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Healing the Niger Delta

Healing the Niger Delta

Management of contaminated environments in Nigeria for sustainable development was the thrust of discourse at a one-day National Summit on the Niger Delta Clean-up held in Abuja recently. Funke Olaode, who was at the summit, reports

The Niger Delta Region produces the oil wealth and account for over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign earning. While the States in the region bear the crude oil that is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, the government remains legalistic in addressing the negative effects of oil exploration in the region.

Figures from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) indicate that between 1997 and 2001, Nigeria recorded a total number 2,097 oil spills incidences amounting to 1,947,600 barrels of crude oil while thousands of barrels of oil have been spilt into the environment through pipeline and tanks in the country. While this is going on, enforcement of environmental regulations is still poor as industries continue to discharge untreated waste water into the environment and the degradation of the environment of the Niger Delta following the exploratory activities of multi-national oil companies has continued unabated.

The people of the area have continued to complain bitterly about mass poverty, hunger, disease, environmental degradation and loss of their traditional means of livelihood. With these scourges ravaging the land, the cries from all and sundry for the region became imperative to get rid of contaminated soil.
It was against this backdrop that a one-day National Summit on Niger Delta was convened by the Civil Society Legislative Center (CISLAC) in collaboration with African Center for Leadership, Strategy and Development with the support of Cordaid.

The well attended Summit held at Bolton Hotel Abuja was graced by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was represented by the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Usman Jubril; executive director of CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani; Dr. Otiove Igbuzor, representatives from embassies, Ogoni traditional rulers led by His Royal Highness Baridam, Akinwunmi Oke, Modi Esasa, MOSOP President, Pyagbara Lergborsi and Comrade Jaye Gaskia amongst others.
In his short remarks, the convener, Rafsanjani, said the summit was convened to remind the government of its promise to clean up the Niger Delta. Rafsanjani said the call was imperative to discuss the prevalent issues affecting the Niger Delta region in terms of environmental tragedy as people still drink water laced with contaminated soil.

“The clean-up of Niger Delta is an agitation that has been going on for some time now. I remember a committee was drafted to the implementation process. Unfortunately, the last administration did nothing to implement the clean-up. At this stage, the process must not be politicised or regionalised but must be seen as a national issue looking at the magnitude of pollution in the region.

Corroborating Rafsanjani on the need for the federal government to see the clean-up as an emergency exercise, executive director of the African Center for Leadership, Strategy and Development Center, Dr. Otive Igbuzor, going down memory lane said Nigeria is West Africa’s biggest producer of petroleum and the seventh largest producer in the world. The current capacity of crude oil in the Niger Delta stands at 2 Million barrels per day while a 2012 data showed that 38 billion barrels of crude oil still reside beneath the delta. The nonchalant attitude of government to the damage caused the region through oil exploration, he claimed was the cause of restiveness in the Niger delta.

“Over the past decades, the Niger Delta terrain has been overrun through deliberate over-exploitation carried out in total disregard of the basic principles of sustainable environmental management. At the center of the environmental degradation, loss of livelihood and deprivation, and the general lack of development in the region had led to various conflicts and violence in which the youths in the region have taken their destiny in their own hands.

“Of course, the continued militancy in the region directly impacts both the revenue of government as well as the operation of the multinational companies.

The result, he pointed out, was that oil production was brought to as low as a little over a million barrels in 2015 and 2016. The intervention of the present government through the launch of the Clean-up of Ogoniland by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, in June 2016 gave credence to government commitment to the social and environmental challenges facing the Niger Delta.”

Igbuzor urged all the stakeholders to be open and frank in their contributions to this laudable course so that collectively, they could come up with robust strategies that could catalyze the processes leading to the proper clean-up of the Niger Delta.

In his address read by Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Usman Jubril, Osinbajo commended the conveners of the Summit, saying it was quite apt considering the agitation of the public on this topical issue and the efforts being made by the federal government to deliver on the promise of implementing the recommendations in the UNEP report on Ogoniland and the clean-up of contamination in the Niger Delta as a whole.
On the effort made so far after the submission of the UNEP report in 2011, he said the federal government in August 2012 set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, as a vehicle to implement the UNEP report on the clean-up of the contaminated sites in Ogoniland.

“Since the inception of the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, and in line with the campaign promise, significant strides have been made towards realising the recommendation of the UNEP report.”
Shedding more light on various steps taken so far to ensure that the clean-up was carried out without delay, Osinbajo said in 2016, government revived and transferred HYPREP from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to the Federal Ministry of Environment through an inter-Ministerial Consultative Forum.

On August 4, 2016, a governing council and a board of trustees were inaugurated to ensure a transparent implementation of the project and engender financial probity while government has also established the project coordinating office of HYPREP in Port Harcourt, Rivers State with a project coordinator recruited and other key staff seconded from federal and state civil service, in accordance with the HYPREP Gazette.

To show how committed the federal government has been, he stressed that a dedicated Trust Fund Account has been opened, with a BoT to oversee and ensure access to funds for the implementation of the activities of the project.
“With the organisational structure well in place, HYOREP has been focusing on the implementation of the recommendations of the UNEP report, starting with suggested emergency measures. Some of the recommendations of the UNEP report geared towards restoring and promoting the socio-economic sustainability to ameliorate the suffering of the people of Ogoniland and the Niger Delta Region include provision of clean drinking water as reports revealed the existing water facilities contain high concentrations of hydrocarbon contaminants of major health concern.
With the reports of the assessment exercise showing that the existing water facilities are obsolete and they do not meet up with the WHO standards, HYDREP has advertised for expressions of interest from experts to design and implement Ogoniland Water Development and Reticulation Plan to the WHO Water Quality Standards.”
On pilot demonstration of clean-up and remediation technologies, Osinbajo noted that some of the firms have signified interest to demonstrate their various technologies to clean up and remediate the impacted sites at no cost to the government or the programme.

“There are various remediation technologies the world over and some of them are site specific, which implies that whatever technology that worked in some parts of the world may not necessarily be applicable in Ogoniland and other parts of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, hence the need for the government to shop for the best environmentally sound and economically feasible and locally adaptable technology in line with global best environmental practice”
One of the recommendations of the UNEP report, according to Osinbajo, is to restore the livelihood of the communities, adding that a consultative workshop on the various types of skill acquisitions has been held with the Ogoni women.

“HYPREP in partnership with United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) is presently developing the content of the training while other global and local entrepreneurship institutions and bodies will come on board to promote critical infrastructure and mentorship for women. In order to develop capacity and involve the communities in the implementation of the project, HYPREP has also undertaken the training of graduates in environmental science as technical assistants in June 2017.”

While assuring the participants of government’s continued support to ensure that it is committed to this course, Osinbajo said the body (HYPREP) had also been engaged in various consultations with ex-artisanal refiners, while training is being conducted for them on the need to stop illegal bunkering and refining of crude oil, which is one of the major culprits in the hydrocarbon contamination.

Rounding up his speech, Osinbajo said the process of restoring the impacted sites of Ogoniland and the other Niger Delta Region to engender the socio-economic sustainability of the region is not all about cleaning up alone, but involves a “consortium” of processes. This, he said, is to avert recurrence of recontamination of old and new candidate sites.

Reiterating the determination of the administration to transform Nigeria into industrial, agricultural, economic and environmentally sustainable giant through the provision of enabling environment for all, Osinbajo pleaded passionately with the general public to follow the laid down plans systematically to avoid undue agitations and wrong information on the current efforts of the administration.

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