As Ogoni cleanup begins

Hope may have rekindled for the Ogoni communities of Kpean, B-dere, K-dere, Bomu, Bodo, Ebubu, Ogale Eleme, Bera, Korokoro, Ueken and Mogho whose environmentshave been polluted as a result of oil split.

Minister of Environment Suleiman Hassan Zarma, last week, visited Port Harcourt to flag off the handover of sites for the commencement of the Ogoni cleanup exercise.

Zarma, who paid a courtesy visit to Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, assured the governor that the ministry was working with the Hydrocarbon Pollution and Remediation Project (HYPREP) to ensure that the cleanup of Ogoniland is carried out.

He said: “We are here to set the tone to enable the foundation laying of a robust intergovernmental collaboration which you have been doing especially in the environmental sector.”

Governor Wike and many members of the elite of Ogoni extraction had expressed displeasure over the slow pace of the environmental remediation in Ogoni communities by the Federal Government.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released its environmental assessment of Ogoniland in August 2011. The report, which was commissioned by the Federal Government,made recommendations to the government, the oil and gas industries and community to begin a comprehensive cleanup of Ogoni land, restore polluted environments and put an end to all forms of ongoing contamination in the region.

The environmental restoration of Ogoni land would reassure coordinated efforts on the part of government agencies at all levels, industry operators and communities, the UNEP report had said.

President Muhammadu Buhari, represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in 2016 flagged off the clean-up exercise. That was followed with the groundbreaking ceremony for the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre in 2017 which was performed in Bori.

In the same year, the project for the demonstration of cleanup technology was also launched at a site in Kwawa with demonstration projects starting at all other sites identified in the four local government areas in Ogoni land.

But the fanfare that heralded the flag off exercise whittled down, leading to doubt by the rural dwellers over the sincerity of the government to clean up the affected areas as promised.

During the minister’s visit, Wike decried what he described as the deliberate neglect of the Niger Delta, even though the region is suffering untold environmental hardship for keeping the country afloat.

Wike noted that the environmental degradation caused by oil exploration was worse than insurgency.

“While we support the fight against insurgency, nothing is worse than environmental pollution. We suffer because we are allowing Nigeria to survive. We are suffering for Nigeria to survive.  It is through our oil that Nigeria is surviving,” Governor Wike said.

He urged the Federal Government to withdraw funds from the Excess Crude Account to address the environmental challenges in Ogoniland. The governor said it should be done in the same manner that funds were withdrawn to tackle insurgency.

The governor regretted that the Ogoni cleanupexercise has been politicized, pointing out that the Ministry of Environment was handing over sites to contractors three years after Vice President Osinbajo flagged off the exercise. He said the two activities took place as elections approached.

The Ogoni Elders’ Forum has also criticized the government over the slow pace of work, three years after the vice presidentf lagged off the process.

The forum, under the aegis of Gbo Kabaari Ogoni, expressed displeasure that the Federal Government has not implemented any of the emergency recommendations of the UNEP Report before commencing the cleanup exercise.

The chairman of the forum, Senator Bennett Birabi, alleged “desperate attempt by Federal Government agencies to cause unrest in Ogoniland”.

Birabi, who read a statement issued and signed by him and secretary of the forum, AlubaBari Desmond, during a press briefing in Port Harcourt,claimed that the UNEP emergency measures were roundly disregarded by the government.

He said: “More than two years after the flag-off and the laudable assurances given, we are concerned that the manner and processes for the implementation of the recommendations of the UNEP report run completely counter to the assurances given by the Federal Government and more importantly, the very recommendations of the report.”

In the recommendation, reportsaid the overall environmental situation in Ogoniland needs urgent and focused attention, before cleaning up the existing pollution and restoring the environment.

The forum said: “We consider it very sad that, as we speak, not only has nothing absolutely been done about any of these emergency measures, but, also, the national and international visibility of the Ogoni issue has been fraudulently exploited to score cheap public relations benefits at every opportunity.

“In 2017, the then Environment Minister, Amina Mohammed, “at an impressive public event that was widely reported in the press did a so-called ground breaking ceremony of the Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre at the School-To-Land farm in Bori, a site that is now overgrown with bush,” the forum also said.

Journalists invited by HYPREP to cover the official handing over of polluted and contaminated sites to contactor at Kegbare-Dare in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State escaped death by whiskers as irate youth from the community set ablaze a coaster bus that conveyed them from Port Harcourt to the community.

The paramount ruler of the community, Chief Fabian Gere Suu, expressed displeasure too.

Kegbara-Dere is the biggest oil producing community in Ogoni with more than 60% of its total oil output. Kegbara-dere with up to 42 oil wells is the only single community with the highest number of oil wells in the Niger Delta. The community has the highest network of oil pipelines some of which were buried.

The traditional ruler called on HYPREP to make immediate arrangement and scope other polluted sites in Kegbara-dere.

Although there is no available record to show the exact amount of money it will cost the Federal Government to mop up a particular site, but sources from HYPREP said each polluted site will cost not less than N300 million to remediate, Daily Trust learnt.

Dr Mavin Dekil, HYPREP coordinator has assured that the cleanup was picking up for good this time.

He said the handing over of sites to contractors is a continuation of what the minister of Environment, Suleiman Hassan Zarma, started last week in Port Harcourt.

He said the agency has visited Eleme, Tai and Gokana Local Government Areas of the state to hand over the sites to contractors.

He said: “In Gokana, we have been to K-dere, where we handed over the site and introduce the contractor to community. We proceeded to Mogho community where we also met with leadership of the community and introduced the contractor and we also handed over the site to them.”

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