BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME Assistant News Editor
August 4 marked the third year anniversary of the formal release of the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Program on Ogoni to the Federal government.
The government had in 2007 commissioned UNEP to do a credible environmental assessment of Ogoni.
It would be recalled that Ogoni, under the aegis of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP had alleged gross pollution of their environment arising from oil exploration. Among other things, the movement then led by a foremost environmentalist and writer, late Kenule Sarowiwa had demanded commercial compensation for the destruction of the environment.
There were series of protests by the movement which finally forced Shell to shut down oil exploration in the area in 1992.
The Ogoni apex body, MOSOP was later enmeshed in internal conflict that resulted in circumstances that culminated in the death of some of its leaders, including Sarowiwa in 1995 who was executed by the Sani Abacha regime.
Keen observers of developments within MOSOP then traced the crisis that resulted in the death of the leaders largely to external manipulations intended to weaken cohesion and resolve of the people to sustain their agitation for economic justice.
The death of the leaders provoked bitterness and anger against the multinational oil firms doing business in the area.
The engagement of UNEP by the federal government in 2007 to determine the degree of environmental degradation and destruction of the area and what could be done to redress the problem was part of a conscious effort by the government to assuage the bitterness.
The report which was formally handed over to the federal government on August 4, three years ago among other things, called for an approach that would be driven by all stakeholders. They should include Shell, government, community and other stakeholders. It also noted the massive challenge posed by oil spill and called for a clean up of the area.
According to the report redressing challenges of environmental pollution in Ogoni will require some years. It called on the federal government, NNPC and Shell Joint venture to set up an Environment Restoration Fund with a takeoff amount of 1 billion US dollars which should be used for remediation exercise among others.
Three years after release of the report , nothing concrete seem to have been done by the government other than the introduction of HYREP, a body the Ogoni have called for its dissolution.
President of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, Legborsi Pyagbara at a consultative meeting between the federal government and Ogoni in Bori, headquarters of Khana local government area last week lamented delay in the implementation of the report by the federal government.
Pyagbara who read out the position of the Ogoni called on the government to immediately declare Ogoni an environmental disaster, adding that President Goodluck Jonathan and his Minister of Petroleum should visit the area so as to appreciate the content of the UNEP report on the level of pollution in the area.
The people further urged the government to immediately dissolve HYREP and replace it with Ogoni Environment and Restoration Authority.
His words, : “We are calling on the Federal Government to declare Ogoni an environmental emergency because of the level of degradation here as discovered by UNEP.
UNEP submitted its report on the pollution in our land three years ago and we are surprised that the federal government has not implemented that report. What has caused this long delay? The $1billion which UNEP said would be needed to clean-up the area is not much for the federal government.
Why has the President who is from the Niger Delta failed to release the funds meant for the clean-up and start the process of implementation? We want HYPREP scrapped and replaced with Ogoni Environment and Restoration Authority in line with the UNEP report.
We therefore call on President Goodluck Jonathan and the Minister for Petroleum to visit Ogoniland and see things for themselves, except the government is saying that the over 2000 Ogoni lives lost to military repression and the continued death of our people due to pollution of our land is of no concern to them.”
Senator Magnus Abe, Prof Ben Nanee, Prof. Roselyn Konya were among prominent sons and daughters of Ogoni at the meeting.
At the meeting, federal government said the fund was ready and would be disbursed as soon as the multi Stakeholders committee to drive remediation exercise in the area was ready.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum, Mr Danladi Kifasi assured that the fund would be used for the purpose it was released.
“The federal government is mindful that the funds meant for remediation and restoration activities in Ogoniland are used for that purpose.
The funds are ready. Soon, we will be working with the UN, Ogoni communities and the relevant Nigerian agencies to pull our collective knowledge and construct a road map to deliver a comprehensive remediation programme with a focus on immediate delivery and restitution”, he said.
Meanwhile, the Ogoni have in several statements issued by MOSOP and other allied organisations stressed that the environment was no longer safe for habitation because of the degree of pollution in the area.
An environmental rights activist from the area and Coordinator, Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Celestine Akpobari said farms were no longer yielding desired harvest because of the ugly situation.
“The devastation of Ogoni environment has caused us so much pains. Ogoni farmlands no longer yield healthy fruits due to degradation. I believe that one day, they will clean up Ogoniland. Nigeria owes Ogoni a lot.”, he said.
Vanguard gathered that Rivers and wells in the area have been largely polluted by benzene, a substance according to the UNEP report with capacity to cause cancer when consumed over time.
“We cannot drink water from our wells because of pollution traced to benzene. You see oil when you fetch the water from the stream, river and wells. So we cant drink it”, a native of Ogale, Eleme told Vanguard.
According to the UNEP report on Ogoni “ the ground water is contaminated with BTEX, Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes and PAHS – polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons. From prolonged consumption of the water. the benzene agent is known to cause cancer in humans”.
as the ogoni continue agitation for immediate commencement of work on the UNEP report they are also engaged in another struggle to see an Ogoni succeed Chibuike Amaechi as Governor come 2015. They have dominated the political space in the state with the mantra that no Ogoni had been governor or deputy governor of the state since its creation so they should be allowed to succeed Amaechi.