Ogoni: reactions, recommendations trail presidential intervention

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

By Ugonma Cokey

Ahead of the contribution of 10 million dollars by stakeholders within 30 days of the appointment of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) Board of Trustees, as directed by the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, reactions and suggestions continue on how to ensure the best implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

One reaction cut across though, that of commendation and support for the President, for taking this important step to clean up Ogoni less than 3 months into the tenure of his administration. This especially since the UNEP report was released 4 years ago.

The 262-page UNEP report released on August 4, 2011 which recommended that the oil and gas industry and communities begin a comprehensive clean –up of Ogoniland, restore polluted environments and put an end to all forms of ongoing oil contamination in the region, was commissioned and delivered by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.

But instead of the implementation of the report, President Jonathan set up a Presidential Implementation Committee (PIC) to review the UNEP report and make recommendations to the Federal Government on the remedial and long-term solutions. This was subsequently submitted to President Jonathan without the content being made public.

The Jonathan-led administration on July 20, 2012, also set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution restoration Project (HYPREP).

HYPREP was to investigate and evaluate all hydrocarbon polluted communities and sites in Nigeria and make recommendations to the Federal government. HYPREP was to also restore all the communities and sites established as impacted by hydrocarbon pollution in Nigeria. Unfortunately nothing tangible came out of HYPREP.

When on Wednesday the 5th of August 2015, the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari approved actions to fast track the implementation of the UNEP report on the environmental restoration of the Ogoniland, he also approved that the HYPREP be composed of representatives of the Ministries of Petroleum Resources and environment, impacted states, oil companies and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

The approval was a recommendation by the Executive Director of UNEP Special Representative to Ogoniland, Permanent Secretaries of the Federal Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources. Apart from the approved clean-up, a new implementation template has been evolved and would commence with the inauguration of the HYPREP Governing Council and the Board of Trustees for the rust fund.

But this has also brought with it some issues if not properly addressed would lead to misunderstanding of the President’s intention concerning the clean-up.

Matters arising
One of such issues that need to be resolved is transparency at all levels of dialogue and implementation.

For instance, the President of Ogoni Central Indigenous Authority, Dr. Goodluck Diigbo said that President Buhari received recommendations from

One of the several polluted sites in Ogoni land
One of the several polluted sites in Ogoni land

“non-experts” referring to the Executive Director of UNEP, the UNEP Special Representative for Ogoniland, permanent secretaries of the Federal Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources, and others.

Diigbo also claimed that “The recommendations are secret, and reliance on non-experts was not only misguided, but unacceptable.

Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, the Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, (HOMEF) speaking on the constitution of the Board says, “We are asking that having 4 oil sector representatives on the Board being set up by the President is not good enough. Four polluters on the Board will not help the interest of the clean-up.”

“They should at best be on the sidelines, watching. They should be made to fund the clean up not to sit on the driving seat of the cleaning process. He said.

But for Celestine Akpobari,the National Coordinator of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, said the oil sector representatives had to be part of it because of the money and because their reputation was at stake. For him, what was worrisome was that the governance structure “deliberately left out the civil society and we are saying that is wrong, the Ogoni people never worked alone, in fact, it is the civil society that has actually been running with this, without the civil society we wouldn’t get to where we are.”

“For us to do anything serious, the civil society must continue to play oversight function, they have to be a part of the entire structure to properly monitor what is happening, It is not just enough to set up a structure, after all, there are several structures that are not working. It is not the name but the content, It is better that those who sacrificed their time and resources to do this work be inside to monitor so that we can actually have that environment cleaned up because people are dying.”  Akpobari stated.

The UNEP report recommended the establishment of an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, with initial fund of $1 billion for capacity building, skill transfer and conflict resolution and that the management of the fund should be the responsibility of the Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority.

The report also revealed that the sustainable environmental restoration of Ogoniland would take up to 20 years to achieve and would require coordinated efforts from government agencies at all levels, thereby recommending that the Federal Government should establish an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority.

Environmental emergency

Farmland in Ogoni
Farmland in Ogoni

“Government should declare a state of environmental emergency across the entire nation as well as set up structures to begin an environmental audit across the nation. This is needed everywhere, the entire nation is ripe for environmental auditing” He stated.

Several environmental issues are facing the country, Lagos has toxic in its Lagoon without knowledge of how much toxin exists , the water killing children in Zamfara, the aftermath of the lead poisoning and the polluted water being used, the effect of destroyed illegal refineries, the abandoned Tin Mines in Jos, that have not been remediated, ponds with toxic chemicals being used for agriculture and other uses, Niger state where children died from poison from artisanal mining.

It is in realisation of this that the people of Egi Land in Rivers State have already requested that the President gets UNEP to carry out a forensic environmental audit in their territory which they claim has been despoiled by Total.

If drilling of oil was stopped in Ogoni land in 1993 and it will still take 2 to 3 decades to clean it up ,it might take forever to clean the whole country and rid it of pollution if the audit and  cleaning are not started now.

HOMEF director says “The Ogoni situation is a pointer that we need to do this across the country and no resource should be spared in securing the environment for the people because the environment is our life just like water is our life”

The UNEP report indicated that the full environmental restoration of Ogoniland would be a project, which would take 30 years to complete, after the pollution had been brought to an end.

Reactions trail presidential move

Other stakeholders have commended the approval and directive by President Buhari to fast-track the long delayed implementation of the UNEP Report recommendations on the environmental restoration of Ogoniland.
 The All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) commended Buhari for fulfilling his electioneering promises to the Ogoni people.

The party,  in a statement on Wednesday, said the move by the Federal Government was a confirmation of the party’s earlier position that Buhari means well for the Niger Delta as a whole and Ogoniland in particular.
 According to the statement, ’’It further gives credence to the saying that a good friend is by far better than a bad brother.

Also, the President of MOSOP, Logborsi Pyagbara and the President of Ogoni Central Indigenous Authority, Dr. Goodluck Diigbo, on behalf of the Ogonis, commended the Federal Government for the move to fast tract the implementation of the UNEP report and clean up the area.
 Pyagbara, in a statement, said the move by the Federal Government was commendable and goes to show that the Ogonis are being remembered in the present administration while Diigbo appreciated the move but wants genuine Joint Stakeholders’ Review of the recommendations.

Diigbo while welcoming Buhari’s intention to fast-track the implementation of UNEP Report on Ogoniland, said his actions ignores the report’s technical demands.
 According to him, “Even though the report remains disputed, many EIA measures investigated, and clarified in the report, are missing.”

He noted that Buhari received recommendations from “non-experts” – the Executive Director of UNEP, the UNEP Special Representative for Ogoniland, permanent secretaries of the Federal Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources, and others, regretting that: “The recommendations are secret, and reliance on non-experts was not only misguided, but, unacceptable.
“Buhari may have a good intention, but, his expressed intentions might deepen old wounds.

For instance, Buhari avoided specific mention of recommendations by UNEP, including: Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority, Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, a Centre of Excellence for Environmental Restoration, among others, and even, $1billion, considered grossly inadequate for take-off, is now missing.

Pollution site in Ogoni land
Polluted river in Ogoni land

Also speaking, An APC governorship candidate in the April 11 elections in Rivers, Dr Dakuku Peterside, has described President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval for the implementation of United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoni land as courageous.

Peterside in a statement issued yesterday in Port Harcourt by his media aide, Mr Sylvester Asoya, said the long awaited action would address all environmental issues and other challenges in Ogoni land.
“Once again, the President has demonstrated that he is a man of honour.
“ During his campaign, he promised our people that his government would look into the UNEP Report.
“Less than three months into his administration, the President has already taken a giant step in this regard.

He is indeed a man of his words,” the statement said.
The statement said the people of Niger Delta knew that President Buhari could be trusted because of his antecedents and track records.

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