Ogoni: MOSOP President Calls for Speedy, Sustainable and All-Encompassing Implementation of UNEP Report
Photo Courtesy of: UN Geneva 2013 @Flickr
On the occasion of a stakeholder meeting on UNEP’s Report on 4 March 2016, MOSOP leader Legborsi Saro Pyagbara reiterated the need for a speedy implementation of the mechanisms proposed by UNEP to address the “environmental nightmare” caused by decades of exploitative oil drilling in Ogoniland. While he commends the Buhari administration for showing more sincere interest in the implementation of the report than previous governments, Pyagbara highlights the need for a multipronged approach which encompasses not just environmental restoration, but also a sustainable development plan to reduce poverty among and social exclusion of Ogoni people.
Below is a press release published by MOSOP:
Honourable Minister of Environment
Mrs. Amina J. Mohammed
Honourable Minister of State for Environment
Mr. Usman J. Ibrahim
His Royal Majesties and Highnesses
Respected Chiefs and Elders
Ladies and Gentlemen
All other protocols observed
On behalf of the Ogoni people, its spirits and fallen heroes, I welcome you to Ogoniland. It is indeed a refreshing development that we are gathered here today for yet another episode of finding solutions to the implementation of the UNEP Report, which had remained one of the greatest concerns of every Ogoni person including all lovers of a safe and healthy environment for several years now.
At the outset, I must convey the deepest appreciation of the Ogoni People to President Mohammadu Buhari for his renewed interest and commitment to addressing the environmental nightmare in Ogoniland. As we have progressed in the journey towards sustaining a better environment for the present and future generations of people globally, I must say with all sense of responsibility that we commend efforts such as this that aims at refocusing attention on, what to some of us is, perhaps, one of the most serious threats to Nigeria’s stability, environmental terrorism and environmental insecurity.
It is our hope that this meeting today will consolidate the gains of previous engagements particularly in making the voices of the community central in the march towards building a sustainable future for the Ogoni people and bring a closure to these series of consultative meetings that had been held both here in Nigeria and internationally. Our people are indeed getting wearied and want a definite action for the take-off of the implementation of UNEP report which had provided the needed roadmap for the restoration and the envisaged stoppage of Ogoni environment from further degradation as stated in the Ogoni Bill of Rights.
The issue of the UNEP report and its implementation can be prefigured in the events of August 26, 1990 when the Ogoni people launched the Ogoni struggle with the public presentation of the Ogoni Bill of Rights which, amongst others, called on the government of Nigeria to honour the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation.
As a response to the continuing destruction of the Ogoni environment, military repression and human rights abuses in Ogoniland that attended the prosecution of the non-violent struggle of the Ogoni people, the United Nations responded by creating the position of the Special Rapporteur on Nigeria in 1997 and appointed the then Indian Attorney, Mr. Soli Sorabjee to the position. In his report to the 48th session of the then United Nations Commission on Human Rights in March 1998, the Special Rapporteur recommended that the Nigeria government undertake an independent environmental study of Ogoniland.
This was the setting that led to the invitation extended to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in October 2006 within the context of the Ogoni-Shell Reconciliation Process to carry out the environmental assessment of Ogoniland. UNEP released its report on 4th August 2011, which had been acknowledged as a death sentence passed on every Ogoniman. The conclusion of the report of UNEP and its recommendations are already public knowledge but one area merits our deepest concern.
The report showed hydrocarbon pollution in surface waters throughout the creeks of Ogoniland that feed drinking wells. Soils were found to have been polluted with hydrocarbons up to a depth of five metres in 49 observed sites, while benzene, a known carcinogen was found in drinking water at a level nine hundred (900) times above World Health Organisation(WHO) acceptable standards. To quote the summary of the report, “Some areas, which appear unaffected at the surface, are in reality severely contaminated underground and action to protect human health and reduce the risks to affected communities should occur without delay. In at least ten (10) Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened”.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we are here today because almost five years after the presentation of the UNEP report, the implementation of the report had been unduly delayed while Ogoni people continue to reel in pain, continue to drink polluted water, continue in bad health and continue to die as a result of the non-implementation of the report.
My fellow brothers and sisters, it is within this context that we welcome the current initiative to consult with our people to chart a way forward for the implementation of the UNEP Report on Ogoniland.
We want to seize this opportunity to inform our President, Muhammadu Buhari, that the people of Ogoni appreciate his goodwill for them and we implore him to declare a state of emergency on the Ogoni environment. With all sense of respect and responsibility, the Ogoni people earnestly appeal to Mr. President to speedily inaugurate the governance mechanism necessary for the take-off of the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoni. The continuing delay of the implementation is causing needless tension in Ogoni.
In a related development, the UNEP in its recommendations had requested the Nigeria government to declare the intent to make Ogoni wetlands a Ramsar Site. As we know, wetlands are referred to as the lungs of the earth. The inclusion of a wetland in the list of wetlands of international significance symbolizes the government’s commitment to take the steps necessary to ensure that its ecological character is maintained. Wetlands so recognized acquire a new national and international status: they are recognized as being of important value not only for the country or the countries in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole. As a sequel to the above, we strongly recommend that the government take practical steps to include Ogoni wetlands amongst this list as recommended by UNEP. Amongst other risks which the Ogoni people faced as a result of the destruction of their environment, water insecurity constitute one of the greatest risks and most dangerous one too. An immediate plan for the provision of a durable and sustainable water supply system needs to be arranged as soon as possible.
Dear Hon. Minister, we are here today because the Ogoni environment is bleeding. There cannot be sustainable development in Ogoni without a sustainable Ogoni environment and vice versa. It is our desire that the opportunity to bring to an end this bleeding should become an opportune moment for the Federal government and its agencies to be mobilised to join in addressing the development challenges in Ogoni. Beyond the issue of oil exploitation, poverty remains a key driver of environmental degradation. Any clean-up and remediation of Ogoniland that is not backed up by a clear and practical development framework or plan to address other socio-economic issues is not likely to succeed in the long term.
Madam Minister, our attention has also been drawn in recent times to the clamour by some people from some communities insisting that their lands must be cleaned at the same time with the Ogoni people. Whilst we agree that the entire Niger Delta had suffered gross environmental degradation, we want to also reiterate the point that the current efforts to clean-up and restore the Ogoni environment was essentially engendered by the struggles of the Ogoni people. To that extent, the Ogoni intervention must remain of prime importance and must be the first to be addressed. Whatever fund that is meant to deal with the Ogoni environment must essentially be deployed exclusively for the Ogoni environmental recovery process.
The Ogoniland environmental rejuvenation programme involves the three composite processes of oil spill prevention, oil spills clean up and environmental restoration. There would be need for a thorough Oil spill Prevention Initiative which will bring the Ogoni oil infrastructure in tandem with best available technology in the field. This would be followed by large-scale Oil-spill clean-up and large-scale oil spill restoration programme. These three processes are all related but should be seen as three separate efforts. All these will need to be clearly spelt out in the Intervention Framework or Plan that is designed.
The foregoing recommendations are a limited part of the overall steps needed to address the environmental situation in Ogoniland. However, we believe that if this initiative is able to focus on pursuing them vigorously they will have a significant impact in Ogoni and the broader consideration of environmental recovery in Nigeria.
In conclusion, Nigeria will be judged not only by its efforts to promote national integration, but also how it actually protects the weak, the vulnerable and those whose lives have been imperilled by oil exploration by multinationals. Societies the world over have met this challenge through deliberate and clear actions and the Federal Government should urgently look in this direction. For, if the Nigeria government fails to protect the Ogoni people, it certainly cannot protect itself. History is replete with the ruins of societies that were built on the sort of injustices that had pervaded Ogoniland in the last six decades and even five years since the release of the UNEP Report.
Let us therefore advance towards the implementation of the UNEP report with great hopes and expectations, believing that our people and our land have made the desired sacrifices necessary for the rejuvenation of their environment
Once again, I welcome you and your entourage very warmly to Ogoniland – your own home and I wish all of us very fruitful deliberations. May all our dreams for a clean Ogoni environment come true! Thank you for your kind attention.
God bless Ogoniland, God Bless Nigeria!