist, it does not change the narrative that pollution and infrastructural decay in Niger Delta have not abated.
He said: â€œAs I speak, those things Ken Saro -Wiwa stood for are still there. Have they been addressed? Today, there is no clean water to drink in Niger Delta. Environmental pollution is still there.
â€œI make bold to say that itâ€™s not all about one minute silence. We should be concerned with enhancing the environment in the Niger Delta.â€
Earlier in his lead debate, Chinda, quoting the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) independent assessment of Ogoni land said oil contamination in the area is widespread and severely impacting many components of the environment.
He said though the oil industry is no longer active in Ogoni land, oil spills continue to occur with alarming regularity while the people live with the pollution daily.
Chinda said the Ogoni and entire Niger Delta people continue. To drink contaminated water while sea food is being scrounge from polluted water and process their foods in crude coated creeks.
The House, however, expressed worry that the federal governmentâ€™s efforts at addressing issues raised in the report by hurriedly launching the clean-up process was only cosmetic or at best a mere window-dressing as it has been largely ineffective, ineffectual and below expectations.
Hon. Henry Achibong (PDP, Akwa-Ibom) recommended taking out the local refineries operated by the locals which further contribute to the environmental degradation in the area. But he said removing the refineries should be managed so as not to further result into social-economic disorder in the region.
Hon. Edward Pwajok (APC, Plateau) noted that environment related issues had persisted since creation, stressing that supporting the motion would bring environmental peace to everyone.