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REPORT: 12 months after FG flag-off exercise, disappointment, anger in Ogoniland over delay to clean up oil spills

PORT HARCOURT – When Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in June 2016 flagged off oil spillage clean-up exercise in Ogoni land, amidst elaborate ceremony in Bodo town, Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, the people of Ogoni in particular thought the narrative regarding environmental degradation in the area was gradually coming to an end.

Apart from ending environmental pollution, the clean-up was expected to boost socio-economic activities in the area devastated through years of oil spillage.

Some of the projects contained in the clean-up as recommended by the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, 2011 Report include: provision of clean drinkable water to the impacted communities; conduct a health impact assessment study in order to understand the level of damage to human health; demonstration of remediation technology; groundbreaking for the construction of an integrated contaminated soil management centre, groundbreaking for the construction of a centre of excellence, and training of women and youths in the affected communities.

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Visit by GbaramatuVoice to the area however reveals that Ogoni land still maintains its old status twelve months after its clean-up was formally launched by the Federal Government. The water in Ogoni land remains contaminated; the soil unviable for agriculture while health care system still in pitiable state.

Findings also reveal that, none out of the 2000 women the programme proposed to train in skills acquisition has been trained. Skills acquisition such as snail farming, palm oil processing, green housing, fishing – shrimps, agriculture extension, and potter were mapped out as part of first steps for the project. It was gathered that skills acquisition was incorporated into the first steps of the clean-up with a view to making women financially independent.

More so, proposed structures for Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, HYPREP, a soil management centre, whose foundation laying ceremony was done earlier this year by the then Minister of Environment, Mrs. Amina Mohammed has not commenced at the time GbaramatuVoice visited. No building foundation was seen at the proposed site for HYPREP structures at Bori, Khana Local Government Area, let alone under-construction building. The proposed site has been consequently turned to cassava farm by the people who probably could not afford to waste part of their scarce land. The cassava trees in the site metaphorically represent the proposed structures.

Unavailability of fund delays project

Fielding questions from GbaramatuVoice Newspaper on telephone, Mr. Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, President, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, said though there has been delay in the process, there has been notable improvement. He further attributed delay in the whole process to non-availability of funds and challenges leading to setting up a new and unprecedented process. According to him, though there has been delay, efforts were being made to make sure the clean-up progresses. He disclosed that stakeholders in the clean-up had in the past few weeks set up moves to address the challenges responsible for the delay and the speed at which the general public can align with regarding the clean-up.

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Mr. Pyagbara, who is also member of the Governing Council for the clean-up project disclosed to GbaramatuVoice that in order to fast-track the process, the Council in her last meeting made several approvals in the clean-up project. He said training for women, commencement of health study, revalidation of the UNEP report, were all approved by the Council for immediate takeoff. He added that re-validation of the UNEP Report was necessary because the assessment was done 2011, stressing that many things have happened between 2011 to 2017, hence the re-validation.

He further hinted that protests were on going in some communities due to the delay, as at the time of speaking to GbaramatuVoice. He admitted that the project has been extremely slow; that it should have moved beyond its present state, stressing that there was urgent need to speed up the whole process.

On Federal Government claim that Shell had long disbursed funds for the project, MOSOP President refuted the claim, saying Shell just few months ago transferred $10 million as against the Federal Government claim that Shell disbursed $1 billion.

According to him, there was agreement among oil companies of joint-venture contributions of $200 million annually across the first five years the project was going to last, which according to him amounts to $1 billion. He said out of the $200 million for this year, Shell just disbursed $10 million.

MOSOP President therefore appealed to those who are in charge of funds disbursement and implementation to do so, adding that there was urgent need to speed up the project.

Government’s insincerity

Also reacting, Vice President of the Movement, Mr. Sylvanus, who also doubles as administrator at the Movement’s Secretariat in Bori said the Federal Government was not ready to resolve the Niger Delta issue. He further said the manner at which the clean-up is being handled shows the Federal Government was not willing to make the South South safe. Mr. Sylvanus was of the opinion that Ogoni clean-up was used as campaign strategy, and that after achieving their goals, the government forgot Ogoni people. The MOSOP Vice President wondered why the clean-up has not commenced even after Shell said it has disbursed funds for the clean-up. He further opined that had it been the Federal Government was serious about the clean-up, they would have directed contractors to commence work immediately after their rather jamboree clean-up ceremony.

On a sober note, the MOSOP Vice President disclosed that due to environmental pollution posed by oil exploration, life span of the people in the area is shorten. He further disclosed that in 2015, 9 men and few women were diagonised of kidney failure and other related diseases posed by oil exploration in the area, lamenting that many unreported death of oil exploration related cases are countless in Ogoni land.

He further disclosed to GbaramatuVoice that the World Health Organization, WHO reports warned that water underneath Ogoni land is not safe for consumption but because many could not afford sinking a borehole of 7 electricity pole depth, as recommended by the WHO Report, thus many still drink from the contaminated water, which according to him is dangerous to their health.

Ogoni clean-up a deceit

Also speaking with GbaramatuVoice, an Ogoni indigene, Mr. Isuu Tah said the Federal Government has abandoned Ogoni land. He lamented that Ogoni land though produces crude oil for the country, yet there is no Federal Government project on ground to boast of. He said Ogoni towns and villages have no good healthcare system; no good roads; no regular electricity. He further disclosed that Ogoni land is no more viable for farming and the people can no longer fish due to oil exploration in the area.

On Federal Government clean-up of Ogoni land from its present degradation, Mr. Isuu was of the opinion that the government was not sincere with Ogoni people. He said when the Federal Government came to flag off the clean-up they were all joyous believing that pains faced by Ogoni people for several years has come to an end, but unfortunately it later occurred to them that it was a deceit. He said immediately after the Federal Government kicked off the clean-up ceremony, nothing should have stopped continuation of the clean-up if they were serious on the project, but because the Federal Government was hell bent in deceiving Ogoni people and the entire world, they came with one jamboree clean-up ceremony which they televised to the whole world but refused to continue the clean-up after the elaborate ceremony.

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A community leader who pleaded anonymity, in a chat with GbaramatuVoice said Ogoni land clean-up has been politicized. He said despite the fact that all well-meaning Ogonis know no clean-up of a single drop of oil has taken place after the flag off ceremony, some set of people are hell bent in deceiving the outside world that the clean-up is in progress. He said this action by this set of people was a clear indication that the clean-up has been politicized; some people have hijacked the whole project.

He lamented that despite all the promises made by the Federal Government, the narrative in Ogoni land has not changed. People still live their old ways of life. They still drink the contaminated water; still cope with the poor health care system and still ply bad roads.

UN begs Ogoni to be patient with FG over delay

Meanwhile the United Nations has appealed to the people of Ogoni to exercise patience with the Federal Government over the delay in the implementation process. The UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Edward Kallou while leading his team recently to contaminated site in Kwawa community, Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State, said the remediation process involved technical approaches that needed a lot of time to be achieved appropriately.

He assured the people of Ogoni that work was on going in the implementation process and urged the people of the area to give the Federal Government a chance to be able to deliver a better result.

“I am here today on a familiarization visit on Ogoni land. I am here to have a better understanding on the impact of the oil spill and the progress that has been made in the implementation of the UNEP assessment of the devastation in the area. There are two conclusions I want to draw in my visit. This is a very technical investment; it is not a rural type of investment where you are going to see houses built within a short period of time. My appeal is patience, to ensure that the required technical needs are met and to ensure that at the end of the cleanup it is properly done.

“The beneficiary communities or the affected areas are looking up to what are the critical outputs of this investment, but the project is on. It needs to be given time to ensure that the technical aspect of the work is done properly. We need time to allow the experts on the ground to do the critical analysis that are required before an investment is done. My advice to the project coordinator is to look at a diversified approach with a rural development focus within the project itself that can be delivered in a short term”, He said.

UNEP Report

Ogoni people, estimated at about 1.5 million, occupy about 404-square-mile (1,050 km2) in Rivers State. Environmental degradation faced by these people over the years prompted the Federal Government to request United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP assessment of the area. UNEP had stated in its 2011 report that Ogoni land has a tragic history of pollution from oil spills and oil well fires. With this independent study conducted at the request of the Federal Government of Nigeria, the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP, revealed the nature and extent of oil contamination in Ogoni land.

UNEP had indicated that the Environmental Assessment of Ogoni land covers contaminated land, groundwater, surface water, sediment, vegetation, air pollution, public health, industry practices and institutional issues.

UNEP stated: “This report represents the best available understanding of what has happened to the environment of Ogoni land – and the corresponding implications for affected populations – and provides clear operational guidance as to how that legacy can be addressed. Involving desk review, fieldwork and laboratory analysis, the two-year study of the environmental and public health impacts of oil contamination in Ogoni land is one of the most complex on-the-ground assessments ever undertaken by UNEP.

“During aerial reconnaissance missions, UNEP experts observed oil pollution which was not readily visible from the ground, including artisanal refining sites. Information provided by Ogoni land residents about oil contamination in their communities supplemented official oil spill data supplied by the Nigerian Government and SPDC. Following its initial investigations, UNEP identified 69 sites for detailed soil and groundwater investigations. In addition, samples of community drinking water, sediments from creeks, surface water, rainwater, fish and air were collected throughout Ogoni land and in several neighbouring areas. Altogether more than 4,000 samples were analyzed, including water drawn from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifically for the study, and soil extracted from 780 boreholes.”

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UNEP therefore estimated that it could take up to 30 years to rehabilitate Ogoni land to its full potential and that the first five years of rehabilitation would require funding of about US$1 billion. To this effect, four local governments, namely: Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme local governments were mapped out for clean-up. Over 200 locations drawn from these four local governments areas were also mapped out as necessity in the clean-up.

In line with the UNEP Report and recommendations, the then Nigeria Minister of Petroleum Resources, Deizani Alison-Madueke in 2012 announced the establishment of Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, HYPREP, this was intended to prevent further degradation in Ogoni land.

Consequently, in order to fast-track the long-delayed implementation of the UNEP Report, President Muhammadu Buhari, barely three months after assumption of office in 2015, approved several actions. Some of the actions by the President include amendment of the official gazette establishing the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), and the approval of the composition of a Board of Trustees for the HYPREP Trust Fund.

It was also reported that the President also approved a $10 million initial take-off grant for the implementation of the report

More so, February this year, Professor Yemi Osinbajo in Rivers State said the Federal Government had secured over $1 billion from Shell Petroleum Development Company for the clean-up. He assured that the vision of cleaning Ogoni land from its present degradation would not be aborted. He further said the clean-up was not solely on Federal Government alone but involves all stakeholders in the oil industry, hence its smooth running was not negotiable.

The Prof. Inyang’s study

Meanwhile a scientific research carried out by Professor Hilary Inyang seems to be invariance with the UNEP findings.

According to him, cleanup of Ogoni land and the entire Niger Delta from oil spill would take more than 50 years to accomplish, adding that over 2,500 contaminated sites in Nigeria’s oil producing areas would cost the Federal Government and other stakeholders over $50 billion. He said Ogoni land alone would cost US$6 billion while other parts of the Niger Delta would gulp about US$44 billion in the clean-up exercise.

“It would also take more than 50 years, even if that money was available. My back-of-the-envelope estimate is that for Ogoni land sites alone, about US$6 billion are needed but risks can be reduced to tolerable levels with US$3 billion. So, it is quite untenable to attempt clean-up/remediation of all contaminated sites there. Technically, it is impossible to clean up all the sites in Niger Delta. A screening system that combines cost, ecological, proximal population and other rational factors should be quickly developed for use in selecting about 100-150 sites for focus.

“From my review of circumstances at some sites, about 30 percent of the sites will simply need to be evacuated because of the risk of cumulative exposure to contaminants. Evacuation happens in other parts of the world under such circumstances. Examples are Chernobyl, and heavy metal contaminated areas in Southeast Asia. It is exceeding romantic to think that one will always occupy his/her native environment. That has not been the case throughout human history,” he added.

Inyang said that there are very many environmental problems in the oil and gas producing areas of Nigeria, especially oil spills, including groundwater pollution, surface water pollution and damage to aquatic and shallow marine life; acid rain and air quality degradation due to gas flaring; and biodiversity loss. According to him, environmental pollution is a contributor to the low life expectancy of about 54.6 years estimated for all parts of Nigeria.

Senate probes Buhari’s $1b Ogoni land cleanup

Worried, probably by the delay in the whole exercise, the Senate on June 6th initiated moves to probe the Ogoni land cleanup as the legislature directed its committee on environment to investigate the implementation of the cleanup. The Senate also directed its committee to also assess the progress of the Great Green Wall programme initiated to control desertification in the country.

The decision of the Senate followed a motion moved by Sen. Oluremi Tinubu, Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment, to mark the World Environment Day. While moving the motion, Senator Tinubu expressed dismay that despite the launch of the project, work has not commenced in the area.

Contributing, Sen. Magnus Abe corroborated that there was nothing on ground yet to show that the clean-up was designed to actually cleanup the area. He said that farmlands were still polluted while rivers of oil spills still abound. Abe urged the Federal Government to review the country’s environmental regeneration programmes to take care of environmental issues in the country.

Acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, in his 2017 Democracy speech had said that the Ogoni land clean-up was an environmental priority of the government which was why it began last year.

 

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