By Jimitota ONOYUME
PORT HARCOURT: AT the recent pan-Niger Delta conference held in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, leaders of the region drummed up support for the Federal Government’s National Conference, saying it is an ample opportunity for the region to address issues of environmental pollution, neglect and marginalization.
Key speakers at the event included foremost environmentalist, Rev Nnimmo Bassey; former President, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, Barr. Ledum Mittee; former Petroleum Minister, Chief M.T. Akobo; former President Ijaw National Congress, Prof. Kimse Okoko; eminent professor of History, EbiegberiAlagoa; Prof. Ben Naanen; Ms. Ann Kio Brigss; and Dr. Otive Igbuzor and a host of many others.
Bassey, in his presentation lamented the high level of pollution in the region, a situation he blamed on the failure of governance at the center. He accused the federal government of not paying attention to portions of the constitution that demand for protection of the environment in the Niger Delta.
He said, “The Nigerian state has relied on the revenue that originates from the Niger Delta over the past five decades and finds it difficult to be weaned off this vampire-like grip on the veins of the territory and peoples. The creed appears to be one that sees those who damage the environment as untouchables because they bake the toxic cake while the people and environment are seen as absolutely dispensable.
“The alliance of the State and oil companies works excellently for both parties and to the detriment of the peoples on whom environmental costs are unashamedly cast. This criminal bent continues because the Nigerian Constitution pays scant attention to issues of environmental rights and related injustices. In addition, the laws and regulations that ought to defend the people and the environment are often not enforced or are simply ignored.”
He charged the region to harmonize positions contained in various bill of rights, adding that the region should demand an immediate audit of the entire area “using the UNEP process for the assessment of the environment of Ogoni land as a template.” He further called for closure of operations of defaulting firms that fail to comply with international best practices.
He added, “There is a need for the replacement of all pipelines that have exceeded their useful life span, creation of a Niger Delta Survival Fund (NDSF), which would have two components:
? A) Immediate actions in terms of environmental remediation detoxification of our water bodies and lands); and,
? B) A separate account kept for future use to help our people adapt to the coming climate change and other catastrophic changes that have already been set in motion by decades of despoliation.
Earlier, the Chairman of the conference organizing committee, and Executive Director, Social Action, Dr Isaac Osuoka, said they chose not to invite government appointees and functionaries in the region for the world to know how serious the event was.
Osuoka urged the federal government to ensure that the National conference addressed the defects in the nation’s federalism. He maintained that what the nation paraded as democracy at the moment was a subversion of the peoples wish and aspiration.
According to him, the people wanted a true federal system as a pre-condition for democracy in Nigeria rather than a structure where elections were conducted in line with defective federal frameworks set up by the military class.
He further expressed the hope that the national conference would address the weaknesses inherent in the system.
“There are primary issues of uncompleted state-building that we cannot sweep under the carpet. Nigeria is in crisis with major social cracks arising from flawed structural foundations as originally erected by British colonialists and re-modeled by forces of internal domination,who have not succeeded considering the happenings in the country. We must re-build the Nigerian state on a proper foundation of equity and social justice. To ignore the necessity for restructuring is to deny the reality of several civil wars of which the Boko Haram episode is just one.
“The National Conference would serve as platform on which the different nationalities and social groups in Nigeria would democratically decide on such crucial issues as power-sharing between the various ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, just and equitable structures for the Nigerian Federation, the control of resources, including land and minerals, the religious question, alternative economic recovery package, a fair electoral system and other such decisions which border on the destiny of the Nigerian state and its peoples.”