Ogoni clean-up: What it means to Nigeria
The clean-up of Ogoniland, Rivers State has begun. Port Harcourt Bureau Chief BISI OLANIYI examines what this exercise means to the country
President Muhammadu Buhari has received accolades from stakeholders for kicking off the clean-up of Ogoniland, Rivers State. They have also said the Ogoni exercise must be the spring board to the general clean up of the Niger Delta.
According to the Director Administration and Corporate Accountability of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Akinbode Oluwafemi, Ogoni must be a footpath to the cleaning of the region.
Oluwafemi: “ We are happy about what has happened today, but beyond this, we must ensure that the general clean-up of the entire region should begin. This is justice for the people of Niger Delta.”
Stakeholders also insist that the implementation of the report must include timelines which must define progress.
According to ERA/FoEN Director, Uyi-Ojo:”In as much as the president revealed that structures would be set up for the immediate implementation of the report, no definite timelines were set for these structures to be in place to commence work.”
He also said the government must strengthen oversight bodies, such as the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), to effectively monitor oil spillage and hold oil majors to account.
ERA/FoEN also want the government to incorporate civil society organisations into the Governing Council of the implementation committee and actively engage the people of the region during the clean-up.
However, it may not be time to click the glass as the UNEP Report indicates that the restoration of Ogoni land will take between 25-30 years during which no new spillage must occur.
Minster of Environment Hajia Amina Mohammed said the government is aware of the challenges and working towards resolving them. “You’re not going to fix it in few years, no matter what technology you have. You have massive areas of land. Remember I said Ogoni is going to be our starting point, the rest of the Niger Delta is also polluted in heavy ways, perhaps even more so than Ogoni land.
“Even though there have been no production in the last 20 years there are still illegal activities that again refill the pollution,” she said.
The outgoing Executive Director of UNEP, Mr. Achim Steiner, also agreed with the approach: “A clean-up and restoration effort like this cannot happen overnight. I am hopeful that the cooperation between the government of Nigeria, oil companies and the communities will result in an environmental restoration, that benefits both ecosystems and the Ogoni people of Niger Delta.”
The road to clean-up
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in 2005, appointed Rev. Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah (now Bishop of the Catholic Church in Sokoto) as the mediator between the Ogoni people and SPDC, with one thousand petitions written against him by Ogoni people to the Vatican, but he remained undaunted.
As part of Kukah’s reconciliation process, an impartial, international agency was to be appointed to undertake an environmental assessment and supervise the clean-up of the areas damaged by the effects of oil operations in Ogoni land.
In order to put an end to the many years of neglect, pollution, marginalisation and environmental degradation in Ogoni and to adequately empower the people, in July 2006, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) received an official request from the Federal Republic of Nigeria to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and public health impacts of oil contamination in Ogoni land, together with options for remediation.
In response, the Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, deployed a high-level mission in Nigeria, in order to gain a fuller understanding of the request and the expectations of the Nigerian government.
The UNEP team had extensive discussions with various stakeholders, including the then President Obasanjo, Rivers state and local governments’ officials, especially of the four Ogoni LGAs and the management of SPDC.
UNEP team also conducted field visits to Ogoni land and met with the key Ogoni stakeholders. A series of pre-arranged, well-publicised and well-attended public meetings helped the mission to understand local community perspectives and expectations.
Following the preparatory consultations, the UN organisation presented a proposal (including workplans and budgets) to the Nigerian government in January 2007, for a two-phase project: a comprehensive environmental assessment of Ogoni land and an environmental clean-up to follow, based on the assessment and subsequent planning and decisions.
Ex-President Obasanjo agreed with the UNEP’s proposals and made two suggestions: a Presidential Implementation Committee (PIC), under the chairmanship of Bishop Matthew Kukah be formed to oversee the work and that all expenses relating to the environmental assessment by UNEP should be borne by SPDC, under the “polluter pays” principle, with the suggestions agreed to by all parties.
The team of environmentalists also made it clear that the assessment would be completely independent and was also accepted by all the parties.
While the project was approved in 2007, administrative delays meant that fieldwork could not start until late 2009. Fieldwork and laboratory analyses were completed in January 2011. The study resulted in tens of thousands of analyses and photographs, all illustrative of the environmental situation in Ogoni land.
The UNEP tough task
Over a 14-month period, the UNEP’s team of experts examined more than 200 locations in Ogoni land, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipelines’ rights of way, reviewed over 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000 at local community meetings, while detailed soil contamination investigations were conducted at 69 sites.
More than 4,000 samples were also analysed, including water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells, drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes. The samples were collected, following internationally-accepted sample management procedures, and dispatched for analysis to accredited (ISO 17025) laboratories in Europe.
Extensive remote sensing analyses complemented the fieldwork, while reviews of legislation, institutions, oil industry practices and available remediation technologies were also undertaken by international experts to complete the study.
The environmental assessment of Ogoni land covered contaminated land, groundwater, surface water, sediment, vegetation, air pollution, public health, industry practices and institutional issues.
For the first time, there is systematic and scientific evidence available in the public arena on the nature, extent and impacts of oil contamination in Ogoni land.
The UNEP initiative was continued in the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. On August 12, 2011, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan received the 262-page main report, which was issued on August 4, 2011.
UNEP’s team of environmentalists made seventy six recommendations. Fifty of the recommendations are for the government, twenty two for SPDC and four for Ogoni communities.
The UNEP report states that the water in Nsisioken-Ogale-Eleme, Eleme LGA, contains cancer-causing Benzene (carcinogen), which is 900 times the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) standards for water contamination, thereby requiring urgent attention.
The UNEP report also revealed that the sustainable environmental restoration of Ogoni land would take up to 20 years to achieve and recommended that the Federal Government should establish an Ogoni land Environmental Restoration Authority.
The UNEP report indicated that the full environmental restoration of Ogoni land would be a project, which would take 30 years to complete, after the pollution had been brought to an end.
The report recommended the establishment of an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoni land, with an initial fund of $1 billion for capacity building, skill transfer and conflict resolution. UNEP also recommended that the management of the fund ($1 billion) should be the responsibility of the Ogoni land Environmental Restoration Authority, among other recommendations.
Rather than implementing the recommendations contained in the UNEP report, ex-President Jonathan inaugurated the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) in July, 2012, less than a month to the first anniversary of the submission of the strategic UNEP report.
HYPREP was condemned and rejected by the umbrella organisation of Ogoni people (MOSOP), which noted that it would cover all crude oil polluted sites in Nigeria, unlike UNEP that focused on Ogoni land.
The then presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, on January 8, 2015, during electioneering, visited Ogoni land and promised that if elected, he would implement the UNEP report.
Buhari, on August 5, last year, after 68 days in office, approved many actions to fast-track the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoni land, including the amendment of the official gazette establishing HYPREP, to reflect a new governance framework, comprising a Governing Council, Board of Trustees (BoT) and Project Management.
The President, who was represented by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on June 2, kicked off the Ogoni clean-up at Patrick’s Waterside, Bodo-Ogoni in Gokana LGA of Rivers state.
Buhari, in his address at the launch of the Ogoni clean-up, declared that his predecessor (Jonathan), did not accord necessary support to the full implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of UNEP on Ogoni land’s environmental assessment.
The kick-off was attended by Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike; his counterpart from Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha; the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; the Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Dakuku Peterside; the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mrs. Ibim Semenitari; and Steiner.
Others in attendance were Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the Sokoto Diocese of the Catholic Church; the Managing Director of SPDC, Osagie Okunbor; Hajia Mohammed; the candidate of the APC for the Rivers Southeast Senatorial District in the March 19 inconclusive rerun in Rivers state, Senator Magnus Abe; MOSOP President, Legborsi Pyagbara; the pioneer Secretary-General of MOSOP, Prof. Ben Naanen, of the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT); ministers; members of the National Assembly and other top government officials, among others.
President Buhari said: “Today (June 2) marks another milestone in the life of our administration. I recall the time as a military Head of State, when I visited Bodo Town in Ogoni land.
“During that visit, I commissioned a large fish pond and planted a tree as a sign for that government’s concern for the environment. Unfortunately, since then, the degradation of land, water and air has done huge damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Niger Delta, especially the Ogoni land.
“Oil exploration and production have been going on in Nigeria for six decades. Oil has given a boost to the Nigerian economy, but the ecosystem of the Niger Delta has been severely damaged. Fishing and agriculture have been badly affected.
“There were acts, enactment, laws, guidelines, regulations to govern the operators of the oil industry. However, either because of lack of will or wilful non-compliance with environmental laws, the environment was put in jeopardy.”
The President also stated that in the various communities in the Niger Delta, the negative impact of oil production and lack of consideration for best practices commenced the struggle for justice and fair-play in the conduct of business by the oil industry operators.
He noted that quite unfortunately, the agitations led to loss of lives and property, while international concern was raised, with past governments urged to take decisive steps to address the issues.
President Buhari said: “The report (by UNEP) was submitted to my predecessor in office (Jonathan) in 2011, but the implementation was not accorded the necessary support it required. The people of Ogoni land continued to suffer from pollution of air, land and water.
“After listening to the address presented on behalf of the Ogoni people by Senator Magnus Abe (during his visit to Ogoni on January 8, 2015), we made a solemn commitment that if given the opportunity, we shall implement the UNEP report on Ogoni land. We are determined to put right the wrongs of the past, where the people of this land were treated unfairly and their environment unduly degraded.”
The Rivers governor assured that his administration would provide the required platform for the successful clean-up of Ogoni land and the implementation of the UNEP report, with his administration ever willing to support the exercise.
Wike said: “On our part, the Rivers State government will ever be willing to provide the platform for a smooth achievement of this long-awaited intervention.
“We acknowledge that this is a federal initiative. The direct impact is borne by our people. We therefore urge all our stakeholders to embrace and support this Federal Government’s gesture and ensure a hitch-free exercise.”
Amaechi, who is a former governor of Rivers state, disclosed that his administration (as Rivers governor) did everything, including going to church to pray, but the then President (Jonathan) refused to implement the UNEP report.
The immediate past Chairman of the Rivers State Council of Traditional Rulers, His Majesty Godwin Gininwa, who is also the Chairman of the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, stated that ex-President Jonathan made a mistake by not implementing the UNEP report, in spite of being a Niger Deltan, from Otuoke, Ogbia LGA of Bayelsa State.
Gininwa said: “Jonathan is my boy. Jonathan made a mistake. He could not do what he promised (implementation of the UNEP report).”
Steiner said he did not think that the June 2 launch would come, while lauding ex-President Obasanjo for the initiative, stating that the late renowned environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and other Ogoni activists did not die in vain.
Kukah said in spite of the one thousand petitions written against him by Ogoni people, who alleged that he wanted to return SPDC to Ogoni land through the back door, he was glad that the clean-up had commenced.
Okunbor assured that the Anglo/Dutch oil giant would support the Ogoni clean-up and contribute its share of the Ogoni environmental restoration fund.
Hajia Mohammed assured that the clean-up in Ogoni would be extended to other polluted sites in the Niger Delta, in order to have a safe and clean environment.
Abe, speaking at the event, stated that Ogoni people made history on June 2 by stubbornly insisting on what was right, through non-violent struggle, rather than blowing pipelines or kidnapping expatriates and others.
The President of MOSOP, Legborsi Pyagbara, said environmental restoration was a major plank of the Ogoni struggle.
The pioneer Secretary-General of MOSOP, Prof. Ben Naanen, an indigene of Bodo-Ogoni, noted that with the launch of the clean-up, Ogoni people’s non-violent struggle has yielded result.