By Adewale Sanyaolu
Early hopes of a return to normal life by the people and communities impacted by the deadly Ogoni land oil spill may remain a tall order with the lethargy so far exhibited by both the Federal Government and contractors handling the project.
Daily Sun investigation shows that the excitement that greeted Federal Government’s N10 billion Ogoni restoration programme in 2017 has now given way to despondency, poverty and deteriorating health conditions in the affected communities.
In its original form, the Ogoni land remediation project was aimed at cleaning environments impacted by oil spill to ensure that the citizens returned to their normal lives of fishing and farming that had sustained them over the years.
The United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) had estimated a clean-up timeframe of five years to be followed by about 25 to 30 years of recovery time.
But four years after the flag-off, not much seems to have happened in the impacted communities contrary expectations.
While there seems to be divergent views on the pace of work in Ogoni, some stakeholders have since urged that increasing searchlight be beamed on other polluted sites in the Niger Delta region, as a comprehensive environment audit of the region has become imperative.
According to the head, Environment and Conservation, Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), Dr. Kabari Sam, “there are more than 2,000 polluted sites in the Niger Delta, resulting in loss of livelihood and basic needs in such areas, covering 12 per cent of Nigeria’s land mass and about 31 million in population. The area contributes 90 per cent of the foreign exchange, which is over $600 billion.”
Latest efforts in Ogoni clean-up
Minister of Environment, Mohammed Mahmoud, in June this year, disclosed that 17 contaminated sites have been cleaned up and certified clean in Ogoniland, Rivers State.
He further pointed out that the Federal Government has awarded contracts for six water projects in the area, while 400 Ogoni women were trained in various small businesses like agriculture, aquaculture and poultry among others.
Asked about the level of work on the Ogoni clean-up exercise, he said: “I can tell you that project has moved forward, we have about 17 contaminated sites that have been cleaned up and certified, clean.
“We have passed the budget of the Ogoni clean-up otherwise known as Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP). It has received a huge boost.”
“We have a brand new governing council. We have a brand new Board of Trustees (BoT), and we are increasing the participation of unions which ordinarily are technical support.
“And now we want to involve them even further by making them some kind of project management consultant. Also, we are looking forward to bringing in more indigenous people that will be part of this process. We have realised that for any project to succeed, you must have the buy-in of the community.
And then just recently also, we awarded contracts for six water projects, and these water projects should have been awarded earlier from the very beginning of the project.
“But we awarded it for over N6 billion. Again, we’re working towards additional eight water projects that will be coming very soon. In fact, we just get the approval to advertise for that and also to go into the complex side.”
“There’s also the component of livelihood, as we have just graduated 400 Ogoni women in various small businesses like agriculture, aquaculture, poultry, among others.
“Also, various youths have been trained as welders and plumbers, and we have also distributed 5,000 need assessment forms to the people to indicate their interest in the areas to be trained as part of the component of the cleanup.”
Report contradicts FG’s claims
But a report by two Non Governmental Organisations(NGOs) Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) and the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), said set targets are far from being met.
“We can see some progress being made, and it’s important to recognise that,” said Florence Kayemba, programmes director of the Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), which co-authored the report with the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CEHRD).
Over 1,000 temporary jobs for community members with cleanup contractors have been created, the monitors said.
Thirteen out of 50 lots considered “simple” to clean have been certified as completed, they added.
However, “this is just a quarter and we have yet to begin cleanup of complex sites, so this shows that we have really quite a long way to go,” said Calvin Laing, SDN’s executive director.
“That five-year target seems unrealistic now.”
Emergency measures prescribed by the UN in 2011 “are yet to be delivered,” the report noted.
“Communities which were identified as having highly contaminated drinking water sources in 2011 still do not have access to improved, safe drinking water sources,” it said.
“Health screening of communities that would help understand the impact of pollution is yet to commence.”
Clean-up activities need to happen “much faster” added Kayemba, but “without sacrificing quality.”
SDN and CEHRD set up an interactive online dashboard last Thursday to help track progress.
The Ogoniland cleanup is “crucial” said Laing, as it “could also be a template for elsewhere in the Niger Delta.”
In a correspondence with Daily Sun, Project Officer/Head of Niger Delta Resource Centre at Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, Mr.Morris Alagoa, said stakeholders, especially the Civil society and some locals have expressed the disposition even very recently that the UNEP recommended Ogoni clean-up process has been too slow.
‘‘Recently, a section of Ogoni was demanding a Shell representative leading the process to be relieved of the job, due to lapses. The Federal Government agency has not complained about lack of funds as cause of delay. So, while the government should take all necessary steps to show practically that it is serious about this clean-up; those actually in the field implementing UNEP recommendation should be blamed for whatever lapses.
He maintained that the Ogoni cleanup is viewed as an entry point to clean up other polluted sites in the Niger Delta, which gives a lot of concern that the pace of work in Ogoni is so slow and saddled with protests.
Reacting to Daily Sun inquiry, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Mr, Nninimo Bassey, explained that when an environment has been damaged the way the Ogoni environment is, returning to a normal way of life could take a lifetime.
He noted that UNEP estimated a clean-up time frame of five years to be followed by about 25 to 30 years of recovery time, stressing that even if the environment were to be fully remediated in a few years, it will take a life time to be fully restored.
‘‘We should not be surprised that the pace of work has not been as fast as we may have expected. Building is always slower than destroying. And, if we consider the length of time over which the environment was trashed, and is still being trashed, we should know that the clean up is a marathon, not a sprint.
Moreover, this is an unprecedented exercise and is virtually a learning process. Are we saying things should not be faster? No!
However, by this time, we should be worried that government isn’t taking steps to carry out environmental audit of the rest of the Niger Delta. That is what we should beam the searchlights on. Ogoni is being cleaned up, but what of other areas we hear nothing about? What about Ikarama in Bayelsa State, where farmers found oil oozing out of the ground when they went farming at a place that was said to been remediated after an oil spill? What about Ozoro-1 offshore (Ondo State) well that has been burning for over one year now? We have continuous pollution in the Ibeno axis of Akwa Ibom State and the Gbaramatu an Opuama areas of Delta State. When will these areas be cleaned up?
The stumbling block for lack of plans to clean up the rest of the Niger Delta is the mindset that sees the environment as a sacrificial zone and the people as disposable elements.
Governments tend to think mostly of the financial benefits of resource extraction rather than balancing it with the health of the people and the environment. We see this in many parts of the world.It is a colonial mentality. Exploit, extract and profit.’’
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