Ogoni: President Approves Clean-Up
President Umaru Yar’Adua, on Thursday [16 April 2009], approved the immediate commencement of the technical study of all the locations affected by oil spillage in Ogoniland as a necessary prelude to the clean-up.
The President gave the approval at a meeting with the Presidential Facilitator of the Ogoni-Shell Initiative, Monsignor Matthew Kukah, who led a delegation of the Presidential Implementation Committee and the United Nations Environment Programme.
Yar’Adua said the possibility of a shorter implementation time frame for the environmental remediation should be considered and directed the Presidential Implementation Committee, Shell, the UNEP and Ogoni to hold consultations to ensure that all parties involved in the exercise and clean-up were carried along.
The President said the Rivers State Government, the Ministry of Niger Delta and the Niger Delta Development Commission should be at the forefront of providing social amenities for the people of Ogoni, adding that the social cushions in the UNEP proposals should be restored.
Kukah had earlier said that the PIC had completed the groundwork necessary for the commencement of the technical assessment, adding that UNEP was ready to implement the 18-month exercise, prior to the environmental remediation.
It is expected that the study will unravel the extent of pollution in the oil rich community, and also identify the steps and measures that should be implemented to clean up the environment.
The project, which is estimated to cost about $10m, is to be financed from the Joint Venture operated between Shell and the Federal Government.
Previously, the commencement of the project had been stalled by the delay in obtaining the presidential approval.
Speaking to journalists after meeting with the President, Kukah explained that Shell would foot the entire bill for the project, since they were responsible for the pollution in the first instance.
“They will foot the entire bill because there is an international law that when you pollute somebody’s environment, then you pay it.
“So it is not a generous act, it is something Shell itself is committed to and has been committed to; so what we have done is to find the political will to carry it through”.
Kukah added that the presidential directive was necessary since Shell was involved in a joint venture with the Federal Government.
“Shell is not working for itself, it is working for the federal government, it is a joint partnership.
“So whether Shell pays or the Federal Government pays, Shell is working on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria so the president has the duty to give them the go ahead and he has done that”.
However, the leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Mr. Ledum Mittee expressed reservations that Shell was taking credit for project, and stressed that Shell was not actually paying for the study, even though the oil company polluted Ogoniland.
Reacting to insinuations that Shell is paying for the project, Mittee said, “That is not technically correct because what Shell is doing is that they are charging it to the Joint Venture in other words the business that they have with the country.
“Basically what happens is that it is the government that is paying because if I and you have a business and you are operating the business on my behalf and you are going to charge it to that business, I think is not completely correct to say you are paying.
“I think that is what government should do, they should not allow Shell to get all the public relations benefit by saying “we are paying” when it is not completely correct.
“I think is better to say NNPC is paying for it than to say Shell is paying. The whole idea of asking for presidential approval for funds is because it is going to be charged to the Joint Venture”.
Mittee further frowned at the level of consultations in ongoing discussions between Shell and Ogoni people.
He said, “Some of the concerns we raised was the issue of consultation and I think the president has also agreed that they need to do more about consultation.
“Shell will speak for themselves but what I want you to know is that the relationship between Shell and Ogoni is strained, obviously strained and that has affected even the question of trust and it requires a lot to build that trust.
“So it is going to be difficult for me to say that we have gotten anything; we do not believe their words and I am sure perhaps they might not also believe us.
“So where we are we have not gotten to the point that we can begin to say that we trust that Shell is going to do that”.
The MOSOP leader also called on the Federal Government to support the Ogonis in their dispute with Shell.
“The Federal Government needs to say that these are Nigerians; Ogonis are Nigerians and you as a company that is coming we need to stand with the people to ensure you do those things that you are supposed to do”.
Mittee also expressed hopes that the oil company would live up to the promises it made to the Ogoni people before the President.
He also observed that the Nigerian National Petroleum Coorporation would replace Shell in Ogoniland.
Commenting on Yar’Adua’s plan to grant amnesty to militants, Mittee said he expects the promise to be part of a process.
“My understanding of what the president said is that government is going to consider the issue of militancy in principle.
“I do not understand amnesty to be something that you throw, I see it as part of a process and that process is what government is going to work out and say, these are the processes that will lead to amnesty, that is my understanding”.