It has been over six years since the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released its grim report on Ogoni, in Rivers State, Nigeria. It has been 14 months since President Buhari, represented by Vice President Osinbajo, “launched” the “cleanup of ogoniland”. Apart from the concrete slab at Bodo where the president, in full glare of the media, both international and national, ceremoniously cut the ribbon signifying the commencement of the cleanup, nothing has been done.
In 2015, a year before the now infamous launch of the Ogoni cleanup, the federal government was in the process of getting a $2.1 billion loan from the World Bank, for rebuilding the Boko Haram ravaged North-East and I wrote about it. My point was quite simple: the cleanup of a severely devastated Ogoni environment was as important as, if not more important than, the rebuilding of the North-East. My argument was based on a fact that the sought loan would most definitely be serviced by the Niger Delta (with funds from oil). While all that was needed for the first five years of the cleanup (according to the UNEP report on Ogoni, it will take between 25 to 30 years to clean up Ogoni) was $1 billion, but it did not seem to be of great emergency for the Nigerian government at that time, and not even now.
In the news yesterday, “The United Kingdom (UK) Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson and International Development Secretary, Priti Patel, have announced the donation of 200 million pounds to indigenes of the North-East region of Nigeria.” This is every shade of a wonderful development for the people of the North-East, seeing that they have had their livelihoods and peace taken away by the dreaded terrorist organisation, Boko Haram. It is a devastation that has left millions displaced and in various IDP camps scattered across the country. It is a devastation that has unfortunately led to the death of thousands of men, women and children, by starvation and warfare. It is a devastation that has also led to personal enrichment by people saddled with the responsibility—both moral and constitutional—of protecting the very fragile people of the North-East, as can be seen by the very criminal actions of Babachir Lawal, who has been accused of siphoning monies meant for the IDPs, and the numerous others who have diverted food and medical aid to various shops where they are being sold off for profit, while the people they are meant for die very painful and dehumanising deaths. Hopefully, the donated money will get to the people it is meant for, but I doubt if that would happen.
Despite the emergency situation of the Ogoni people and the Niger Delta people in general, the response from the government has been between negative and zero. This has been very different from the response given to what can also be called a self-inflicted destruction of the North-East.
Take a close look at the Niger Delta environment at large and the Ogoni environment in particular, with an even worse toll on the human population, and you will notice a concerted effort to downgrade and downplay how dire the situation is for the over 30 million people inhabiting the Delta. The case of the Delta is one that has spanned decades, since oil was first struck in Oloibiri. It is one that was in no way self-inflicted by the people of the Delta, but was inflicted on them by the very callous federal government, in active connivance with international oil firms (most notably Royal Dutch Shell) and the very pliant Delta leaders. It is on record that the federal government and its international oil firm partners have never at any point in their oil exploration in the Delta, undertaken an extensive study of the implications of their venture, or remediate the environmental degrading effects of their joint ventures. It is on record. This is despite the hundreds of billions of dollars that have accrued from such ventures and which have permeated the entire country from Sokoto to Bayelsa. It is a well-documented fact—even before the UNEP report—that all oil host communities in Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta have their entire ecosystem destroyed such that subsistence survival techniques like fishing and farming—even industrial scale farming and fishing—have become vastly useless, as the land has been pumped with just too much hydrocarbon to be fertile, while the rivers have chemicals enough to be unfishable. It is also on record that the death rate in the oil host communities are way higher than anywhere else in the country not ravaged by war, even as the air now has enough impurities to cause acid rains. This is different from the numerous health complications being recorded in the Delta, most noticeably amongst children.
Despite the emergency situation of the Ogoni people and the Niger Delta people in general, the response from the government has been between negative and zero. This has been very different from the response given to what can also be called a self-inflicted destruction of the North-East. A case in point is the UNEP report on Ogoniland, which though in its sixth year, has failed to be implemented. Activities have only shuffled between “stakeholders’ meetings”, “courtesy visits”, “gazettes”, propaganda driven photographs and career lifts by its major actors. It will be very wrong to skip the usual visits when there is a rerun election, but as at today with no rerun election ahead, it is tone deaf silence. It has been tone deaf silence from the federal government, the various Niger Delta state governments, the various civil society organisations in the Niger Delta, and the so-called Niger Delta leaders. What this has led to is an increase in violence in Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta, which ironically has been given as an excuse for governments inaction, which began even before I was born. As the various actors take up their respective positions as “not interested”, “selfish” and “totally useless”, the wretched people of Oloibiri, K-Dere, Eket and many others in the Delta send their warmest regards to the federal government, and so do the people of Nsisioken Ogale in Eleme who still drink water containing carcinogenic benzene over 900 time above the WHO level.
The Niger Delta, Nigeria’s very own heavily populated Chernobyl, felicitates with the people of the North-East, Nigeria’s very own Baghdad. Maybe succour will come to the Delta too since it is One Nigeria, or maybe it is a every-man-for-himself Nigeria. Whichever way, we are diligently taking notes.