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Ogoniland: On The Threshold Of Environment Clean-Up?
This week, Environment takes a look at the nightmarish pollutions in oil-rich Ogoniland in view of Federal Government’s commencement of the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report.
That the Niger Delta region ranks among the most polluted regions in the world is an incontrovertible statement. There is no year that passes by without a major pollution of one sort or the other.
Ceaseless are the complaints that are regularly poured on the doorsteps of government and oil firms exploring crude oil in the region over several magnitude of pollution. Reports of desolation and destruction of farmlands, aquatic and terrestrial lives and the entire ecosystem are rife amid squalor among the ingenous people.
It is believed that besides ecosystem ruination in the area, the health of the people may just be on the line as a result of fear from some quaters that every Ogoni person, resident in the annihilated area, is a potential cancer patient. Clean and safe water has become alien to a people hitherto blessed with good and potable water.
A report submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan, on August 4 by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) on the extent of oil pollution in the region, corroborates the claim.
The report, initiated by the Federal Government, revealed that it would take Nigeria more than 20 years to clean up pollution in the region.
The scientific assessment, among others, revealed that oil firms had contaminated no fewer than 1,000 sq km of Ogoniland.
In carrying out the studies, which lasted 14 months, UNEP examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 km of pipeline rights of way, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and engaged more than 23,000 people at local community meetings.
In all, more than 4,000 samples were analysed, including water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells, drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes.
“The Ogoni community is exposed to hydrocarbons every day through multiple routes, while the impact of individual contaminated land sites tends to be localised, air pollution related to oil industry operations is all pervasive, affecting the quality of life of close to one million people,’’ the report stated.
The report also stated that maintenance of oil field infrastructure in Ogoniland was inadequate, while Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) failed to comply with its own procedures, thus creating public health and safety issues.
“The oil industry has been a key sector of the Nigerian economy for more than 50 years, but many Nigerians have paid a high price, as this assessment underlines.
“The environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken, if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be sanitised.
It recommended immediate restoration of the polluted Ogoni environment by Shell, with the hope that the clean-up exercise would remedy the multiple health and sustainable development issues facing the people.
Residents of the polluted communities have been expressing concern, especially as it took the Federal Government and other relevant bodies to commence the implementation of the report, despite the plights the people are going through.
It is recalled that Ogoni community in Rivers State recently staged a peaceful protest against the non-implementation of the report.
The protesters took over the gate of the corporate headquarters of Shell Petroleum Development Company in Port Harcourt, and obstructed vehicular movement.
“Shell, clean up Niger Delta,” “Implement UNEP report,” “Ogoni say no to Shell,” were some of the inscriptions on their placards.
“We will continue to protest until we do something stupid. We are trying to be very peaceful for now, but I assure you, we are going to do something very stupid very soon,” Celestine Akpobari, the National Coordinator of Ogoni Solidarity Forum, said.
As if to make good their threat, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), led by its factional leader, Dr Goodluck Diigbo announced on August 2 that owing to the non-implimentation of the UNEP report, the Ogoni people were seceding from Nigeria.
But Senator Magnus Abe, who represents the Ogoni nation at the National Assembly, noted that the ‘UNEP’s recommendation on Ogoni environment should be implemented without further delay. This is the appeal of the people to the Federal Government,” says Sen. Abe.
Rt Rev. Solomon Gberegbara, Bishop of Ogoni Diocese, Anglican Communion, recalled that streams and rivers which hitherto sustained the economic well-being of the inhabitants through fishing, had been polluted.
Environmentalists are also concerned that gas flaring is still going on in the Niger Delta and want a specific time frame for its end.
Mr Nnimmo Bassey, Chairman Friends of Earth Nigeria, an NGO, has decried the high rate of gas flaring from the oil and gas fields in the country.
He wondered how the operators, who have since outlawed and ended gas flaring in their home countries for more than 20 years ago, could justify the practice in Nigeria.
A recent report released by the NNPC on the state of gas flaring in the Niger Delta region, as at January 2012, showed that Mobil Petroleum flared 9.85 billion standard cubic feet (bscf) of gas in the month under review.
The report said the oil firm produced 38.64 bscf and utilised 28.77 bscf of its associated gas for fuelling its operation, re-injection and sale to industrial users.
Bassey said the Federal Government should take drastic measures to compel the oil majors to operate at par with international best practices in the oil and gas sector to safeguard the environment.
“Gas flaring has been illegal since 1984 and a High Court declared that it is unconstitutional and against the human rights of the people of Nigeria.
“It does not require months of preparation. Where there is no infrastructure to convert the wasted gas into power or other usable forms, production of crude to which the gas is associated can simply be shut down.
“That would guarantee the stoppage of flaring at such locations,” the environmentalist said.
However, the Minister of Environment, Hajiya Hadiza Mailafiya, said the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) would study the report on behalf of the Federal Government.
“With the release of the report on oil pollution in Ogoniland, it is the responsibility of NOSDRA to handle such reasonability.
“The case of Ogoni is an international case; we have to look at the report, it was just submitted to Mr. President, until we look at the report, it will be preemptive to say more,” she stated.
Shell Petroleum Company, which is at the centre of the oil pollution in Ogoniland, claimed it spent $3 billion in the past 12 years on associated gas gathering infrastructure, aimed at reducing gas flaring in the Niger Delta.
Mr Andy Brown, Shell’s Director of Upstream International, corroborated the claims, noting that the company reduced gas flaring by 60 per cent, from 0.6 billion cubic feet a day to about 0.2 billion cubic feet per day.
‘’The SPDC venture has continued to be at the forefront of gas development and utilisation since the 60s.
“The venture has the presence and experience to collaborate with other parties to help achieve this important national aspirations,’’ he said.
Meanwhile during a visit to President Goodluck Jonathan led by a paramount ruler and chairman of Rivers State Traditional Rulers, Godwin N. K. Gininwa and Senator Abe last Monday, the people of Ogoniland denied any sucession plot but demanded that the presidents address the various environmental challenges facing the people by way of implementing the UNEP report to the letter.
Frowning at the broadbased implementation strategy embarked upon by the Federal Government to tackle other areas experiencing hydro-carbon pollution as against UNEP’s recommendation to inaugurate Ogoni Environment Restoration Agency for Oginiland alone, the delegation, through Senator Ane who read their demands, requested and insisted that the 1 billion dollar, which UNEP recommended as start-up fund for clean up be spent on Ogoni alone.
“The $1 billion recommended by UNEP as start-up point for the Ogoni people will be given priority in business and job opportunities connected to the clean-up in Ogoniland as a means of ameliorating poverty and joblessness in the area,” the statement read.
Senator Abe further said “we hope that this broad jurisdiction will not undermine the implementation of the UNEP report. Ogoni will appreciate receiving assurance from the Federal Government that the UNEP recommendation on Ogoni will be fully implemented regardless of intervention in other areas.
He insisted, among others that while the clean-up exercise should be done based on local content policy, Senator Abe stated that “the report will be implemented under the supervision of an internationally recognised agency that will exercise oversight and quality assurance responsibility,” adding that there will be intensive health programme in Ogoni including cancer screening and treatment to be undertaken by competent international agencies such as the World health Organisation (WHO),” he affirmed.
President Jonathan, while responding, assured the delegation of his government’s determination to work with the people and as well implement the report without any dilution.
As advised by UNEP in their report, environmentalists and energy analysts said, all the necessary machinery should be put in place to implement the UNEP report.
This is the surest way to guarantee sustainable social, economic and political peace in the polluted communities, they say.
Additional report by Sani Adamu of News Agency of Nigeria.
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