Sep 13, 2012

Ogoni: A Call For Environmental Justice

Following the UNEP report, that highlighted the irreversible environmental damage in the Niger Delta, the Ogoni people continue to call for more commitment from the federal government in addressing the environmental issues they are facing.

Below is an article published by BusinessDay Nigeria:

Even though Ogoni people have always supported the call for the devolution of power to local entities to reflect true federalism upon which the Nigerian nationhood is anchored, they have remained, and still remain, committed to the unity of the Nigerian state. This is contrary to recent media reports on Ogoni. All the people are asking for, in my opinion, is the economic and social integration of the Ogoni people through special development initiatives. It will be recalled that in its report, the United Nations Secretary General’s fact-finding mission to Nigeria made this recommendation in respect of Ogoni in the late 1990s.

Luckily, through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, there is now a huge awareness of the extent of environmental devastation of Ogoni. Not only have the terrestrial and aquatic life and soil suffered inestimable damage, the health of the people has been tragically affected by hydrocarbon pollution. The contamination of surface and ground water by carcinogenous benzene at levels more than 900 times above WHO-prescribed safety limit means that every Ogoni person is a potential cancer patient. This is a potential public health disaster of monumental proportion, which, according to UNEP, “warrants an emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts”.

Tragic and catastrophic as the situation is, the Ogoni people are concerned by the protracted and near absence of a strategic response by the Federal Government to the findings of the report. What is more, they, as the primary beneficiaries of the proposed clean-up, appear not to have been consulted before government’s decision to set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Programme.

Some observations can be made here in respect of the UNEP report: (i) Ogoni people have been concerned that it took as long as one year for the Federal Government to respond to the report, cognisant of the urgency of that report; (ii) contrary to UNEP recommendation to set up an Ogoni Environment Restoration Agency that is specific to Ogoni, the Federal Government has decided to establish a programme with wider scope to cover other areas experiencing hydrocarbon pollution; (iii) these concerns notwithstanding, the Ogoni people acknowledge HYPREP, realising that other parts of the Niger Delta also suffer oil-related pollution like Ogoni.

However, in making this acceptance, the people want the Federal Government to assure them that: the UNEP recommendations on Ogoni will be fully implemented regardless of HYPREP’s intervention in other areas; the $1 billion recommended by UNEP as start-up fund for Ogoni clean-up will be spent on Ogoni alone; the Ogoni people will be given first priority in the business and job opportunities connected with the clean-up in the Ogoni as a means of ameliorating the dire poverty and joblessness in the area; the report will be implemented under the supervision of an internationally recognised agency that will exercise oversight and quality assurance responsibility; (e) there will be an intensive public health programme in Ogoni, including cancer screening and treatment, to be undertaken by competent international agencies such as WHO; and the Ogoni people will be regularly consulted on the activities of HYPREP, especially the clean-up in the Ogoni area.

Considering the irreversible devastation done to the environment, health and livelihood of the people of Ogoni by the petroleum industry, as scientifically demonstrated in the UNEP report, the Ogoni people equally ask for immediate compensation from the Federal Government and Shell, now that the evidence of devastation is still conspicuous.

Equally, state creation has been a major tool for enhancing a sense of belonging and promoting development by groups that feel marginalised. It is an important means of strengthening federalism. Economic viability should also be an important criterion. The Ogoni people are of the strong view that these conditions apply to them and that the creation of Bori State is a necessity which the executive arm and the National Assembly should give effect to. Such a state, which will include other ethnic communities in the South-East Senatorial District of Rivers State, will also complement the national economy as the oil and gas resources of the area will enhance the national budget.

As future leaders, the youth represent an important segment of any society. Any nation that ignores the development of the potentials of its youth is doomed to have a deficient leadership. Ogoni youths are bedevilled by monumental challenges of joblessness and hopelessness. But unlike youths elsewhere in our country, they have largely refrained from the rampant violence that created huge security problem and nearly paralysed economic activities in the Niger Delta, resulting in the Amnesty Programme. Sadly, Ogoni youths have not benefitted from the opportunities connected to the Amnesty Programme, probably because of their non-violent approach. Therefore, there is need for the rehabilitation of impoverished Ogoni youths through skills development training in Nigeria and abroad and the opening up of job opportunities to them, as well as scholarship for both vocational and academic training in foreign institutions. This is surely an answer to the problems created by joblessness and hopelessness. It will also address the issue of illegal bunkering and artisanal refining.

The problem of youth-driven illegal and artisanal refining not only makes the government to lose huge revenues, but also complicates the environmental crisis. But this cannot be effectively combated through a law and order approach without addressing its root causes. Poverty and general lack of opportunities are major causes. Bunkering by youths represents an aspect of Niger Delta conflict, and Ogoni youths who are involved in it by force of circumstances should be made to benefit from a special rehabilitation and reintegration programme to be set up by the Federal Government, similar to the current social programme connected to the Amnesty initiative for Niger Delta militants.

Furthermore, pipeline surveillance represents another opportunity for productive engagement of Ogoni youths. Ogoni people should be made to protect the pipeline and other oil installations located in the Ogoni territory, instead of being contracted out to other Nigerians who make huge profits at the expense of the Ogoni people as recently demonstrated in the media. It may be difficult for the people to support outsiders who are given pipeline surveillance contracts in Ogoni.

Finally, the provision of emergency water supply for the most impacted communities was one of the emergency measures recommended by UNEP. Only one community at the moment is irregularly supplied with water by tankers. But the whole of Ogoni, especially the direct oil-producing communities, need safe potable water.