After decades of widespread pollution, President Muhammadu Buhari will today begin the remediation of the Ogoni environment in line with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recommendations.
UNEP which conducted an independent scientific investigation on Ogoni had noted that the environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up ever undertaken, if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health.
Prior to today’s event which gives hope for the restoration of the Ogoni environment, the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, had established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) to oversee the clean-up of Ogoniland, though the project never took off.
The Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, had assured the Ogoni that President Buhari, who promised to address the Ogoni question during his presidential campaign in 2015, remained fully committed to the clean-up of the oil-rich Ogoniland as recommended in the UNEP’s report.
She said the Federal Government would ensure the restoration of the ecosystem to what it used to be and bring back the source of livelihood for the people.
“We are not just committed to implementing the UNEP report. We are going beyond that to also look at the overall effort to revive the Niger Delta region. We have to get all stakeholders to buy into this project so as to make it sustainable,” she said.
A prominent Ogoni indigene, Mr. Mene Ledee told The Guardian at Bera community that the much-anticipated clean-up will help revive the devastated environment. He implored the government not to politicise the award of contracts for the clean up.
Ledee who said the Bera community which is one of those most adversely affected by years of unregulated pollution is exhilarated that Buhari has kept to his word to restore the environment.
“At first I was skeptical about the honesty of the government to commence the clean-up of our communities. This day is a day that our people have eagerly craved to witness. Our most profound prayer is that the process should not be politicised. Mr. President must ensure that those who get contracts for the clean-up have the requisite experience because we are dealing with an issue that borders on the existence of a people,” he said.
Reacting to the commencement of the clean-up, Dumbari Batom, who resides in Bomu, said the people of Ogoni would forever be grateful to the Buhari administration for mustering the political will to tackle the problem of environmental revival of Ogoni communities affected by years of oil pollution. He implored the government to ensure that after the restoration of the degraded environments, oil companies become more responsible.
“It is a thing of joy that our environment is going to regain its lost glory. We used to be a fishing and farming community. But several years of oil pollution degraded our environment and affected the way our people live. Our rivers and creeks have been so polluted that you could barely catch fish again. We have to travel far into the ocean to fish these days. This was not the situation decades ago. The government should ensure they enforce strict environmental laws to avert the country spending huge resources as it is about to do on environmental restoration,” Batom said.
Similarly, at Eleme, a youth leader, Mr. Aleto Fred, urged the government to ensure that the clean-up conforms with UNEP recommendations. He also appealed to the government to provide potable drinking water for affected Eleme communities, in addition to building a cancer screening centre to treat those affected by the ailment.
“UNEP in its report clearly stated that at Nisisioken Ogale, families there have been drinking water from wells contaminated with benzene which causes cancer at levels over 900 times above World Health Organisation guidelines. This makes it imperative for the government to consider building a cancer screening and treatment centre in Eleme. We welcome the clean up and we demand it should be rather holistic,” Fred said.
The Ogoni struggle against the devastation of their environment began in 1990 when her elite including the late writer, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ledum Mitee and Prof. Ben Naanen formed the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) to address the issues of political autonomy, environmental degradation, political marginalisation, cultural annihilation and economic exclusion.
The formation of MOSOP led to a series of sustained protests against multinational oil companies operating in Ogoni.
By the first quarter of 1993, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) withdrew from Ogoniland, citing the hostile attitude of the Ogoni community to the company’s activities.
A year after, four prominent Ogoni leaders were killed, prompting the military regime led by Gen. Sani Abacha to arrest Saro-Wiwa, Ledum Mitee and others. And on November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight others were executed by the military, sparking global indignation.
The death of Saro-Wiwa who had been at the forefront of the agitation for environmental justice for the Ogoni people, spurred the United Nations to send a special rapporteur, Mr. Soli Sorabjee, to Nigeria in 1999, after which he recommended an environmental audit of Ogoni.
In line with the UN rapporteur’s recommendation, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration compelled Shell to fund a $9.5 million detailed study of the Ogoni environment which was conducted by UNEP and some local environmental scientists.
Within a 14-month period, the UNEP team examined more than 200 locations, and surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, and reviewed more than 5,000 medical records. During the environmental audit, detailed soil and groundwater contamination investigations were conducted at 69 sites, which ranged in size from 1,300 square metres (Barabeedom-K.dere, Gokana Local Council) to 79 hectares in Ajeokpori-Akpajo, Eleme of Rivers State.
More than 4,000 samples were analysed, including water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes.
UNEP scientists discovered that at least 10 Ogoni communities had been drinking water contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons such as benzene- a known carcinogen at level over 900 times above World Health Organisation guidelines.
Meanwhile, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike has banned the operations of motorcycles and tricycles in Gokana and Khana Local Council Areas between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. today to pave the way for a hitch-free visit by Buhari.
In a state-wide broadcast yesterday, Wike said that the measure was aimed at maintaining security in the area during and after the president’s visit .
He said: “As part of measures to enhance security during Mr. President’s visit I hereby place a ban on the operations of motorcycles and tricycles in Gokana and Khana Local Council Areas between 6 a.m. and 6 pm on Thursday, 2nd June 2016. The security agencies have been directed to enforce this ban and ensure full compliance.
“I call on Rivers people, particularly the people of Ogoniland, to come out in great numbers and give our amiable President a rousing welcome during his visit.”
Wike further said: “The President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, CGFR, is paying an official visit to Rivers State, tomorrow, Thursday, 2nd June 2016 to formally launch the clean-up of Ogoniland and other oil-impacted communities in the Niger Delta.
“Mr. President’s visit to the State is both historic and significant. It is historic because it marks his first official visit to the State since assuming office as the President of this great nation. It is most significant because Mr. President is not on a political mission but to kick-start the largest environmental clean-up in our nation’s history, for which Rivers people, and indeed the Niger Delta will remain grateful.”