Enough of Motion Without Movement – Clean up Ogoniland now

Opening Remarks by Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) during the press briefing to mark one year of flag-off of Ogoni clean up exercise by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration held at Aldgate Hotel, Port Harcourt, August 3, 2017.

Introduction

Gentleman and ladies of the press I want to use this medium to commend you all for your consistency which has ensured that not only the plight of the Ogoni remain in the public space, but also the drama that has characterized the cleanup exercise flagged off in June 2016.

On August 4, 2011 (exactly six years ago), the Nigerian government received the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Assessment report on Ogoniland. The report x-rayed the Ogoni environment – land, vegetation and water, and came out with damning findings on how Shell callously ruined the environment and livelihoods of the people. Notably, benzene a cancer causing chemical was found in drinking water 900 times above WHO standards, and soil contamination was found over the depth of five meters in places claimed to have been cleaned up by Shell.

Most of you know the story, including the cosmetic complacency and lip service past administration paid to the cleanup process. It was only in 2015 that any semblance of action began with President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of a $10 million grant for commencement of the clean up of Shell’s mess in Ogoniland.

The flag off of the clean-up proper was in June 2016 and the exercise was performed by Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo. Though the people greeted the event with joy, they are now disappointed that the road to justice is still bugged down with bottlenecks and meaningless bureaucracies.

The unease of the Ogoni people has been further heightened by statements credited to the minister of state for environment that government was not in a hurry to commence clean up and fail, and would rather take its time to get it right before commencing. The recourse to such lame excuse for the delayed commencement shows that government is yet to grasp the challenges the Ogoni communities face and the need for deliberate speed in the cleanup process to protect the environment and rural livelihoods of the people.

One year after the flag-off exercise, the relief measures and clean water supply to the impacted communities have not been carried out meaningfully. The communities are yet to get a breather as the polluted soils, blackened waters and foul-smelling mangroves remained. In Ogale –one among the many documented impacted communities, the locals are left with no other source of water than contaminated boreholes. Here, immediately the taps are turned on, noxious odour and smell of petroleum assail the nose and hang thickly in the air. The situation is so bad that a stroke of match could ignite a fire. Residents depend on the polluted water source or forced to expend a fortune on water from vendors. The situation is so bad that that many are asking: When will the pre-clean up measures be put in place? When will a drop of oil be cleaned in Ogoni?

Even with all these tales of woe, the polluter – Shell – has continued with business-as-usual. Shell has failed to properly decommission its corrosive oil facilities in Ogoni as recommended by UNEP. We have said it time and again that decommissioning of Shell’s facilities should be the first step as it would stop the continuous oil spills from ill-maintained pipelines in the Ogoni environment. Added to this, are reports that the oil company has not stopped engaging in divisive activities to split the agitating youths.

In light of the above it is worrisome that even with the governing structures already in place, there is still no phased workplan covering 1-5 years in the short term. In the long term, a phased workplan covering the entire clean up process that will take 25 years should be put in place. Transparency and accountability demand that Workplan should be put in place before public advertisement to hiring of contractors. There is little or no CSOs engagement on the process. Critical stakeholders and community members have been sidelined and have not been invited to make input.  Clearly, when the clean up proper will commence or when equipment will be deployed to site is still up in the air. Cumulatively, these foot-dragging activities have further lengthened the period for which the people have to wait for justice to come.  Notwithstanding President Muhammadu Buhari’s seemingly good intentions, there is gross inadequate funding and only US$10 million has been released from the US$200 million pledged by Shell and the federal government of Nigeria for the 2017 fiscal year. Furthermore, there is no statutory budgetary provision for the clean up in the 2017 national budget. We condemn in strong terms the piecemeal approach to the clean up planning and implementation process by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) and the “snail pace” approach of the federal government that is motion without movement.

In particular, the UNEP report indictment of Shell for the company’s deployment of a one size fits all clean up measures through the Remediation by Enhanced Natural Attenuation (RENA) technologies that is widely used by Shell in Nigeria. Rather the UNEP report had recommended site-specific remediation measures that require soil excavation, and overlaying by new sediments. The report said that RENA is inappropriate because of the proximity of communities to spill sites or degraded areas, shallow aquifer and heavy and lengthy periods of rainfall.

That Shell sits comfortably in the Governing Board with oversight functions wielding undue political and financial influence may have already compromised the cleanup process hence we call for their immediate removal from such governmental institutions.

As we mark two years of the flag off exercise, ERA-led coalition of civil society groups and Host Communities (HoCON) join voices with the Ogoni people to insist that, so far, the Ogonis have been short-changed and no justice in sight. They join their voices to ask: “When will the Ogonis get justice? When will the first drop of oil be cleaned up in Ogoni?” Justice delayed is justice denied.

The UNEP recommendations and clean up is non-negotiable. Clean up should commence without further delay and to serve as prelude to a comprehensive environmental and social audit of the entire Niger Delta and other impacted regions. We urge the federal government and Shell and the other transnational oil companies to establish a US$100 billion restoration fund for the clean up and remediation of the entire region.

Our Demands:

  1. The federal government should declare the Ogoni clean up as environmental state of emergency and channel resources to it so that clean up will commence immediately. No more delays, clean up now.
  2. HYPREP should put in place a definite workplan and timeline for the clean up process through an inclusive planning process that accommodates input from stakeholders.
  3. Shell and the federal government should be compelled to commit fully to funding the clean-up costs, including but not limited to, the initial fund of $1 billion. They should declare their contributions for the year 2017 and pledges for 2018.
  4. The National Oil Spills Detection and Remediation Agency (NOSDRA) and other government agencies being starved of funds and roles in the clean up process should be empowered to monitor the process.
  5. Shell should not force HYPREP to use RENA technologies that is inappropriate to the Ogoni environment.
  6. Shell should not use the clean up process as a guise to re-entering Ogoni oil fields for drilling. They should vacate the governing council, and decommission its old oil pipelines responsible for frequent oil spills.
  7. Conduct an environmental and social audit of the Niger Delta and ensure the establishment of $100 billion remediation fund to be funded by Shell and all the oil companies operating in the region.

Once again, welcome, and thank you for listening.