By Abdul Rahman Aliagan
From the oil boom to the oil burst in the country, those living right on top of this fortune have never really benefited. Yet they had continued to bear the brunt of a fortune turned to curse in their homeland.
This curse continues to hover on the heads of the long suffering prople of the Niger Delta like the sword of Damocles.
Exemplified in concrete imagery is the oil spill, often the result of exploration by the International Oil Companies (IOCs)
Since the discovery of oil in the 50s with the commencement of the drilling of the first commercial oil well in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State, the country has been relishing in its wealth while treating with disdain the apparently forgotten people of the Niger Delta.
This contempt was to draw a bloody time line in the cold blooded judicial murder of Kenule “Ken” Beeson Saro-Wiwa a Nigerian writer and environmental activist.
Ken, as he was fondly called, was the arrow head of strident campaign drawing national and global attention to the extreme environmental degradation in the region as a result of indiscriminate oil waste dumping.
Dragged before a special military tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of some Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting and hanged in 1995 by the Sani Abacha military junta, Ken’s execution was to provoke international outrage that resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years.
Invariably, Ken’s execution threw the region into darkness with voices silenced, opinions sanctioned while environmental degradation continued unabated in the region.
Time Nigeria in an encounter with the President of the Ijaw Youth Council, Comrade Udengs Eradiri at a Youth 4 Youth Dialogue in Asokoro, said, “Oil spillage and gas flaring has seriously destroyed the fragile ecosystem of the region and we have from time to time called on the Nigerian government to come to our aid; all to no avail. It is on this basis that this region has birthed some of the most notorious and dangerous militant groups that have caused Nigeria to be shaken to its very foundations.”
At the last count, five of the most deadly militant groups that have emerged from the region are threatening to destroy the peace of Nigeria if their requests are not attended to.
These groups are the Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF) and Niger Delta Avengers (NDA).
The emergence of the NDA in March, 2016 has no doubt wreaked untold havoc, shaking the nation’s economic base to the marrow by blowing up major pipelines owned by foreign oil companies.
With the intervention of the opinion leaders, particularly from the region, it may be the members have been persuaded to embrace a ceasefire and engage in dialogue.
The group has listed 10 demands for federal government as the price to buy peace in the country, the most difficult and reasonable being the Clean-up of Ogoniland.
Among the demands, a statement by the group said “Ogoniland and all oil polluted lands in the Niger Delta must be cleaned up while compensation should be paid to all oil producing communities.”
An investigation revealed that between 1976 and 1991, there were 2,976 oil spills of about 2.1 million barrels of oil in Ogoniland, accounting for about 40% of the total oil spills of the Royal Dutch/Shell Company worldwide. An assessment of over 200 locations in Ogoniland by the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) also found that impacts of the 50 years of oil production in the region extended deeper than previously thought.
In 2009, the Federal Government commissioned UNEP to carry out an environmental assessment of Ogoniland. UNEP submitted reports with recommendations in 2011. This led to the establishment of Hydro-Carbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) in July, 2012. Upon all these, the Ogoni clean-up did not see the light of the day.
It would be recalled that during the presidential campaign, All Progressives Congress flagbearer, Muhammadu Buhari made concrete promises on the development of the Niger Delta. He pledged to restore the integrity of the Niger Delta by implementing relevant sections of the report of the Ledum Technical Committee on human capital development, resource management and distribution, governance and rule of law, reclamation and environmental and sustainable development.
He also committed himself and his administration to the phased implementation of the UNEP recommendations on Ogoniland and unveiling a marshal plan for the regenerative development of the Niger Delta.
Today, it may no longer be rhetorics, the president has matched his words with action as the narrative changed from promise to reality, particularly on Ogoniland clean-up.
Under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment headed a Development and Environment expert, Hajia Amina Mohammed, a team made several visits to the region and consulted all relevant ministries with the sole aim of actualising the UNEP report.
However, on the 2nd of June, 2016, a solid foundation was laid for the restoration of the fragile ecosystem of Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta as Ogoniland Clean-up kick-started.
At Bodo area of Gokana Local Government of River State, the Vice President, stood-in for President Buhari, to launch the initiative.
The presidential speech said: “I recall the time as a military Head of State when I visited Bodo Town in Ogoniland, during that visit, I commissioned a large fishpond and planted a tree as a sign of government’s concern for the environment.
“Unfortunately, since then, the degradation of land, water and air has done huge damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Niger Delta, especially Ogoniland. Oil exploration and production have been going on in Nigeria for six decades. Oil has given a boost to the Nigerian economy, but the ecosystem of the Niger Delta has been severely damaged. Fishing and agriculture have been badly affected.
“There are Acts, enactment, laws, guidelines and regulations to govern the operators of the oil industry. However, either because of lack of will or wilful non-compliance with environmental laws, the environment has been put in jeopardy.”
In the speech, the president affirmed that several governments have come and gone but they did not attend to the questions of the Niger Delta.
“This, unfortunately, led to the loss of lives and property. International concern was raised while past governments were urged to take decisive steps to address the issue.
“The report was submitted to my predecessor while still in office in 2011, but the implementation was not accorded the necessary support it required. The people of Ogoniland continued to suffer from pollution of air, land and water,” he said.
“We are determined to right the wrongs of the past, where the people of this land were treated unfairly and their environment unduly degraded.
“We are determined to right the wrongs of the past, where the people of this land were treated unfairly and their environment unduly degraded.’’
Noting that the process of complete clean-up of polluted communities would take about 25-30 years, Buhari described the kick-starting process as a major step in fulfilling his campaign promises to the people of the region and returning peace and prosperity to Ogoni land.
Today, one of the most difficult questions in the Niger Delta—the Ogoniland clean-up– has been answered.
This, the President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara, had affirmed, thanking the president and all stakeholders who supported the the kick starting of the clean-up.
The onus would be for the militant groups to be patient and allow the president to address the numerous issues before him and his government. After all, a bold step has been taken!