The persistent delay in Ogoni Clean-Up

The restoration of Ogoni land in Rivers State from environmental degradation occasioned by decades of careless oil exploitation in the area has continued to suffer from the customary official lethargy. Almost eight years after the receipt of the technical report prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the instance of the Federal Government, there is as yet no significant work done to recover the land and restore the environment.

The UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland report itself took two years to prepare probably because of the scope of investigations that had to be carried out and the extent of destruction of the environment for which amelioration is required.

The administration that received the report from UNEP in 2011 did nothing about it until the advent of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in 2015 which expressed commitment to implementing the recommendations in the report aimed at restoring and cleaning up Ogoniland. What would appear to be a practical demonstration of that commitment was launched with fanfare in 2016 but since then, the Federal Government has been moving back and forth in an exercise that smacks of all motion, no movement. No serious physical operation is ongoing, even though huge expenditure has been incurred so far in hiring consultants.

It is difficult to fathom why this all important project is being delayed.

The Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) and its board of trustees have been constituted and an escrow account with a credit of $177million reportedly opened for the project.

The Minister of Environment, Ibrahim Jubril, had in September 2018 informed that the Federal Government had concluded plans to commence the clean-up of Ogoni communities impacted by pollution on or before the end of the last quarter of the year. But since then, there has been virtually nothing to write home about.

Again, President Buhari had on March 20 reportedly approved the sum of N3.039 billion for the remediation of five lots in addition to the 16 lots that contractors were said to have been earlier mobilised to commence work on.

The clean-up exercise was even turned into a campaign issue at the threshold of the 2019 election. However, the information coming out of the affected communities suggests that there is literally nothing tangible on the ground to show that work is in progress. The Federal Government needs to show commitment to cleaning up Ogoniland, especially now that it is aware that members of the international community are watching with keen interest, its attitude to the monumental challenge.

The pace of work is appallingly slow and detracts markedly from the speed required to rein in a crisis that has exacted and is still exacting tremendous prices both in terms of the livelihood and the lives of the Ogoni people. Nigerians and the Ogoni people, in particular, will like to see the official promises and commitment in the crucible world of action.

The clean-up exercise has to be prioritised and executed so that the largely farming and fishing population of Ogoni can be quickly reintegrated as active economic actors while at the same time healing the old wounds permanently. It is indeed time for real action; the Ogoni people have suffered enough. While the environmental restoration exercise in Ogoniland would require the coordinated efforts of government agencies at all levels, oil industry operators and communities, the government has a duty to take the lead in fast-tracking the implementation of the project. The sheer size of the project cost implies a major opportunity for new investment and employment opportunities, especially in the local communities. It is heartening to know that all the scientists driving HYPREP are indigenous.

The potential spin-off of investment and employment opportunities in addition to improvements in environmental and health situation attendant upon implementation of the project ought to have urged official haste in executing the Ogoni restoration project. But that is not the case. The government seems to be carrying on as if it has all the time in the world to do the clean-up. We urge the government to muster the necessary political will to clean up the area and save the people from further trauma and environmental degradation. It is also imperative that the country is saved from further embarrassment before the international community that has rightly shown deep concern about the crisis and the predicament of the Ogoni people.

Source: Nigerian Tribune