Ogoni Cleanup: ERA, Amnesty International Ask FG to Expedite Action

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Chiemelie Ezeobi

To mark the forthcoming World Environment Day, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Amnesty International and other civil society organisations have called for immediate action in the cleanup of Ogoniland.

According to the groups, after decades of neglect by oil companies, it has become imperative to clean up Ogoniland due to the toxic effect of oil pollution on the land.

Speaking, Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, Godwin Uyi Ojo, said: “Seven years is too long for the people to wait for their air, land and water to be free from toxic oil pollution.
“After decades of suffering, it’s time the people of Ogoniland lived free of the oil industry’s negligence. It’s time to implement the clean-up now.”

Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, also said: “It is time for action not words. The government was right to promise the clean-up of Ogoniland but it now needs to fulfill that promise.
“It is simply not right that people should continue to live in such a damaged environment and forced to drinking contaminated water.”

In a statement made available to THISDAY by Head of Media and Campaigns, ERA/FoEN, Philip Jakpor, the groups said the time for action is now, adding that the cleanup should be undertaken in line with recommendations made by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in its landmark 2011 study of the region.

The statement reads in part: “The conclusion of the UNEP report was that Shell had for years not cleaned up oil pollution properly. As a result of the oil industry pollution, hundreds of thousands of children, men and women have been exposed to a sustained assault on their human rights to food, water, health and work.

“Shockingly, despite UNEP’s 2011 recommendations, communities affected by decades of oil spills continue to live amongst severe contamination.

“The Nigerian Government officially launched a clean-up programme in Ogoniland two years ago; however, communities are still waiting for emergency measures to be taken and clean-up to begin.

“The emergency measures identified by UNEP warranted immediate action on drinking water and health protection.

“The Nigerian Government has taken administrative steps such as putting in place the governing structures required for carrying out activities on the clean-up project and has appointed a coordinator to lead the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), the implementation agency.

“The government also advertised for contractors to deliver projects that would ensure the clean-up and remediation of oil impacted sites in Ogoniland and of the widespread contamination of Ogale’s groundwater, water sources and drinking water.

“But seven years after publication of UNEP’s report, very little meaningful progress has been made to improve the situation on the ground, either by the Nigerian Government or by Shell, the main operating company, in the area.

“Particular concerns include the failure to establish a billion-dollar fund. UNEP called for an initial billion dollar fund to begin the clean-up which may take up to 25 to 30 years.

“Despite the promises of the Nigerian Government, Shell and the other oil companies, this has yet to be delivered. HYPREP has set up the ‘Ogoni Trust Fund Account’ so there is no reason to delay the transfer of the money any further.

“In addition, the companies appear to be trying to cap their contribution to this initial billion. The government needs to pressure Shell and the other oil companies to commit to fund the full clean-up of Ogoniland.

“Secondly, they have failed to deliver emergency action as called by UNEP to ensure communities have access to clean drinking water.

“Action in the community of Ogale has been included as a separate emergency measure, as the Ogale people have been consuming water with benzene over 900 times the WHO guideline.”

He further said: “Seven years later, communities are still waiting for clean and safe drinking water supplies. The Nigerian Government and the oil companies must now immediately ensure sustainable access to clean water and address the situation in Ogale with full urgency.

“Thirdly, inadequate health assessment as recommended by UNEP. They recommended a comprehensive medical examination of everyone who has consumed contaminated water by physicians knowledgeable about the possible adverse health effects of hydrocarbons.”
Calling on the government to take immediate action, they noted that although HYPREP had announced that they would begin the clean-up with 26 polluted sites in August this year, it is only when works begin that they will be confident that clean-up has begun.