Ogoni Stakeholders Insist On ‘No Cleanup, No Oil Production’

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P/Harcourt – The stakeholders meeting between the people of Ogoni and the Minister of state for petroleum resources, Dr. Ibe Kachukwu and some Federal Government’s representatives scheduled to take place last week Monday, July 9, 2018 at the palace of King G.N. Gininwa was eventually canceled.

The cancellation on whose behest nobody can tell has only sparked up a proportionate anger in Ogoniland. Beyond any other factor, the handling of the Ogoni cleanup by the Federal Government and its joint venture partners like Shell and others have been highly criticised by not just the Ogoni people but keen watchers of happenings in the region.

On February 10, 2014 when President Muhammadu Buhari went to Ogoniland, he promised the people that he would implement the cleanup of the heavily polluted Ogoni environment if voted as president. This was a prelude to the 2015 presidential election. And it was a serious campaign tool to entice the people of Rivers State, Ogonis in particular to vote for the All Progressives Congress, APC.

On June 2, 2016, President Buhari through his Vice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the cleanup exercise at Bodo, in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State. The flag off was expected to quicken the cleanup exercise in line with the guideline given by the United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP.

The flag off exercise was also carried out at a time approaching the December re-run Legislative elections in Rivers State. Again, political observers insinuated that the ceremony was a time-bound event used as a bait to evoke an emotional appeal for the APC candidates.

The UNEP, after a careful research and investigation said that it would take about thirty years to effectively cleanup the polluted environment and another five years for remediation. That report was submitted in 2011. But seven years down the lane, the story of Ogoni environment remains the same. And is even getting worse by the day.

Before now, it was generally believed that what prompted the delay in the commencement of the actual cleanup of the devastated Ogoniland was fund. But with the release of US$10million out of a total sum of the recommended US$1billion, nothing significant seems to be going on in that regard.

It is now about eight months to another general election, the minister of petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu has been pleading for a stakeholders’ meeting with the Ogoni elders. A move that is seem as a surreptitious plan to allow commencement of oil exploitation and exploration in Ogoni.

This guise was enough to spark off the anger of the Ogoni people resulting in the former President of the movement for the survival of Ogoni people, MOSOP, Barrister Ledum Mitee describing the cleanup exercise as “fraudulent”. He said he could not believe that government would trade the cleanup with oil exploration.

“In my view it is fraudulent for the government to bring oil exploration for the cleanup. Anywhere in the world where there is an oil spill, production must be stopped so that the affected place could be cleaned up.

“Government does not take the interest of the Ogoni people serious. You cannot say you are cleaning up a polluted place and at the same time carry out exploration. It is not possible. Government has not shown enough political will to cleanup Ogoni. It is not the question of money. The money may be there but if there is no political will, as it seems now, there is nothing anybody can do about it”.

Mitee alleged that three consultants were hired to oversee the project in Ogoni and they were paid about N1billion each as professional fee upfront.

“They hired three consultants and paid them N1billion each upfront for a project that has not even started. From what is happening right now, it is clear that the flag off was just a show.

“The flag off was just to explore the history of Ogoni. One thing is certain; they cannot continue to kill us. We cannot be used as guinea pigs because we have contributed a lot to this country in terms of everything”.

On what is expected of the Ogonis to do in the face of the delay in the cleanup project and the government’s mindset to resume oil exploration in the area twenty-four years after, Ledum said that there would be a massive sensitization of the people. “It is wrong for the government to say that there must be oil exploration for the cleanup exercise to continue. We will mobilize our people against such idea”.

Barrister Tubotamuno Dick, a rights activist could not agree less with Ledum Mitee. He said the delay in the cleanup is a clear sign that “the Federal Government is not sincere with the cleanup of Ogoni land. The exercise was flagged off during the rerun election in Rivers State. It was a clear political action by the APC government.

“What we are hearing is that government wants to bring in oil companies to commence oil production in Ogoni. The real issue that prompted the cleanup has not been addressed and now they want to start another round of oil business to continue to pollute the place. What is the sense there? This shows clearly that government is only interested in the oil and not the lives or welfare of the people there”, he said.

Barrister Dick fumed that the Ogoni cleanup was supposed to be a pilot project that should be extended to the other parts of the Niger Delta region over time. He said there is no federal government’s presence in any of the states of the Niger Delta region. “The region is just a cash cow to the federal government. They are interested in the oil and nothing more”.

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The activist recalled that he had told the world long before now that the flag off ceremony was “a fraud. A make belief. Government is not sincere. Today, by the government’s actions, I have been vindicated. We are patiently waiting to hear what Buhari will come and tell us during his campaign in 2019.

“Definitely, he will campaign for re-election in 2019. We are waiting to hear from him in Rivers State. The last time we heard that Buhari wanted to build prisons in Ogoni. May be this time he will come here and build ranches to breed cows. This government is a disaster.

“Every day people are killed in Nigeria and that does not disturb the government. Look at Thailand, twelve boys got trapped in a cave and the government of that country immediately mobilized divers from all over the world for their rescue. But here, scores of people are killed and the President will jet out of the country. At another time. Many more are killed and he is dancing at a campaign rally. What nation is that?

“If you land at the Abuja Airport and see the beauty of the roads and the city itself, you will begin to ask yourself, what mineral resources are being produced in Abuja. It produces nothing. The money is from the Niger Delta region. The region produces all the money they need to beautify other places while it is in turn impoverished. This is not right. They are not sincere with the Ogoni cleanup”.

But Dr. Mike Nwielegha, a chieftain of the APC who is also from Ogoni will not want to believe that the delay in the cleanup is either a political gimmick or deliberate. He will rather want people to commend President Buhari for his “love” for the Ogoni people for accepting to implement the cleaning of the polluted environment.

“Everything that happens during a political dispensation is politics. In February 10, 2014, Buhari promised to implement the UNEP report and he has done that. The BoT and the governing council have all been established. The bank to domicile the one billion dollars has also been found.

“In sixteen years of PDP nothing was done in terms of the cleanup. To add to that, the President of the country, then was a Niger Delta son. But in just three years, Buhari has been able to do this much. We should praise him for that and not criticize him.

“HYPREP is also doing quite a lot in terms of going about all communities sensitizing the people on health-related issues”. He blasted some Ogoni elders whom he said had the opportunity of adding to the development of the area but failed in their responsibility. “Some of those people are the ones who are going about forming all manners of organizations just to be noticed. They have suddenly developed the penchant in criticizing the walk pace of the project”.

Comrade Christian Lekia cannot quite agree with the position of Dr. Mike Nwielegha on this issue. He described the cleanup exercise as a clear case of “grand deception”. He pointed out that this government in all its doings is to deceive Nigerians especially the gullible ones.

“It is almost an election time that is why you see them sending the minister of state for petroleum to come here and deceive the Ogoni people again. They know it is an election time and to cover up their bad governance, they chose to honor MKO Abiola who clearly won the 1993 presidential election but was denied and eventually killed in detention.

“Buhari wants to relaunch the Nigerian Airways and he had to go to London to flag off the logo. Why could he not do that in Nigeria here. This is a government that believes so much in propaganda just to cover up its excesses. We thought that the delay in the cleanup exercise was as a result of bureaucratic bottleneck. But we have since come to realize that it is a deliberate plot to undo the Ogonis.

Lekia, who is the national coordinator of Niger Delta Coalition Against Violence, NDCAV, said there is no standard referral hospital to handle health cases of the Ogoni people which is one of the things recommended by the UNEP report.

“This whole thing is warped in politics. Government has not done enough to show that they are serious with the cleanup. Our people in Ogoni are still drinking water that is infested with benzine chemical. They should tell the world how many Ogonis they have diagnosed with cancer and where they are being treated or which hospital can handle such cases in the whole of Ogoniland.

“When there was an oil spill at the Gulf of Mexico, the situation there was declared as an emergency. You cannot have such luxury in Nigeria here. Because they want to cleanup the polluted Ogoni environment which they themselves benefited from, they now plan to resume oil production, why?

“This is a case of hopelessness. Those of us from the Niger Delta region are no longer save. You don’t have to play politics with the lives of the people. In Ogoni today, people die almost on daily basis due to one infection or the other. The water is contaminated. The environment is polluted. Even the air that we breathe is poisonous. They must stop this deception and do the right thing”.

For the spokesman of MOSOP, Fegalo Nsuke “government and Shell have been very dishonest in their conduct on the Ogoni cleanup. They have consistently lied on the availability of funds and have been utterly deceptive, attempting to manipulate the people into accepting the resumption of oil production as a condition precedence to the cleanup.

“While an average of 1000 Ogonis die weekly from strange sicknesses, the government continues to lie about the situation in Ogoni. At the moment, the area has been militarized in preparation for oil resumption despite our disapproval of oil resumption and our insistence that the Ogoni environment cannot support any form of oil production at the moment”, he said.

But Dr. Peter Medee, a member of the Board of Trustee, BoT, for the cleanup was uncomfortable with the “quick fix” mentality of Nigerians. When contacted on phone, he said that since the project of cleaning the environment is slated to take about thirty years, it is only proper to lay a solid foundation for it to start.

“Nigerians are used to quick fix. This program will take about thirty years. Both the Governing Board and the BoT are trying to lay a solid foundation for the cleanup to start. There is a need for such a formidable structure to be on ground. We have discovered the bank where the money would be domiciled so that donor agencies can also contribute to it.

“Everything we are doing must pass through due process. Any project that the federal government contributes 55% must undergo due process. $10million was released to the governing council to put the basic things in place and at the appropriate time we will demand for how that money was spent”.

Dr. Medee said though some consultants had been hired to oversee the project, he could not ascertain how much they were paid to do the job. But it is expected that as a member of the BoT, Medee ought to know without question the amount the consultants were paid to do the job they are doing, if they are doing anything at all.

The cleanup project in Ogoni is a metaphor. It is one thing that the entire Niger Delta people should rally round the Ogoni people to see the success of it. This becomes imperative because since the entire region is heavily polluted with spill, a time comes when it will be necessary to call for a comprehensive cleanup of the region.

With the 2019 general elections some months away, ears are tickling to hear what the APC government will tell the Ogonis why it will morally need their votes. At the moment there is an atmosphere of discontentment in the manner the cleanup exercise is being managed.

The post Ogoni Stakeholders Insist On ‘No Cleanup, No Oil Production’ appeared first on Independent Newspapers Nigeria.

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