With the recent inauguration of the clean-up of Ogoniland, stakeholders believe that the absence of a framework for the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme recommendations could mean another long wait for Ogoniland restoration, writes CHUKWUDI AKASIKE
An unmatched level of euphoria greeted the declaration that President Muhammadu Buhari would be in Ogoniland to inaugurate the clean-up of the area several years after the United Nations Environment Programme submitted its report to the immediate past administration. The reason is not farfetched because the people of the area, which comprises four local government areas, Khana, Gokana, Eleme and Tai, have suffered many years of environmental degradation as a result of oil exploration and production.
Water and soil were extremely contaminated, a development that left the locals poorer while the oil companies operating in the area then laughed all the way to the bank. For over 27 years, the people of Ogoni had cried out through peaceful protests and stakeholders’ meeting over the hardship the oil pollution was causing them. With the main occupations as farming and fishing, soil and oil pollution undeniably means a halt in their sources of livelihood. This explains why the turnout for the inauguration of the restoration of their badly polluted land was huge.
But there have been many questions about the next line of action after the inauguration because in the past, work on the restoration of Ogoniland had always been on the periphery while the main task of removing the oil from the soil and water has never been tackled head-on. Though Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who represented the President during the Ogoni clean-up inauguration, had stated that the Federal Government would provide a framework for the exercise, nothing had been heard in the past about the template that would ensure a total recovery of the soil and water in Ogoniland.
Apart from that, there appears to be nothing on the ground administratively that will lead to the eventual ‘invasion’ of the area by land and water restoration experts. That, however, does not remove the kudos given to President Buhari, who had taken the bold step to kick-start the clean-up of Ogoniland. But the mindset of the people now is what next?
Giving his opinion on the inauguration of the Ogoni clean-up, which took place on June 2, 2016, the Chairman of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, His Royal Highness, King Suanu Baridam, expressed gratitude to President Buhari for demonstrating the will to kick-start the process of restoring Ogoniland and other impacted areas in Niger Delta, even as he described the exercise as ceremonial.
The monarch, who had voluntarily resigned his membership of the UNEP Report Implementation Committee before the launch of the clean-up, explained that the Federal Government ought to have carried out a medical check-up on the people of the area. Baridam recalled that the UNEP report had stated that one out of every 10 Ogoni persons was prone to cancer due to the consumption of contaminated water.
“We are happy that the clean-up exercise of Ogoniland has come up. But I have some reservations. Flag-off is different from clean-up proper. It (flag-off) is a ceremonial thing. Before now, they (Federal Government) should have carried out medical study of every Ogoni person to find out the health status because we were told that one out of every 10 Ogoni people is likely to suffer cancer from water contaminated by benzene. The commencement of the clean-up proper is what everybody is looking for. Shell has expressed its readiness in the counterpart arrangement. It is left for the Federal Government to show commitment.
“Former President Goodluck Jonathan should have commenced the flag-off, but he did not. It was Buhari that has fast-tracked the implementation. What Federal Government should do is to appoint members of a board to oversee the clean-up process. There is no need for forming several committees because most of the assignments were things we have done,” Baridam suggested, just as he promised that traditional rulers in Ogoniland under the aegis of CONTRA would work with the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People to ensure that the clean-up proper was realised.
However, MOSOP expressed worry over the absence of structures for the proper restoration of Ogoni environment, but immediately added that it would not be fair to say that the entire efforts of the Federal Government was a deceit due to the absence of a framework for the exercise.
The Media Adviser to MOSOP, Mr. Bariara Kpalap, told Saturday PUNCH on Wednesday that the President of the Ogoni apex body had begun to speak with the Federal Government on the need to put a Governing Council for the exercise in place.
Kpalap, who said Ogoni people were actually worried about the current situation, also observed that there was no Board of Trustees put in place to actualise the clean-up of the area, even as he expressed the belief that the Federal Government was doing something to put structures in place.
He said, “The truth about this is that the current Federal Government has shown more commitment than any other government in the past as far as the clean-up of Ogoniland is concerned. Things not in place now are certain structures that are fundamental to the implementation of the UNEP report. The Vice President promised that the structures would eventually be put in place.
“For now, there is no clear framework for the implementation; the Governing Council, the Board of Trustees are currently not in place. I am aware that the President of MOSOP (Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara) is speaking with the Federal Government. I don’t really think that there is any deceit in the process because I feel the Federal Government is doing something to put structures in place for the eventual clean-up of Ogoniland.”
In all these, there has been a mild criticism that some prominent Ogoni persons, who were part of the struggle, were not invited to the inauguration. One of such persons, who was conspicuously missing at the event, is the former president of MOSOP, Mr. Ledum Mitee.
According to Mitee, “I was not invited to the inauguration. There have been engagements on the issue and I have not been invited. The process has been driven by the Federal Ministry of Environment; there have been engagements on the issue, but I have not been invited.”
But the CONTRA Chairman (Baridam) explained that though many prominent Ogoni sons and daughters were invited, including Mitee, not all of them showed up at the event. Baridam specifically said that he discussed with MOSOP President about Mitee, who told him that he (Mitee) was invited. He added that some prominent Ogoni sons like Ledum Kpage and Prof. Don Baridam were also not at the occasion, adding that record at MOSOP office showed they were invited.
In his remark, an environmentalist and expert in soil restoration, Mr. Olabode Akinjide-Oladeji, explained that though there was no design yet for the exercise, contracts for the clean-up of Ogoniland should be transparent.
Akinjide-Oladeji, who is the Chief Executive Officer of OilOff Africa Limited, explained that this was necessary in order to ensure that the restoration of the Ogoni environment was achieved within the expected timeframe.
He pointed out that the job of restoring Ogoniland was not an all-comers affair, adding that organisations with good track-record should be allowed to manage the task.
Akinjide-Oladeji expressed optimism that with the current disposition of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the clean-up of the area would not be difficult to achieve. He explained that though the exercise was a tough task, it could be made easier with the mobilisation of the right equipment to site.
He said, “The approach to the clean-up of Ogoniland cannot be the traditional way of doing things. Contracts should be awarded in a more professional manner. We are impressed that the body language of the current administration shows commitment to the clean-up.”
Nevertheless, an environmental rights activist, Ms. Ann Kio-Briggs, pointed out that there were no signs that the clean-up of Ogoni would begin anytime soon. She also doubted the financial capacity of the Federal Government to fund the exercise, adding that the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar was not favourable. The activist argued that there should have been contractors on the ground, who would have started work immediately after the inauguration.
Kio-Briggs recalled that a dollar could go for N150 as of the time UNEP recommended the clean-up of Ogoniland and other impacted areas in the Niger Delta.
She said, “Today, the naira is N355 to a dollar at the black market. If you look at the figures, where is Federal Government going to get the money to fund the exercise?
“Again, when you look at the budget, there is nowhere you will see anything earmarked for Ogoni clean-up. Some people are saying funds will come from Shell; which Shell? Oil production and revenue have fallen. With this, one begins to doubt the ability of government to get fund for the Ogoni clean-up.
“So far, no company has been assigned and these companies will come from outside Nigeria because no Nigerian company has the capacity to do the clean-up. The inauguration of the clean-up was just ceremonial. Truth be told, I don’t think there is anything that shows that the clean-up will start anytime soon; I could be wrong.”
However, many are of the view that only time will tell if the current efforts of the Federal Government will see to the restoration of Ogoniland or a mere flash in the pan. Currently the oil is still mixed with the soil and water in the oil rich area.