When the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) in its statement on the federal government’s recently proposed and announced fast-track actions for the implementation of the UNEP Report on the clean-up of Ogoniland warned that “it is important that we (ogoni people) avoid, even if tempted, tendencies capable of jeopardizing the process and making us (the ogonis) laughing stock,” the organisation knew what it was advising against. Whether anybody wants to hear this, the major problem in that part of the Niger Delta is the ogoni people themselves.
It would be recalled that the Federal Government sought the assistance of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to conduct an independent assessment of the public health impact of oil contamination in Nigeria's Niger-Delta Ogoniland. The UNEP conducted its full-scale investigations and submitted its report to the government in 2011. Unfortunately, no real action had been initiated since then to implement the recommended remediation measures.
So when President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, August 5 2015 approved several actions to fast-track the long delayed implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme Report on the environmental restoration of Ogoniland, it was received across strata as a welcomed development.
The actions approved by President Buhari, based on recommendations to him by a team comprising the Executive Director of UNEP, the UNEP Special Representative for Ogoniland, Permanent Secretaries of the Federal Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources, amongst others, include the amendment of the official gazette establishing the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) to reflect a new governance framework comprising a Governing Council, a Board of Trustees and Project Management.
The president also ordered that the HYPREP Governing Council should be composed of representatives of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Federal Ministry of Environment, impacted states, oil companies and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, representatives from Ogoniland, representatives from the United Nations System.
The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has welcomed and congratulated the President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government of Nigeria for approving the setting up of governing structures to facilitate the implementation of recommendations of the UNEP report on Ogoniland.
According to MOSOP, “Coming at a time when there have been growing skepticism driven by experiences of untoward politicisation of implementation of the report by the immediate past administration, the approval demonstrates a comforting shift from rhetoric to matching words with action; expressed commitment and rebuilt and strengthens the confidence of our people in the government.
However, a section of the stakeholders see the development of altering the recommendations of the previous administration as regards the cleanup of Ogoniland, by President Buhari, particularly in the composition of the Board of Trustees of HYPREP as very suspicious and frightening.
The fear as expressed was that President Buhari may not release all the monies, and compensation as contained in the previous administration’s recommendations for the cleanup, in line with the UNEP report.
As said, “Our fears have become deeply intense, as President Buhari has knocked off the position of chairman of the Board of Trustees of HYPREP, to be occupied by Rivers state. Not only has Buhari denied us, the BOT chairmanship position, he has completely removed Rivers state from the membership of the BOT.
“The BOT reviews the decisions of the governing council, receives and manages all funds meant for the cleanup. Therefore, it’s not enough to have Rivers state only on the governing council of HYPREP. We can’t be playing second fiddle all the time. Not in a matter that directly affects us. This is absolutely unacceptable and the $10 million approved as initial take-off is a far cry from the $50 million gazetted in the Jonathan’s recommendations.”
The question is: Is the fast-track action by President Mohhammadu Buhari out of step with the recommendations as contained in the UNEP Report on Ogoniland? This is the crucial question a section of the ogonis and some other stakeholders want resolved.
For instance, while welcoming Buhari’s intention to fast-track the implementation of UNEP Ogoniland Report, Dr. Goodluck Diigbo, President, Ogoni Central Indigenous Authority, said the president’s fast-track actions ignore the very report’s technical demands. According to him, “Even though the report remains disputed, many of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) measures investigated, and clarified in the report, are missing.”
Diigbo said “Buhari may have a good intention, but, his expressed intentions might deepen old wounds. For instance, Buhari avoided specific mention of recommendations by UNEP, including: Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority; Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland; A Centre of Excellence for Environmental Restoration, among others, and even; and the $1billion, considered grossly inadequate for take-off, is now missing.”
“Next, we the Ogoni people are not aware of any Special UNEP Representative for Ogoniland. We don’t have one. Buhari’s intentions have created considerable confusion and resentment. Either, Buhari is conflicted, “tricked” by “parties” that corrupted the UNEP report, or, just politics as usual. For three years, they’ve stood against genuine joint stakeholders’ technical review – a prerequisite for due process, stipulated by UNEP, World Bank, IMF, US and others.
“Buhari can help to respect the wishes of the Ogoni people. We don’t want him to turn a conflict prevention and resolution mechanism, into conflict-making or political tool. The EIAS for Ogoniland is for Ogoniland, and not a nation-wide petroleum assessment report.
“Instead to dictate to us, we appeal to Buhari to facilitate dialogue to lead to a genuine joint review by stakeholders, involving Shell, Chevron, NNPC, Ogoni Central Indigenous Authority, as well as competent technical experts to be appointed by the Ogoni people. We will not be part of the behind the scene fast-track unilateral actions.
“We can’t be ignored, or taken for granted anymore. We will resist any attempt to intimidate or use force against us. The essence of the UNEP Ogoniland Report Implementation ought to first acknowledge the existence of the Ogoni people, and not discount us.”
It is appropriate and commendable that President Buhari chose to not only continue this process that was ongoing before he assumed office but opted to fast-track it. It is also appropriate that all expressed concerns be addressed by the federal government to erase suspicions and doubts over genuineness of intentions of this idea of fast tracking actions. What is expected now is for major stakeholders particularly the different interest groups in ogoni to reciprocate this response by the federal government to their agitation by cooperating with the administration and other stakeholders to ensure a successful implementation of the recommendations of the report which in all will be in the overall good interest of the entire ogoniland. Change has come and the ogonis should equally embrace change in their attitude to this issue of clean up.
(IFEANYI IZEZE: [email protected]; 234-8033043009)