Tension is beginning to mount in the Niger Delta region over the slow pace of Ogoni cleanup, announced by the Federal Government over two years ago.
There are also indications that the continuous delay in the planned cleanup of the oil-producing region may soon degenerate into hostilities against oil infrastructure, a situation that could worsen the country’s economy.
Indeed, the concern for most stakeholders is that the current political tension and the preparations for the 2019 general elections could hamper the planned cleanup.
Although the Minister of State for the Environment, Ibrahim Usman Jibril, told newsmen that the project would commence this month, individuals, groups in Niger Delta and environmentalists have argued that Federal Government’s pronouncement on March 2, 2016 for the commencement of the project still remains a mirage.
Those who argue in that regard are, President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Eric Omare, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), umbrella body of traditional rulers, leaders and stakeholders of the Niger Delta region, Mike Loyibo, President, Coalition of South-South Chambers of Commerce (FOSSCCIMA), Billy Harry, Chairman, Nigerian Environmental Society, Abuja Chapter, Efegbidiki Okobia and an environmentalist, Nnimmo Bassey.
Omare said there were no indications that the Federal Government was still committed to cleaning up Ogoniland, insisting that its pronouncement was only a political gimmick.
According to him, government’s breach of its promise will make the people react negatively, especially by embarking on hostilities against oil facilities in the region.
His words: “There is nothing on ground to show that the Federal Government is committed to the cleanup. There is nothing whatsoever beyond media hypes and publications.
“That has a far-reaching implication because we were thinking of using Ogoni to pressure the authorities to clear the pollution in the region. Government’s failure to the cleanup shows that they are not interested in the remediation of the polluted region.
“There is growing internal displacements in the Niger Delta. There are communities that are moving out because the water is destroyed, the land is destroyed and people cannot live in the communities anymore. There could be hostilities against oil facilities.”
Since government made the promise, the country has increased oil production above 2.25 million barrels per day (bpd) from a mere 1.4 million bpd, bringing the economy back on track after a major slump on the backdrop of the ceasefire and peace deal in the oil-producing region.
Loyibo insisted that not only has the Ogoni cleanup remained a mirage, but that the 16-point agenda presented to President Muhammdu Buhari by leaders of the region, was not met except the establishment of a Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State.
Urging the Federal Government to implement the United Nations Environment Progamme (UNEP) report, which ordered the cleanup, the PANDEF leader said the excitement over government’s pledges to the region was eroding.
He said: “We were happy and excited and felt that the cleanup would address our problems because the environmental problem is not in Ogoni alone. But from the status of the project, there is nothing happening there. I call on the presidency not to play politics with the project.”
Loyibo also urged the Niger Delta youths to engage democratic means rather than aggravate the environmental challenges with hostilities against oil infrastructure, adding that the current administration should be given the opportunity to fulfill the pledges it made to the region.
Speaking, Harry noted that one of the best ways the current administration would earn votes from the region was to complete the project, adding that although the project needed time, the current level of commitment has not indicated that the project was on track.
He added that the continuous delay could pave way for criminally minded people to take advantage of the situation, stressing that agitators from the region must desist from attacking oil facilities.
While the project still remained elusive, stakeholders including former President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ledum Mitee, criticised attempts to resume exploration activities in the region.
He cautioned that resumption of oil production activities without a credible cleanup of the Ogoni environment would be tantamount to a profound insensitivity to the plight of the people.
On his part, Bassey expressed reservations over the current political crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which he stressed, could pose a hindrance to execution of the Ogoni cleanup project.
He was, however, optimistic that the project would continue as scheduled, stressing that structures on ground were solid and was a clear testimony of seriousness of purpose on the part of government.
He maintained that funds made available were domiciled with the Ogoni Clean Up Trust Fund, adding that the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) has concluded bidding processes, which according to him, shows that the cleanup exercise was on course.
Also, Okobia expressed concerns over the slow pace of work at the site and credibility of the cleanup exercise, arguing that although the Federal Government has made funds available for the project, the international oil companies (IOCs) were yet to remit their counterpart funding, adding that this give rise to worries over the project.
“We cannot afford to miss this important project at this stage and if government misses it, it would be too bad for the people of the Niger Delta region. Already, the exercise is taking too long,” he added.
However, Jibril assured the Ogoni people that government would keep to its promise by embarking on full-scale cleanup of the area soon, because contractors would be mobilised to site on schedule.
He also said the Board of Trustees (BoT) has submitted its budget for the cleanup exercise, adding that the Federal Government has the political will to fulfill the project.
A member of HYPREP’s Board of Trustees, Mike Emuh, said the seeming delay in the start of the cleanup of Ogoniland was as a result of its special nature, as well as other economic and technical challenges.
Emuh, who is also the National Chairman of Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas (HOSTCOM), said the Ogoni cleanup project was unlike infrastructure projects where contractors quote and were mobilised to site.
He also argued that the cleanup programme was presently at the demonstration stages and a good number of companies were already displaying their competencies on the sites.
“The project was delayed due to issues of locating a site where the wastes could be dumped and be converted to energy. Other factors included economic recession and challenges in the Niger Delta region, which hampered government’s revenue profile and the inability to include the project in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 budgets,” he explained.
In his contribution, Project Coordinator of HYPREP, Marvin Dekil, assured the people of Ogoniland in Rivers State that the Federal Government was committed to the completion of the remediation project, even as progress was being reported on work done in the project.
He said: “We have been able to accomplish part of the implementation process of the Ogoni cleanup exercise including community sensitisation activities in four councils of Rivers State and demonstration of remediation technologies in Ogale, Korokoro, Kwakwa and B.Dere communities.”
Dekil noted that companies carrying out the technical demonstrations were doing so without extra cost to HYPREP, adding that this could only be achieved through sufficient dialogue, confidence and trust among all the parties involved.
“Clearly, this is not the case at present. Consequently, it is hoped that the environmental cleanup of Ogoniland will have multiple effects. Besides, it will create decent living conditions and secure livelihoods within a clean and healthy environment in the entire Ogoniland,” he stated.