Getting Ogoni Oil Spill Clean Up On Track by Daily Independent

The massive degradation of the environment in Ogoniland, arising from oil exploration activities, gained heightened attention of the Nigerian government and awareness of the international community following agitations by Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP).

The four local government areas of Ogoniland in Rivers State have borne the brunt of oil pollution in the region. For instance, reports indicate that in the 15-year period, 1976 to 1991, there were 2,976 oil spills of 2.1 million barrels in Ogoniland, accounting for about 40 percent of total oil spills of Royal Dutch/Shell Company worldwide.

The sustained MOSOP agitations, even after the death of its leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1993, had compelled the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to seek the assistance of the United Nations Environment Programme ( UNEP ) to conduct an environmental assessment of the devastation in Ogoniland.

The report of UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland was released in August 2011 detailing a multi-stakeholder approach for comprehensive restoration of Ogoniland. The principal stakeholders identified in the report are the federal government, the oil company operators and the host communities. However, the federal government was assigned the greater responsibility of leading the drive at environmental rehabilitation and restoration in four specific areas : creation of Ogoniland Restoration  Authority, creation of Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, Coordination of multi-stakeholder efforts and Institutional and Regulatory Reforms. Operators are to remediate identified sites, review remediation techniques for optimal outcomes and repair, maintain and decommission non -producing facilities. The UNEP report assigned to the communities the responsibility of ensuring speedy access for oil spill response teams and taking proactive stance against oil theft and illegal refining. Given the extensive nature of the damage to the environment in Ogoniland, the report indicated it could take between 25 and 30 years to effect total restoration at an estimated cost of $1 billion, to be largely financed by Shell company.

The federal government’s decision to commission the UNEP assessment is commendable. So far, government has taken tentative steps in the implementation of its recommendations with the creation of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees for the Ogoni Restoration Fund (ORF) to oversee and fund the clean up. Government has also established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) and appointed Dr. Marvin Dekil to head the agency. It has secured a grant of $10 million from Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), the lead operator in Ogoniland up till 1994 when agitations forced its exit, to start preliminary remediation efforts immediately.

However, in spite of these efforts, criticisms have trailed what many stakeholders, especially Ogoni community members and environmental activists, consider the drag by the federal government in the implementation process. At various fora, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and Amina Mohammed, as Minister of Environment, have sought to reassure the public of the federal government’s resolve in implementing the UNEP recommendations. The government’s argument has been that it  required time to painstakingly  establish a sound foundation for a sustainable clean up exercise. “We ask for patience as we lay solid foundations for the clean up. The context is complex and stakeholders are diverse. All must be taken along”, Mohammed had explained. The UNEP representative in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, on a visit to Ogoniland had similarly called for patience : “This is a very technical investment, it is not a rural type of investment where you are going to see houses built within a short period of time”.

The plea for patience cannot assuage the anger at the slow pace of implementation, six years after the 2011 presentation of the UNEP report and recommendations. Rather, the federal government needs to be more actively proactive in its coordinating role by getting all stakeholders committed to fulfilling their obligations in the implementation process.

The challenge for the federal government, therefore, is adopting a holistic approach in tackling the Niger Delta crisis. An enduring restoration of quality environment to Ogoniland cannot be achieved in the absence of overall peace and development in the Niger Delta.

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