The Ogoni clean-up mess - The Guardian Report

Nearly four years after the Federal Government flagged off the much-proclaimed Ogoni clean-up, nothing tangible has since been achieved. Although a framework for a definite intervention was provided in 2011 through a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the issues surrounding contaminated land, groundwater, surface water, sediment, vegetation, air pollution, public health, and industry practice are yet unresolved, thus endangering the lives of millions of hapless citizens in the area.

What this means is that the institutional issues as well as recommendations and steps to be followed in carrying out the exercise have become victims of senseless politicking. When can we ever get things right in this country so blessed with enormous human resources? 

These recurrent issues came to the fore recently when the Minister of the Environment, Dr. Mohammed Abubakar, paid a courtesy call on the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. Lamenting the poor implementation of laid-down policies and failure to meet any tangible milestone since 2016, the governor advised the Federal Government to stop playing politics with the Ogoni clean-up. Abubakar had explained that work was ongoing and that he was in the state to hand over additional 36 remediation sites to contractors in the continuation of the much-needed clean-up.   

The Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) was conceived as an intervention programme to rid Ogoniland of wastes, which have accumulated over the decades. Until the massive outcry against pollution in the 1990s championed by the late environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, oil exploration and related activities went on with scant regard for the wellbeing of the people. The allure of petrodollars and the insensitivity of the Federal Government ensured that acts of impunity short-changed the people. Farmlands were destroyed. There are no adequate statistics on the number of persons who have gone down with debilitating diseases in the area on account of environmental pollution. Indeed, the ecological system of the area was so affected that it has been projected that total clean-up can only be achieved through consistent hard work for the next three decades to come. 

Shell Company was scathingly described in criminal terms by environmental activists because of its policy of extraction without fully committing to the restoration of polluted land and aquatic life. The highhanded Abacha administration did not spare Saro-Wiwa, the arrowhead of the restoration of remediation in Ogoniland when he was executed in 1995. Subsequently, world and local pressure came to bear on the Federal Government and other stakeholders. The sum of one billion dollars was pledged and substantially raised for the exercise. 

It is against this background that we appreciate the anxiety expressed by the host governor over the pace of work on remediation. We do acknowledge the fact that the clean-up is a slow and technical exercise. Expertise is required at every stage. UNEP has continued to provide the required technical support. However, there ought to be timelines known to all stakeholders. All activities should be transparent and in the public domain. The stakeholders, according to recent reports, have provided funds.

So, lack of funds is not an issue here. What seems to be playing out is the effect of bureaucracy and the poor commitment of some individuals to consistent and persistent work on the project. This should stop forthwith. The state government should not wait for the visit of the minister or other officials before decrying the pace of work. A mechanism should be in place to ensure that all the stakeholders are kept on their toes. Huge sums of monies are involved in the project. The exercise should not be one for patronage dispensation to cronies. Most state officials are notorious for turning such projects into a honey pot for self-help. This must not be. Rather, the highest standards of integrity should always be maintained. The NGOs and other stakeholders whose persistent effort brought attention to the Ogoni disaster should not go to sleep. MOSOP and other stakeholders should continue to play a watchdog role.

Finally, we call on stakeholders to ensure that the exercise progresses as expected. If there had been no timelines, this is the time to give timeframes for milestone and hold people accountable once there is a breach of procedure or time. We should remember that human lives spreading across generations are involved in this project. They should not be punished by the state because oil was found and exploited in their communities. The blinding poverty found in areas where oil have been extracted from for decades is an indictment of all stakeholders over the years. The clean-up is a remediation. It is not a compensation for loss of lives or the beauty of the environment. That is why the significant project should not be another white elephant because of official procrastination and needless politics and lack of consensus among Ogoni power elite.