FAST-TRACKING ENVIRONMENTAL CLEAN-UP OF OGONILAND: PRES. BUHARI GIVES HOPE TO LONG-SUFFERING PEOPLE
The complete Text of the Press Conference by the National Publicity Secretary of APC by Alhaji Lai Mohammed in Lagos, Aug 11th 2015.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval, on Aug. 5th 2015, of actions to fast-track the environmental clean-up of Ogoniland is undoubtedly one of the most significant decisions taken by the President since his inauguration on May 29th 2015.
Like one writer said: ”It is important to underscore here that the pains of environmental pollution and a looming ecological catastrophe are defining issues in the Niger Delta struggle – whatever that means. It is at the core of the Ogoni Bill of Rights of 1990 and later the Kaiama Declaration of 1998.”
Another said: ”Though, government is a continuum, it is instructive that a Nigerian president of non-Niger Delta origin is now the one who has taken the focused approach required to pull the region back from the brink of oil-instigated ecological disaster. Buhari’s decision to prioritise implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland speaks volumes for his determination to make the lives of people in the Niger Delta better.
”It is a strong statement that those who have tried to impute anti-Niger Delta sentiments to the coming of Buhari have gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick.”
This action of the President transcends all the needless arguments about the appointments so far made by him, because it touches directly on the well-being of a long-suffering people, people whose farmlands, drinking water, homes and sources of living have been deeply affected by hydrocarbon pollution.
Even if all the appointments made so far by the President have gone to the Niger Delta, that would not have been as momentous as the President’s approval of actions to fast-track the environmental clean-up of Ogoniland, a 1,000-sq-kilometre area that has been the site of oil exploration and production since the 1950s – and which has suffered pollution from oil spills and oil well fires.
The action also puts a lie to the antics of those who insinuated that the President would ignore those who didn’t vote for him in the March 28th presidential elections. As it were, undoubtedly the most far-reaching action by the President has been to the benefit of the Niger Delta, where he is not known to have garnered many votes! What a pleasant irony!
The President’s action has now breathed life into a four-year report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which hitherto has been gathering dust on the shelf since it was published on Aug. 4th 2011.
BACKGROUND TO THE REPORT
The Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland was commissioned by the Federal Government, which invited UNEP to undertake the assessment
The 2-year assessment was carried out by national and international experts assembled by UNEP, against the background of the fact that
there are serious threats to human health from contaminated drinking water to concerns over the viability and productivity of ecosystems
The report revealed the nature and extent of oil contamination in Ogoniland and covered the following areas, among others:
– Contaminated land
– Contaminated groundwater
– Contaminated surface water
– air pollution
– public health
It represents the best available understanding of what has happened to the environment of Ogoniland, and the implications for the affected population.
HIGHLIGHTS OF SUMMARY
1. Though the oil industry is no longer active in Ogoniland (Shell pulled out of Ogoni in 1993), oil spills continue to occur in alarming regularity
2. Extensive pollution of soil by petroleum hydrocarbons in Ogoni
3. Pollution at depths of 5 metres
4. Pollution has reached groundwater
5. In one site, in Eleme LG, 8cm layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater serving community wells
6. Damaged crops
7. Fish fawning places in Mangrove contaminated
8. Oil fires kill vegetation
9. Loss of Mangrove cover due to increased artisanal refining
10. Surface water contains hydrocarbons. Floating layers of oil vary from thick black oil to thin sheens
11. Fish deserted polluted areas….fish sector suffering due to destruction of fish habitats
12. Wetlands degraded
13. Ogoni community exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons
– Outdoor air
– Drinking water
– Contaminated soil
14. Community members in some areas drink water with BENZENE, a known carcinogen, at levels 900 times above the WHO guideline
NOTE: EMERGENCY ACTION WAS RECOMMENDED AHEAD OF OTHER REMEDIATION EFFORTS
15. BENZENE detected in air samples at higher levels than stipulated by WHO
RECOMMENDATIONS (DIRECTED AT THE FG)
1. Establish the Ogoniland Environment Restoration Authority
2. Establish the Ogoniland Environment Restoration Fund with an initial capital of US$1 billion by oil industry and the FG
3. Set up Centre of Excellence for Environmental Restoration
4. Build capacity of government agencies so they can fulfil their mandates – especially that of the Nigeria Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA).
5. Organize public awareness campaign on pollution
NOTE: Despite the urgency stated in the UNEP report on the need to implement the recommendations, the immediate past government did nothing beyond establishing the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) in 2012, a full year after the report was submitted, and then leaving the agency to rot away.
For example, the UNEP report was clear in stating that ”Because of high rainfall in the Niger Delta, any delay in cleaning up an oil spill leads to oil being washed away, transversing farmland and almost always ending up in the creeks.”
What President Buhari has now done:
– The President has approved actions to fast-track the implementation of the UNEP report- as far as the recommendations directed at it (FG) are concerned.
– The actions approved by President Buhari, based on recommendations to him by the Executive Director of UNEP, the UNEP Special Representative for Ogoniland, Permanent Secretaries of the Federal Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources, and other stakeholders, include the amendment of the Official Gazette establishing HYPREP to reflect a new governance framework comprising a Governing Council, a Board of Trustees and Project Management.
The President also approved the composition of a Board of Trustees for the HYPREP.
Some US$10 million will be made available by stakeholders within 30 days of the appointment of members of the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund who will be responsible for collecting and managing funds from contributors and donors. .
A new implementation template has also been evolved at the instance of President Buhari, and the environmental clean-up of Ogoniland will commence in earnest with the President’s inauguration of the HYPREP Governing Council and the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed
National Publicity Secretary
All Progressives Congress (APC)
Lagos, Aug 11th 2015