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: â€œSeven years is too long for the people to wait for their air, land and water to be free from toxic oil pollution.
â€œAfter decades of suffering, itâ€™s time the people of Ogoniland lived free of the oil industryâ€™s negligence. Itâ€™s time to implement the clean-up now.â€
Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, also said: â€œIt 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.
â€œIt is simply not right that people should continue to live in such a damaged environment and forced to drinking contaminated water.â€
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: â€œThe 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.
â€œShockingly, despite UNEPâ€™s 2011 recommendations, communities affected by decades of oil spills continue to live amongst severe contamination.
â€œThe 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.
â€œThe emergency measures identified by UNEP warranted immediate action on drinking water and health protection.
â€œThe 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.
â€œThe 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 Ogaleâ€™s groundwater, water sources and drinking water.
â€œBut seven years after publication of UNEPâ€™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.
â€œParticular 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.
â€œDespite the promises of the Nigerian Government, Shell and the other oil companies, this has yet to be delivered. HYPREP has set up the â€˜Ogoni Trust Fund Accountâ€™ so there is no reason to delay the transfer of the money any further.
â€œIn 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.
â€œSecondly, they have failed to deliver emergency action as called by UNEP to ensure communities have access to clean drinking water.
â€œAction 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.â€
He further said: â€œSeven 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.
â€œThirdly, 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.â€
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.