Environmental Justice: A Reflection On Ogoni

The exploration of oil in Niger Delta and the resultant environmental degradation has led to a huge clamour for environmental justice in Ogoni. And, as a result of this, the Ogoni people had severally sought compensation for environmental damage resulting from extractive activities.

Shell an oil company which has extracted the estimated US $30 billion of oil from Ogoni since 1958 has colluded with the Nigerian government and frustrated major demands and protest for Ogoni environmental justice.

For instance, environmental activists have been arrested, detained and sentenced; the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) is a clear indication of state colluding with oil companies to suppress agitation for environmental justice.

In a 15-year period from 1976 to 1991, there were reportedly 2,976 oil spills of about 2.1 million barrels of oil in Ogoniland, accounting for about 40% of the total oil spills of the Royal Dutch/Shell globally.

In 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment report found that in the last 50 years, oil exploration has destroyed Ogoni land and estimated that it could take up to 30 years to be rehabilitated.

By August 1990, the “Ogoni Bill of Rights” was signed, and in the Bill, Ogoni people demanded the control and use of their resources and protection of the environment and ecology from further degradation.

Their quest for relative autonomy led to increased social violence and insecurity in the entire Niger Delta region. Three years later, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) sent a letter to oil companies operating in Ogoni and made a demand of $6 billion rents and royalties, and $4 billion environmental damages.

In the letter, Shell was given 30 days to accept their demand or quit. Having refused to accept their demand, by 4th January 1993, 300,000 man protest was staged against Shell.

Given the enormous efforts of the Ogoni people in their campaign for environmental justice, it is important we begin to examine efforts by the Federal Government of Nigeria to protect them, however, the outcome of the approach becomes a clear indication of how the state response to the issue of environmental justice.

State responses have shown clearly, state failure to addressing environmental hazard in Ogoni, and that dampens community expectations and has given rise to the number of militia groups who are now demanding for environmental justice and compensation.

The return of democracy in 1999 has led to increased demands by the locals for their rights; however, the government has adopted strategists to addressing the environmental injustice.

For instance, the Federal Government of Nigeria in August 2012 put in place the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) committee.  The committee had a term of reference to consider sustainable interventions that will lead to the clean-up of the Ogoni as recommended by the UNEP report. Unfortunately, this did not yield the desired result.

In a similar effort, the Federal Government led by Muhammadu Buhari, on June 2nd, 2016 launched the clean-up of Ogoniland. At the launch, the government said, it has made a solemn commitment to implement the UNEP report on Ogoniland and is determined to put right the wrongs of the past, where Ogoni people were treated unfairly and their environment unduly degraded and polluted.

One year after, besides setting up the governing structure for the cleanup exercise, the government is yet to commence work, while residents are becoming agitated over government’s inability to commence the clean-up exercise estimated to gulp over $1billion. This further brings to question, government sincerity in implementing the UNEP Report.

Having launched the clean-up exercise by the government, the United Nations and the National Oil Spill Detection Remediation Agency, NOSDRA, in June 2017 visited Ogoni to ascertain the level of work done in the cleanup process. Unfortunately, no physical progress has been made.

It is important that government declares a state of emergency on the Ogoni cleanup in order to change the narrative of the old order. And to do this, the government needs to be more pragmatic in its approach which will prove to the inhabitants, Nigerians and the international community that government is sincere in its pronouncement.

Publish What You Pay-Nigeria looks up to what the outcome of the recently launched clean-up exercise will be, we understand, the exercise needs time for proper work to be done, however, we admonish the government to hasten the exercise and in doing that, it must engage the locals to ensure that results are delivered in a short term.

Audu Liberty Oseni, Publish What You Pay-Nigeria

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