…Govt’s promise, gesture all politics — Activists, community leaders
…MOSOP makes U-turn, begs residents for patience
…FG committed to the project – HYPREP
By Davies Iheamnachor
AFTER years of being exposed to the hazards of their oil spill-polluted environment, the people of Ogoni ethnic nationality of Rivers State had cause to heave a sigh of relief when the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, in 2016, announced the introduction of a remediation project to clean up the entire area. With their hopes raised, they enthusiastically looked forward to an immediate and full implementation of government’s plan in this regard and optimistic that the ordeal associated with the polluted environment was about to come to an end.
Buoyed by assurances from top government officials, they were confident that before the end of December 2017, significant progress would have been recorded in the remediation of the devastated Ogoni area.
But over two years after the then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, flagged off the clean up of the Ogoni impacted sites, the people are already ruing their trust in government’s promise to them. Reason? The only notable step, according to them, taken to actualise the promise and plan to bring an end to their plight has been just the formation of Board of Trustee, Governing Council, and Project Coordination Office.
This has raised a lot of issues and arguments amongst critical stakeholders in the area, with the apex socio-cultural body in the area, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, now considering reversing its earlier appeal to the people for patience to enable the delayed project to eventually take off successfully. MOSOP was initially moved to sue for patience on account of the fact that the processes that would lead to the actual remediation of the affected sites had commenced, a reassuring indication to Ogoni people of Federal Government’s commitment to the clean up of Ogoni land.
But the now perceived prolonged delay has left the people feeling betrayed, while their pain and misery continue unabated. The United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, Report on Ogoni had stated clearly that emergency measures which included the provision of good drinking water and health impact assessment be carried out in the area before the actual clean up would commence. But this has so far not happened. So far, no state of emergency has been declared with regards to giving attention to the health of the people. The prevailing feeling, albeit fear, is that all the promises made with respect to the clean up was nothing but political gimmickry, with politicians taking advantage of their plight and playing on their intelligence.
Restoring a clean environment
But the Project Coordinator of Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, HYREP, Dr. Marvin Dekil, had on many occasions pleaded with the people of Ogoni for patience, noting that the Federal Government is committed to restoring a clean environment in the area. Dekil who spoke recently during a health out reach in some communities of Ogoni noted that the government had approved the medical programme to reassure the people of the area that it is committed to the remediation.
Dekil stated that what the people perceive to be a delay was not the case, stressing that the process of remediation of an impacted site is tedious and that a lot of paper works need to be done before it can be fully implemented. He said: “President Muhammadu Buhari has shown a lot of commitment to the cleaning of Ogoni environment. He has approved that more medical outreaches be carried out in Ogoni to meet the health needs of the people. The remediation has since begun, the processes are on, but the actual work will start soonest. The process to remediate a polluted site takes time. But we assure that Ogoni will be clean again.”
UNEP report dead?
But, the leader of Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, Chief Gani Topba, vowed that oil exploration would only be allowed to resume in Ogoni if the Federal Government shows true commitment to the clean up of the area. Topba expressed worries over the delay in the implementation of the clean up, noting that the project is already dead in Ogoniland. “For us, the UNEP report is a dead project and we don’t take it again as a serious matter. Nobody should blame President Muhammadu Buhari about the UNEP report.
“$10 million was released to the Ministry of Petroleum(State), for the project. But till today, the ministry has not spent that money to provide water for the people. This government has made a move but some people do not want to see the job done. If the President calls the ministry to order, I assure you that the clean up will commence.”
MOSOP begs for patience
Meanwhile, the President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, Mr. Leborsi Pyagbara, has begged the people of Ogoni to be patient while the Federal Government marshals out ways to clean up Ogoni. Pyagbara who spoke in Khana Local Government Area during a health outreach by HYPREP, noted that the FG is committed to the issue of remediation. He urged the Federal Government to remove all bureaucratic bottlenecks delaying the commencement of the remediation, adding that the project was being delayed by official and administrative procedures.
However, in a statement, the spokesman of MOSOP, Fegalo Nsuke, lamented that the continuous devastation of Ogoni environment has caused a lot of deaths in the area. Nsuke said: “The conduct of Nigeria in Ogoniland should be strongly condemned as our country’s leaders continue to undermine the future of our teeming population whose lives have been made miserable by an unfair system, a system that thrives on discrimination, taking away the natural resources of the people to build cities all over Nigeria and what is left of Ogoni today is death, death from terminal diseases and the toxic environment in which Shell Petroleum have left us.
“You may still recall that in June 2016, the Nigerian president, represented by Vice-President Osinbajo, had launched an elaborate flag-off programme for the clean-up of polluted Ogoniland. It has taken nearly two years since that noise was made and nothing is yet to be seen. In an emergency, where people are dying by the day, should it take two years to implement a safety and rescue programme? Shortly after the flag off, the then Environment Minister, Amina Mohammed, launched another bogus programme which was the ground-breaking for the construction of the Integrated Soil Management Centre as recommended by UNEP.
“What had been hidden from all of us is that at the time Mrs. Mohammed was breaking the ground in Wiiyaakara, near Bori, for the construction of the Integrated Soil Management Centre, the Rivers State Government had not approved the space for the project. Mrs. Mohammed only wanted to make the Ogoni people feel something was being done whereas nothing was actually being done.
“I feel it’s all a very crooked process and the real intention of the government and Shell is to tap the Ogoni oil without negotiating Ogoni interests. Another very laughable episode took place in April when the Vice- President, Prof. Osinbajo presided over what they called the signing of an agreement for the creation of an escrow account for the Ogoni Trust Fund.
“We think the noise was to get the world feel Nigeria is doing something for the Ogoni. But it should also interest the world that not a cent has been approved anywhere to be put into the much celebrated account. We think it is a shame that in our own country, those who should take decisions that affect our lives have so incautiously misrepresented things about our survival. While Ogonis are dying daily, Nigeria is celebrating something as trivial as account creation.”