When will Ogoni clean-up begin? –

Government should live up to its promise in Ogoniland

More than a year after the federal government launched the implementation of the Ogoni clean-up project, not much has been done to inspire anyone, not least the affected communities. The project is weighed down by all kinds of silly excuses and institutional bureaucracy, but all boiling down to lack of commitment by the government. “I am absolutely disappointed,” said Ledum Mitee, former President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). “I feel that our people have been deceived and they have used us to play a very dangerous politics.”

It is noteworthy that in June 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, launched the clean-up of Ogoniland in fulfilment of his electioneering campaign. The elaborate exercise had raised the hope of many, particularly those in the immediate neighbourhood, confined to drinking contaminated waters and eating poisoned fishes due decades of oil spillage, that some good was in the air. “The methodology for the clean-up will ensure job creation for young people. The agro-allied industries required for processing of agricultural produce will also be put in place,” said Buhari who added that approval had been given to establish the necessary institutional framework to drive the process.

However, not much has happened in the past one year as the hopes again seemed misplaced. Perhaps the only thing of “value” is that the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) has called for the expression of interest from members of the public to prequalify for implementation of some aspects of the cleanup exercise. And perhaps the inauguration of the governing board earlier in the year. Even when the former Minister of Environment, Mrs Amina Mohammed, now of the United Nations, inaugurated the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre in Bori last February, there was no follow up as the place has been overtaken by weeds.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report submitted since 2011 had recommended a scientific rectification of the environment in Ogoniland which is expected to take about 30 years to accomplish with an estimated take-off cost of $1billion. The three-year investigation leading to the report had come up with far-reaching and alarming revelations among which were heavy contamination of land and underground water courses, and that the drinking water in the communities contained dangerous concentrations of benzene and other pollutants. The report further revealed that there was clear evidence of oil firms dumping contaminated soil in unlined pits and accused Shell and other oil firms that the endemic environmental crisis in Ogoniland was as a result of their failure to meet the minimum requirements of their own environmental standards.

Indeed, while submitting the report of what happened in Ogoniland, Mr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, who was present at the so-called commencement of the clean-up, said the study “offers a blueprint for how the oil industry and public authorities might operate more responsibly in Africa and beyond at a time of increasing production and exploration across many parts of the continent.”

Unfortunately, there is little to show that the government of the day is serious about the welfare of the Ogoni people, not to talk of holding the oil companies to account. “We are tired of these gimmicks and we want action on the cleanup”, said Fegalo Nsuke, spokesman of MOSOP. “We want Nigeria to respect us as Ogoni people and treat us as human beings with rights. Nigeria and Shell should as matter of urgency clean up their mess in Ogoniland and respect our rights to live a dignified lives.”

For a government that is now being accused of making empty promises in its bid to get to power, the Buhari administration will do well to deliver on the Ogoni clean-up if it is not suffer further reputational damage both locally and internationally