Calls for environmental audit of Niger Delta heighten as UNEP Report on Ogoni clocks four

Campaigners demanding implementation of UNEP report on Ogoni (PHOTO: ClimateReporters/Atâyi Babs)
Campaigners demanding implementation of UNEP report on Ogoni (PHOTO: ClimateReporters/Atâyi Babs)

By Atâyi Babs

From the creeks of Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region to the hinterlands of the north, came calls and demonstrations by civil society activists, local campaigners, farmers and women groups, decrying inaction on the part of the Federal Government of Nigeria and Shell as the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) assessment report on Ogoni clocked four years on Wednesday.

At various events organised to mark the fourth year of governmental inaction on the report, civil society groups decried the fact that despite the severity of the findings of the environmental assessment of Ogoni environment by UNEP four years ago, very little has been done by way of implementation of its recommendations.

The HYPREP Response

Describing the response of the administration of former President Jonathan which set up the Hydrocarbons Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) as tepid, the campaigners revealed that HYPREP was programmed to fail as it was domiciled in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources which is a major polluter in the country.

HYPREP was set up a year after the UNEP report had been issued and its most visible accomplishments have been the installation of billboards on oil theft and ubiquitous signposts in Ogoni communities to keep off their contaminated communities. Perhaps the only salutary step may be the ongoing consultations on what to do about the UNEP report a full four years after the fact of its submission.

Recalling President Buhari’s pledge to implement the UNEP report, activists enjoined the President to seize the opportunity presented by the fourth anniversary to commence the implementation process in a more tangible manner indicating the grasping of the emergency nature of the toxic environment in which the Ogoni people have been forced to live in.

Of greater urgency according to them is the provision of potable water remains in Ogoni land.

Forensic environmental audit of Niger Delta

Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) in a release noted that while the UNEP Report on Ogoniland is yet to be addressed, other communities in the Niger Delta, notably the Egi community in Rivers State have demanded for a “Forensic Environmental Audit of Egi Land.”

In a letter dated 14 July 2015 and addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari and copied the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Egi Joint Action Congress (EJAC) states, among others, that they are “host to Total Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd (TEPNG). With about 12.5% of the total on-shore oil production of Nigeria, Egi Land is the highest oil producing community in Rivers State, and in Nigeria.”

An accompanying report by EJAC regrets that “TEPNG having contributed largely to the environmental and socio-economic destruction of Egi Land by its oil and gas activities over the period 1964 to 2015, as a result of insincerity in carrying out its social responsibilities, is reportedly making surreptitious efforts to divest its equity interest apparently to a foreign company, without due regard to the sorry state it has plunged Egi Land.”

Oloibiri-1 well is the first commercial oil well in Nigeria, drilled since June 1956
Oloibiri-1 well is the first commercial oil well in Nigeria, drilled since June 1956

A community leader, M.T. Igwe said: “It is glaring that exploration of mineral resources brings wealth and prosperity to the nation but to the Egi man it brings destruction, doom and death, marginalisation, degradation and hazards.”

HOMEF further noted that the cry of the Egi people against land grabbing in their communities, gas flaring, oil spills and waste dumping are emblematic of all other communities ravaged by oil exploitation related environmental incidents. The EJAC report states for instance that the environmental damage caused by an oil/gas blowout at Obagi in 1972 is yet to be remediated a full 43 years after.

Time for action

“As we mark a sad passage of four years of inaction on the UNEP report, we believe that further delay will be immoral, unkind and cruel,” says Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation. “President Buhari has a golden opportunity to fulfill his campaign promise to implement the UNEP report and should do so expeditiously.

The call for a forensic environmental audit of Egi Land should also be responded to with a Niger Delta wide environmental audit and consequent remediation. Further delay passes a death sentence on both the land and the peoples of the region. Just as the polluter Shell Petroleum Development Company paid for the assessment of the Ogoni environment, Total Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd should pay for the assessment of the environment of Egi Land. Likewise should Chevron, ExxonMobil and others in their territories of despoliation,” Bassey added.

For Environmental Rights Action/Friends of Earth Nigeria, (ERA/FoEN), “Ogoni land today is a crime scene of  ecocide by Shell and its CEOs by persistently taking decisions that leads to death of people.” Calling on all civil society groups to sustain the struggle until concrete remedial actions are taken by the government in Ogoni land, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo of ERA/FoEN described the Ogoni struggle as emblematic of community resistance against oil multinational on a global scale and sustained over a period of time at the local, national and international levels.

James Olabi Odey, South-South Coordinator of the Climate and Sustainable Development of Nigeria (CSDevNet) in a release issued in Calabar enjoined President Muhammadu Buhari to pay a visit to Ogoni land and have a first-hand experience of what the community is going through, “perhaps that would enable him fast track on the implementation of the UNEP report.”

“Ogoni land earnestly craves for environmental justice  and there is no better time to right the wrongs than now,”Odey added.

“Shell has shown leadership”

In a major response in August 2014, three years after the UNEP report was submitted, Mutiu Sunmonu, the then Chief Executive of Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), welcomed the report and allayed concerns about the slow progress of cleanup in some parts of Ogoniland. “We remain committed to using the UNEP report as an opportunity to drive real, sustainable improvements on the ground and continue to work tirelessly with the government, communities and other stakeholders to remove barriers to further progress where these still exist,” Sunmonu stated.

According to the CEO, SPDC has initiated action on all the recommendations directed to it as the joint venture has certified the remediation of all the sites within its Right of Way in which UNEP assessed that further remediation was required. SPDC has also reviewed and made improvements to the methods used in cleaning up spill sites and are working with communities and contractors to increase the local skills base in this area. Shell also claimed to have completed an inventory and verification of all non-producing assets in Ogoni land and working with joint venture partners and government to develop a decommissioning plan.

“SPDC has also shown leadership by undertaking a range of activities in advance of the government, where we have been able to do so. This has included driving implementation of UNEP’s recommended emergency measures to provide safe drinking water to impacted communities,”Sunmonu added.

The oil giant however warned that the majority of UNEP’s recommendations require multi-stakeholder efforts coordinated by the Federal Government and in view of the  fact that SPDC JV has not produced oil or gas in Ogoniland for more than 20 years and is only one of the stakeholders addressed in the UNEP report, some of the most important recommendations – including the creation of an effective coordinating agency and an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland – are directed at the Federal Government and are key to the subsequent delivery of other actions related to rehabilitation of the environment.

Nigerians should not underestimate the scale of the challenge as UNEP expressly states that a thorough clean up of Ogoniland will take many years to achieve, even with effective collaboration by government at all levels, the oil and gas industry, communities and civil society,”the statement concluded.

Ogoni land

Ogoni land is situated in the Niger Delta region, the third largest mangrove ecosystem in the world. With an estimated population of 832,000 ( 2006 National Census), the region is divided administratively into four local government areas: Eleme, Gokana, Khana, and Tai. The Ogoni people are predominantly farmers and fishermen

Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) started operations in Ogoni land in Rivers State in 1958, drilling a total of 96 wells to bring nine oil fields onstream.  By the end of 1992, Ogoni production was some 28,000 bpd, about 3% of SPDC’s total production.

Pollution site in Ogoni land
Pollution site in Ogoni land

At the request of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, UNEP conducted an independent assessment of the environment and public health impacts of oil contamination in Ogoniland, in the Niger Delta, and options for remediation. The Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland covered more than 200 locations, 122 kilometres of pipelines, contaminated land, groundwater, surface water, sediment, vegetation, air pollution, public health with 5,000 medical records examined, industry practices and institutional issues.

Oil contamination in Ogoniland is wide spread and severe. Coupled with the rainfall pattern in the Niger Delta most of the oil pollution is immediately washed into farmlands, streams, rivers and the creeks. At 49 sites the report found oil pollution in soils at depths of at least 5 meters putting a massive question mark on the usual remediation methodology favoured by the oil companies.

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