By Constance Meju
Federal Government is using Ogoni Clean-Up as a distraction to avoid the clean-up of other parts of the environmentally degraded Niger Delta.
A virtual panel on issues around the Ogoni Clean-Up came up with that observation in a session convened by key environmental activists in the region, to mark the 2021 World Environment Day which had as theme, “Ecosystem restoration. Leading the conversation Ken Henshaw of We the People, asked, “Is the Ogoni Clean-Up Eclipsing Attention to the Niger Delta?” and the response in the affirmative was unanimous.
The activists lamented that the Ogoni- Clean Up has been on for 10 years without significant progress and expressed worry that the slow pace of activities around the exercise might hamper progression to a planned clean-up of the rest of Niger Delta destroyed by oil extraction activities while also providing room for the violators to shirk the responsibility of restoring the damaged environment before running offshore.
One of the key speakers, Chima William, acting executive director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, said, “Ogoni Clean-Up was meant for flagship on clean-up in the Niger Delta but it is now politicized, passing through various administrations without moving forward”.
“Multinationals are now looking towards the deep sea to avoid the prying eyes of civil society and access to investigate pollution of the ecosystem, the life source of the average Niger Deltan. They are moving offshore to further plunder on the (water) life source of fisher folks after destroying the farms. Where will the people pursue their livelihood?” he asked.
He called for a halt to the offshore moves by the multinationals by use of legal instruments, noting that the recent wave of rulings against Shell by courts in its parent countries is forcing the oil giant to begin to respect a little, oil and gas host communities’ people.
“Application of the law can hold oil corporations accountable in their own states and from our government to apply or implement conventions, treaties, laws/regulations made, signed or adopted as..
The ERA/FoEN boss said Ogoni Clean Up has exposed the unconscionable nature of Nigerian leaders at all levels depicting what matters most to them as oil and the revenue it brings.
“The violence, claimed volatile state of the Niger Delta is no excuse as oil is still being drilled regardless. Ogoni has shown the unseriousness of our leaders. We have to put our leaders to task, mobilize community people, those in authority listening, organize to end the agonizing. Get organized, work with your constituencies and one day, we will free the hands of those holding Niger Delta to ransom to leave the region alone,” advised.
William described 2021 as the “Legal Year of Niger Delta Community People listing various legal victories.
Said he: “2021 is the legal year of Niger Delta community people. In January, farmers and fishermen from poor villages floored Shell at the Hague after 13 years. Shell was held responsible for pollution caused in Ikot Adaudo, Oruma and Goi.
“In the UK, the Supreme Court April/May told Shell to discuss (listen) to the people of Ogale, noting that it had jurisdiction to entertain cases in Shell home countries. That shows that with consistency and ensuring the right place to go, we can make things happen.”
On Shell divesting from onshore exploration in the region, the legal activist and lead Nigerian counsel to the Hague litigation said those rushing to buy over Shell assets must be aware that by opting to acquire Shell assets, they are also acquiring its liabilities.
“When you buy assets, you buy liabilities and we have continuously had to tell our people, inheriting problem is not local content. Check very well the liabilities associated with assets being acquired before procurement or don’t get involved,” he threw at local investors rushing to take over from Shell and other multinationals.
He however, pointed out that Shell is still in operation only divesting, noting that “the law will bring the attention of the world to what is happening in Nigeria.”
Executive director of Kebetkache Women Resource Centre, Emem Okon who is an alternate member of the HYPREP governing council in her contribution to the conversation called for deeper engagement of civil society in the clean-up process.
“We have distracted ourselves. If we do not engage with the process as stakeholders, mobilizing communities to speak up, the desired result may not be achieved.
“Other parts of the Niger Delta need serious attention. Companies operating in the region need to have restoration plan as part of their corporate social responsibility; there should be continuous community consultation, dialogue, and there is a need for duty bearers to address pollution in the entire Niger Delta”, she suggested.
Emem also called for more collaborations with international bodies to make CSO positions on the clean up stronger and reduce lies to the world on the process.
“More community and local activists should be back to be part of international solidarity platform and make CSO case stronger, and create more voices outside for the attention of the international community to reduce tier ( …) communities by the operators.
She lamented that 20 – 25 years might be spent on a planned five-year programme (the UNEP recommendation for the clean-up) if enough civil society intervention is not mustered.
She stressed that a major challenge which gravely disables women, water, has not been addressed.
Although the minister of Water Resources recently visited Ogoniland to flag off a much reported N6 billion water project, the platform was skeptical of the workability of the platform which it said is yet to take-off despite identified urgency.
“HYPREP flagged off the water project, who are the contractors?” queried.
They challenged the Buhari government to “identify and engage all the players regularly, up the game to avert a state of helplessness, and train, educate community people as well as promote economically friendly agricultural initiatives,” as measures to aid the Ogoni clean-up.
The federal government was urged to take heed of the fact that environmental restoration takes time and begin to act fast.