The Ogoni Clean Up: Facts, Fiction, And Its Current State

By Ikenga Chronicles February 14, 2018

The Ogoni Clean Up: Facts, Fiction, And Its Current State

Introduction:

In August of 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published its report on the extent of environmental and health devastation occasioned by oil exploration in Ogoniland. The UNEP report, as the document came to be known as, was a culmination of series of studies carried out by the agency, on Ogoniland, in Rivers State of Nigeria, in relation to the cries of prominent people from that deprived state, including late Ken Saro-Wiwa, about the extent of devastation wrought on the land by the activities of Shell Petroleum Development Company LTD (SPDC), and others.

The report, factoring in the near death of life in various parts of Ogoniland, as result of oil pollution, recommended that a clean up of the land was necessary.

For the Ogonis, who had watched helplessly as farmlands turned to near deserts, means of livelihood horrifically cut short, and life severally threatened, the submission of the UNEP report signaled a chance for a fresh start, a new beginning that will at least ensure that the future generation have a home to live in and be proud of.

Yet several years after the report was submitted, not much was done by the Nigerian government and Shell, who are expected to carry out the clean up exercise.

With the ascension to power of current President of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, hope was rekindled amongst the Ogonis, especially with the reconstitution of the Governing Board of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) and the flamboyant Ogoni Clean Up Flag Off, in 2015, by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Over two years after the flag off of the clean up exercise by the Nigerian government, Ikenga Chronicles reached out to various Ogonis and HYPREP, to ascertain the extent of work done, and be able to streamline what the facts and fiction are concerning the clean up exercise.

The questions we asked were structured to provide answers to; the necessity of the clean up, what has been done so far, and the implication of the devastation on Ogoni lives and livelihood.

We were able to get information from two journalists of the Ogoni extraction, Green Ndume of IFN Television, who is a well grounded expert on most issues concerning Ogoni, and has followed up the clean up process extensively; Ebenezar Wikina, the versatile MOJO journalist, who anchors “The Stroll”. We were able to also get information from Bura-Bari Nwilo, one of Ogoni’s finest writers, and a strong champion of objective assessment of issues, and Kpegebor Happy Eenyie a female politician from K-Dere.

Unfortunately, several attempts to get the body incharge of overseeing the clean up exercise, HYPREP, to comment proved abortive. However, we were able to gather the views of HYPREP courtesy of the kind provision of Green Ndume, who offered us details of his own interaction with them.

Why Is The Clean Up Necessary?

We wanted to first confirm from the Ogoni people, why the Clean Up is a necessity. According to Ms. Kpegebor Eenyie; “undoubted facts have been released, showing the level of oil spill damage on Ogoniland. This has affected our livelihood and this misfortune demands urgent attention. Imagine a people who breathe in polluted air, drink polluted water and eat unclean foods! Remediation is therefore necessary in order to provide for these unavoidable needs of life.”

For Mr. Wikina, the mere fact that the UNEP report recommended the clean up shows how urgent it was for the Clean Up to take place. Leaning strongly on the unbiased nature of the report, he affirms that;
“It’s [the clean up] necessary because as recommended by the UNEP Report, the oil spills in most parts of Ogoni land, like Bodo and Goi, had rendered the land and water bodies useless.”

The fact that the pollution had grossly affected means of livelihood and the health of the people, was echoed by both Bura-Bari Nwilo, and Green Ndume.

Mr. Nwilo however goes further to warn about the possible implications of not cleaning up the environment, as a people deprived of their means of livelihood may resort to other (perhaps criminal) means of sustenance:

“The idea of the clean up according to the UNEP Report on Ogoni was to curb further deterioration of the environment and clean up affected sites. The clean up is necessary because the poison of crude has gone deeper into the earth to affect the water within that region. While the local trade of fishing and farming has been destroyed, the clean up was meant for the restoration of the environment. If you take away the land from a people, by pollution or whatever means, you’d leave them hungry and a generation may even forget the practices of their people. They may do all there is within them to survive and a survival instinct could be quite dangerous.”

While Mr. Green Ndume agreed to the economic implications of not cleaning up Ogoni, he went a step further to provide a historical background to the struggle to get the area cleaned up after over 50 years of oil exploration without commensurate attention to the environmental and medical wellbeing of the people of Ogoni;

“The Clean Up becomes necessary following over 5 decades of oil exploration in Ogoniland beginning from 1958. Issues leading to the clean up reached its peak in 1990 when Ken Saro-Wiwa and other prominent Ogoni people formed the Movement For the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and began making demands on Shell, asking the oil company to pay a total sum of over $30bn which they said accrued over 30 years of the company’s oil activities in the area. In 1993, MOSOP declared Shell a persona non grata in Ogoni, withdrawing their social licence and chasing the company out of site. In 1995, Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 other Ogoni people were killed after a kangaroo trial in Port Harcourt. The agitation continued, leading the Obasanjo administration to set up the framework for a UNEP Report to assess the level of damage caused. UNEP concluded its finding in 2011. Several efforts to get the Jonathan regime to implement it failed. The Buhari government officially kicked off plans to implement the report in June 2016.”

One must of course agree that considering the extent of devastation wrought on Ogoniland by oil companies (some villages have been abandoned completely), it is only necessary that a full-fledged clean up is carried out so that the people can begin to regain their lost heritage, sources of livelihood, and at least be free from health hazards.

The effect of the devastation on ordinary Ogoni people and the Nigerian economy:

It is important to highlight the effects of the pollution on ordinary Ogoni people—those who daily feel the brunt of the devastation.

Mr. Wikina explains that; “The Ogoni native is primarily rural. We grow our own food via farming and fishing.The spills have destroyed these two forms of livelihood for the people.”

This view was echoed by the others. Ms. Kpegebor Eenyie stated that; “Ogoni people are known for farming and fishing. The land was once very fertile, the seas/rivers were enriched but today they are all in the past because of constant pollution of the land which has put the people on the high side of poverty and suffering and devastated ordinary Ogonis. The rivers have gone bad that the fishermen no longer find livelihood in fishing. They’ve now shifted to farming which is no more lucrative even with the high usage of fertilizers.”

This scary picture of devastation and want continues as Nwilo points out that; “When the livelihood of a people is destroyed, they are at the edge of extinction or would be forced to become desperate. If they are, and become angry, they may carry arms and threaten the peace of the state. Far from armed vengefulness, there is the lack of contributions to society by this group. Every group is meaningful when contribution is made. The effect of this devastation is the threat of a system of survival and potential destruction of a race.”

While Bura-Bari Nwilo’s views point to the pollution as being akin to genocide, Green Ndume takes a look at how this affects even the Nigerian economy. According to him;

“Over 4,000 samples were collected for analysis from more than 200 polluted sites in Ogoniland within a period of four years. The report indicated that pollution of soil by petroleum hydrocarbons in Ogoniland is extensive in land areas, sediments and swampland. The assessment found there is no continuous clay layer across Ogoniland, exposing the groundwater to hydrocarbons spilled on the surface. In 49 cases, UNEP observed hydrocarbons in soil at depths of at least 5 metres, exceeding Nigerian national standards, as set out in the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industries in Nigeria (EGASPIN). Inability to fully implement the report has meant that full oil exploration is yet to resume in Ogoni. Ogoni is known to have one of the largest gas deposits in the world, still largely untapped, especially since oil activities in the area stopped in 1993. This has remained a big blow to the economy.”

No doubt then that the devastation in Ogoni does not only affect the Ogoni people, but also affects Nigeria as a whole especially as it concerns security and the growth of the Nigerian economy.

What is the current state of the Clean up exercise?

As one mourns the devastation in Ogoniland, and the apparent blow on the Nigerian economy that the state of affairs in Ogoni has occasioned, it becomes very imperative to measure the extent to which the clean up of the land has been implemented.

Bura-Bari Nwilo feels that there has been zero implementation; “The state of the clean up is zero, speaking from an artist’s perspective and as a publisher too. The cleanup has been politicized and that is not good for the health and economy of the Ogoni people. The commitment by the federal government and more are schemes meant to keep the people subjugated. I am saying this because of the swift response of the federal government to rebuilding the North East of Nigeria when Ogoni and other parts of the Niger Delta that have contributed greatly to oil can’t boast of anything tangible or even rehabilitation.”

While Mr. Nwilo may feel that nothing is being done, Kpegebor Eenyie believes that some of the steps necessary for a total clean up to be done have been taken already;

“The setting up of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project HYPREP is the first phase of the Clean up. Clean up has not started, so asking the state of the Clean up is a wrong question, instead the question should be; ‘what is the state of the implementation of the report?’ Remediation is the first phase of the report which is on now, to the best of my knowledge. The following activities have been carried out by HYPREP: Community sensitization across the four LGAs; Training of technical Staff; Remediation demonstration sites in Ogale, Korokoro, B/Dere, and Kwawa Communities; lastly, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has just been signed by the Honourable Minister of State for Environment with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).”

This view was echoed by Dr Marvin Dekil, the Project Coordinator of Nigeria’s Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) who told IFN Television that;

“When you say something is holding, it would appear that work is not ongoing but that is different from the situation. Nothing is holding because work has started. The UNEP report is very specific on the stages for the implementation of the report and one of the first steps is that of emergency majors, which has to do with provision of potable water in the communities. One of the first thing that I did coming in as the Project Coordinator was to set up a team in each of the four Local Governments for a quick assessment of the water facilities functional or non-functional across the four LGAs and as we speak, we do have a report from all the communities where there are water facilities. We did this in collaboration or consultation with the providers of these facilities in the communities. These are basically the Rivers State Ministry of Water Resources, Shell Petroleum Development Cooperation, NDDC, Niger Delta Basin Development Authority and we had their active participation and collaboration in producing this database and this report. So as we speak, I can tell you where there is water facility and whether it is non-functional. Unfortunately, more than 90% of the facilities in the communities are all non-functional.

Now for us to deal with emergency majors, means we need to activate these facilities. So the next step was to have a quick assessment of the facilities and have a cost to them so we can go on to provide water in the communities. Couple of weeks back,or about a month now, we commenced the procurement process for that, and we advertised for water consultants and engineers, so they could come in and do that–provide us with estimates and way beyond that too for a quick fix of the water facilities. But it’s important to know that we are not just after getting water to flow from these pumps or these facilities. We are interested in getting the right quality of water–the water that meets WHO water standard. So in addition to getting the water supply flow in these communities, we are also going to be testing the water to make sure that it meets the quality before we can reticulate and distribute to the communities. That is the short term plan for water. But there is a long term plan for water which is the permanent option for water facilities in the communities and this has to do with designing an integrated water system which would also capture existing water facilities in addition to expanding it and reticulating it to capture more areas. For that to happen too we advertised for water engineers and consultants and the procurement process for that has commenced.”

The UNEP report was of course specific that the first step in the Clean Up process is to mark areas with non-potable water, so that the people will not consume such water and get sick. This was done (according to reports) by HYPREP during the era of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The current HYPREP’s decision to provide potable water is the second step.

The rivers have turned oily, leading to the existence of “Oil fishes”

While the HYPREP boss believes they are proceeding according to the stipulations of the UNEP report, one wonders what ordinary Ogoni people think of their speed. Mr. Wikina believes that the general consensus amongst Ogoni people is that the process is “too slow”:

“Last time I went there, there were trainings being done for selected women from Bodo community by HYPREP in a bid to integrate them in the cleanup process. However many lament that the process is not moving as fast as they would like.” Ndume Green echoed the same sentiments; “The cleanup process has been slow.”

Conclusion:

With the urgent need to ensure that normalcy is restored to Ogoniland through the clean up exercise, especially bearing in mind the health, security, and economic implication to Ogonis in particular and Nigeria as a country, one hopes that the process would be sped up. It is also imperative that such a matter of life and death is not politicised.

 

Photo Credits: Daily Post; AIT, DW, and Nigerian Eye

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