Finally, Buhari Kick-Starts Ogoniland Clean-Up

Twenty years after environmental rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others were executed in November 1995, by the military government of late General Sani Abacha, following agitations over the degradation of Ogoni land, succour may just be on the way for the oil bearing communities after all.

President Muhammadu Buhari has begun moves to clean-up the area, by implementing recommendations of the United Nations (UN) for the environmental restoration and rehabilitation of Ogoniland as contained in its report, by naming, on Wednesday, members of the governing council, Board of Trustees and Project Management team of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP). This is in line with.

A statement by Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, said the action was in keeping with the president’s avowed commitment to working for the development and wellbeing of all Nigerians.

Buhari had during a campaign visit to Ogoniland before the general elections, promised to “solve all the problems associated with oil exploration in the Niger Delta, including the remediation and restoration of Ogoni environment.”

He also approved the setting up of a trust fund for the HYPREP, with a further directive that a contribution deposit of $10 million be made by stakeholders within 30 days of the appointment of members of the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund.

$1b UNEP Proposal

The setting up of the Governing Council and the Board of Trustees is in deference to the recommendations of the United Nations Environmental Programme of 2004, which also suggested an initial capital of $1 billion to be managed by a body proposed as Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland. The fund was to be contributed by oil prospectors in the Niger Delta, particularly Shell, which has oil fields in Ogoni and also lined its oil pipes through the community as a transit route for conveying oil taken from other communities.

The approved $10 million could just be to jumpstart the structures and facilitate the process of rehabilitating the community devastated by several years of oil exploration and official neglect by the government.

According to Adesina, the President’s action is, specifically, one of several actions to fast track the long delayed implementation of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) Report on Ogoniland.

He added that “the actions approved by President Buhari, based on recommendations to him by the Executive Director of UNEP, the UNEP Special Representative for Ogoniland, Permanent Secretaries of the Federal Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources, and other stakeholders, include the amendment of the Official Gazette establishing the HYPREP to reflect a new governance framework comprising a Governing Council, a Board of Trustees and Project Management.”

The HYPREP Governing Council would comprise one representative each from the federal ministries of Petroleum Resources and Environment, states classified as “Impacted” by the degradation, specifically Rivers and United Nation Systems. The Ogoniland will nominate two representatives while oil companies prospecting in the affected communities and NNPC will have between them four members nominated to the committee. A Project Manager will head the Secretariat, whose location has not been determined.

Adesina disclosed that the trust fund would be responsible for collecting and managing funds from contributors and donors.

“A new implementation template has also been evolved at the instance of  President Buhari, and the environmental clean-up of Ogoniland will commence in earnest with the President’s inauguration of the HYPREP Governing Council and the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund”, the statement added.

Ogoni Struggles

The Movement for Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) was established in 1990 as a consequence of decades of environmental pollution and widespread degradation of the Ogoniland by multinational companies prospecting for oil from the soil of the neglected communities. It was clearly evident that the activities of the oil companies had destroyed virtually all the natural resources of the communities. The rivers had been covered by oil, farmlands rendered totally infertile even as the health of the people is jeopardised through the odious fumes of gas flaring.

MOSOP then began campaigning for greater control of oil and gas resources on Ogoni land, for economic development, and autonomy over its affairs, (including cultural, religious and environmental matters).  MOSOP’s demands were summarised in a 1990 ‘Ogoni Bill of Rights’, addressed to then military government of President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

By November 1992, MOSOP demanded $6 billion in royalties for past oil production and $4 billion for environmental damage to Ogoni land. The group asked Shell to either respond to its request within 30 days or leave the land.

In 1993, Saro-Wiwa mobilised a huge crowd of an estimated 300,000 Ogoni on a march to demand a share in oil revenues from their community and greater political autonomy for the people of Ogoni and the Niger Delta region who had over the years been relegated within the political equation of Nigeria. The agitation by MOSOP was later to force Shell into shutting down its operations in Ogoniland in 1993, but that did not in any way placate the environmentalist group.

The agitation, at a point, degenerated to violence, which in May 1994 claimed the lives of four prominent Ogoni leaders. Although the leaders were murdered by a mob, the military government accused Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others of complicity in the murders, put them to trial by a military tribunal in 1995, which found them guilty. In November 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were hanged in Port Harcourt, against all entreaties from across the world on him to spare their lives.

The hanging of the Ogoni Nine led to continued social upheaval in the area, as the locals insisted on total expulsion of Shell from Ogoniland.

The return to democracy in 1999, brought a new dawn to addressing the concerns of the Ogoni people.

Mathew Kukah’s Involvement

The government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo opted to establish a mechanism whereby the oil industry operators in the Niger Delta, particularly Shell, could enter a process of reconciliation with the Ogoni community, enabling oil production to recommence and the community benefit from the new revenue sharing legislation.

In 2005, Obasanjo appointed now Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah to mediate between the Ogoni and Shell.

As part of the reconciliation process, it was agreed that an impartial, international agency should be appointed to undertake an environmental assessment and supervise the clean up of the areas damaged by the effects of oil operations in Ogoniland.

Accordingly, in July 2006, UNEP received an official request from the Obasanjo Government to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the environmental and public health impacts o f oil contamination in Ogoni land and Rivers State, together with options for remediation.

In response, the Executive Director of UNEP, deployed a high-level mission to Nigeria in order to gain a fuller understanding of the background to the request and the expectations of the Nigerian government. Extensive discussions was held with various stakeholders, including the President Obasanjo, key government officials and SPDC management.

The UNEP team also conducted field visits to Ogoniland and met with the key Ogoni stakeholders, including series of public meetings which helped to understand the concerns of the people, their perspectives and expectations.

Following these preparatory consultations, UNEP presented a proposal (including work plans and budgets) to the Federal Government in January 2007 for a two-phased project encompassing a comprehensive Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland, to be followed by an environmental clean-up, based on the assessment and subsequent planning and decisions.

The latest move by the President, may just be the beginning of implementing that report.

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