Ogoni cleanup: Communities in health risks despite flag off by Martins Abantlehe

Ogoni residents have once again cried out for help over the prolonged delay in the commencement of the cleanup exercise of their land ravaged by oil spillages. This time the communities took a swipe on their elite accusing them of reticence and compromise. “…all our representatives in their meetings in Lagos or Abuja usually give the government wrong information about the youths in Ogoni, and when they come back home they won’t be sincere to the youths….”

Ogoni residents have once again cried out for help over the prolonged delay in the commencement of the cleanup exercise of their land ravaged by oil spillages. This time the communities took a swipe on their elite accusing them of reticence and compromise. “…all our representatives in their meetings in Lagos or Abuja usually give the government wrong information about the youths in Ogoni, and when they come back home they won’t be sincere to the youths….”

Comrade Darlington Obele in Ogale community, Eleme said recently. Oil exploration and other mining activities in the Niger Delta region have for decades resulted to serious environmental challenges that manifested into multifaceted problems in the region. Ogoniland, the most affected has become the centre of national outcry and discourse which led to the flag off of its cleanup exercise by the federal government in 2016. “This has not in any way impacted on the livelihoods of Ogoni residents” says community leaders.

With the 2016 flag off of the cleanup exercise by Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo, it is expected that by now modalities of the cleanup which involves provisions of alternative water sources had commence, but it was gathered that communities are now at risk of ailments from polluted water. It could be recalled that in 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) conducted an environmental impact assessment on oil spillage in Ogoni land, that report which forms the baseline for the clean-up of Ogoni prompted the federal government to flag off the cleanup exercise in 2016.

The report showed high level of hydrocarbon pollution and Benzene contaminations of ground water, 900 times above World Health Organisation (W.H.O) standard. Benzene contamination has a long-term effect that causes decrease in red blood cells that can lead to anemia, a health condition in which one does not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues and feels tired and weak all the time. Prominent among other things, the UNEP Report recommended eight emergency measures that will proceed the actual clean up of Ogoni land among which includes provisions of potable drinking water. “We are suffering, let the government help us, we don’t have water” Mrs Florence Ngirem in Ogale community told Journalists. It was a pathetic sight according to our reporter and residents wants an immediate action. However contractors handling the clean up exercise, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), claimed community members are sabotaging the cleanup exercise. This was disclosed by Grace Ekanem HYPREP’S Head of Legal Services. According to Mrs Ekanem, “youths keep asking for royalties and homage (or money) before letting us work on the cleanup”. The allegations was however debunked by Comrade Darlington who claimed the youths are only asking for the full implementation of the terms and condition of the cleanup which he said involved the employment of the youths in the host communities. Another community member Moses Obele also denied HYPREP’s allegations. “is a lie, why will we do such thing, we all need the cleanup”, Obele said. Asked whether he is aware that a N5000 stipend is paid to youths in oil polluted communities, Obele said no, “I have not been paid any money”. These accusations and deniels forms major aspects of findings but there seems to be a meeting point following the various commitments made by journalists who visited recently to report what they saw. Comrade Martins Abantlehe, a broadcaster, calmed the nerves of the Ogoni residents. He pledge on behalf of others that henceforth the “eye of the camera will soon be consistent in their land and the recordings will reach the eyes of the government”. “We are Journalists Against Delay of Ogoni Cleanup (JADOC), we will write and report your problems to the government”. Comrade Martins said. The community leaders hope that the visit by JADOC will yield results. They alleged that several groups have been coming making promises yet nothing has been achieved. They want JADOC to marry words with action.

Comrade Martins Abantlehe wrote from Abuja