One of the achievements of the just struggle of the Ogoni and Niger delta people championed by Ken Saro-Wiwia via the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) is the United Nations-led Environmental Assessment and Health Impact Studies. The assessment brought about a projected 30 year land and soil, groundwater remediation and restoration recommendations.
It also brought about community development and alternative sustainable livelihoods’ recommendations with one billion dollars initial deposit to be contributed by the polluters among them are Royal Dutch Shell Corporation/Shell Petroleum Development and Trading Company before the Netherlands broke away, and Nigerian government through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). The implementation of these recommendations was reported to be a near failure. This is eleven years after the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) was established in 2012. It was to coordinate and deliver on the back of best practice that includes halting of all oil production in Ogoni and building an Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Center for best and sustained result
One reason for above review is because HYPREP appeared to have been more actively conducting business on social media against practical actions and results. I have said it on several occasions that leadership, management is about getting things done for the people including environmental restoration and safety. If you fail to practically get things done as a leader or management then you are a failure. Unfortunately, independent reports have it that HYPREP had been like a secret cult where work locations and recorded data were barely open for public scrutiny in addition to many unqualified contractors. Reports also have it that about two hundred million dollars could not be accounted for. This implies there was no probity nor accountability.
Meanwhile, not only would this project managed by HYPREPcause the restoration of the environment and empower citizens through alternative sources of livelihoods if properly executed, it will also produce a one-of-a kind Center of Excellence. And this center will not only create jobs and train downtrodden Ogonis, other Niger deltans in environmental monitoring, remediation and restoration. The skills-set acquired shall be domesticated and nationalized, exported continentally and globally. The center will also serve as a learning and research, tourism experience for teachers or lecturers/professors, students, policymakers and other global citizens. What a feat when completed, operational, competently and judiciously managed!
Although Ogonis have the right and reasons to be upset and not trust the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) and its management including the Ministry of environment and Ministry of Petroleum given how the cleanup and emergency recommendations alongside alternative livelihoods have been mismanaged. They also have reasons to unite as one indivisible, formidable force and give Dr. Nenibarini Zabbey a chance. This committed friend of the environment and intellectual of limitless imagination deserves not only a chance from Ogonis but their encouragement and support.
The Nigerian government and other stakeholders also have goodreasons to give Dr. Zabbey a chance, the needed encouragement and support to perform and deliver exceptional and real-time practical service, the much anticipated technical and community development which include capacity building.
Obviously, Dr. Zabbey is one additional benefit to the Ogoni cleanup and restoration. As mentioned he is a committed friend of the environment thus known for his work globally. He had worked and written, researched and campaigned tirelessly and demonstrated what is feasible and practical hence possible in terms of remediating and restoring the dying Niger delta ecosystem.
As he declared in one of his research work, “My current research focuses on bio-monitoring, estuarine trophic ecology, fish production function of mangroves, restoration of degraded mangrove habitat, ocean governance and integrated coastal management.”
And as the Nigerian Tribune reported on May 4, 2023: Heis UNEP’s Senior National Expert on Mangrove Ecosystems (consultancy), and also serves on the management committee, the shoreline cleanup assessment technique team (SCAT), and technical working groups of the Bodo cleanup and restoration project, facilitated by the Bodo Mediation Initiative. He has conducted research focusing on biological monitoring, ecosystem services, plastic pollution, carbon stocks in mangroves, community science, and the restoration of degraded wetlands.
Because of his never ending research, work and focus, in 2022 he became the first African to receive the Ruth Patrick Award from the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.
As conspicuously stated on The Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography website, “The 2022 Ruth Patrick Award will be presented to Dr. Nenibarini Zabbey, Professor of Hydrobiology in the Department of Fisheries at the University of Port Harcourt, for research and engagement with a critical impact on recovery of the Niger delta ecosystem from oil spills and environmental justice for impacted communities.”
Before now I have said that Ogonis will regret it, they will be very sorry if this well organized and fought struggle that brought the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to Ogoni for environmental impact assessment and the Ogoni cleanup and HYPREP is mishandled, and the best is not achieved as the UNEP recommendations carefully laid out. If and when such strategically positioned job as HYPREP coordinator is handed to Ogoni experts and the result appeared stagnant or worse who else should do it right, “angels” or “God,” foreigners? What you read and hear about is corruption, lack of transparency, lack of best practice, and you wonder whether these Ogonis are in their right mind; whether they have their senses together or just do not get it and do not care but focused on fanfare and getting richwhile the masses suffer and die?
An unhealthy and dangerous situation was where emergency measures clearly listed by the UNEP appeared not to have been taken seriously by the previous coordinators who are themselves Ogoni. If they were been hindered by members of the Board of Trustees (BOT) or the Ministry of Petroleum and the Minister of Environment they never complained to the public. If Shell officials and other officials of government, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) hindered them yet they could not complain or explain the difficulties they may have faced to the public how would they be extricated from those hindering the project? Could it be that they valued their job and exaltation it brought than their own people and a dying environment that will benefit everyone if the recommendations are carefully and properly executed?
The good news is that given the historical background andpedigree of the current coordinator Dr. Zabbey who is also Ogoni but of a different breed, it is more than likely the result would be positive beyond words. This will be if he is allowed to bring his expertise to bear and not hindered or the systemmanipulated against him to bring about failure. He is a committed man of many achievements, and especially a man of practical and realizable vision who had consistently exemplified practical demonstration of community work that isenvironmentally and socioeconomically based.
Dr. Zabbey is a people person thus understands honest and strategic communication and relationship with his community, professional circles and more. Before he was bestowed this honor to pilot such critical and challenging task in a complex environment that is Nigeria, he was a professor at the University of Port Harcourt, Department of Fisheries. Evidently, he has done several academic research work, both individually and collaboratively.
He was also closely connected to and was a mentee of the multi-talented and indefatigable Comrade Patrick Naagbanton (late), who was one of the best Ogoni and the human rights and environmental justice community has had. Mr. Naagbanton was a risk-taker; the founder and coordinator of the Center for Environmental and Human Rights Development (CEHRD). And Dr. Zabbey subsequently took over the center as coordinatorafter his mentor died having been hit by a car in 2019.
Ogonis and the Nigerian government, every interested parties should therefore grant him a chance; and the encouragement and support to perform and deliver on his mandate. He must not be undermined. Where there is or could be hindrance from the Nigerian government particularly the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Petroleum, Shell Oil and others not limited to politicians and traditional rulers he should not hesitation to notify Ogonis and the general public. Open and honest, accurate and timely communication is very important for success in such environment and project.
By Ben Ikari, Human Rights and Environmental Justice Advocate; Author of Ken Saro-Wiwa and MOSOP: The Story and Revelation; and The Squirrels and Lions: How Honest Communication Sealed Their Friendship