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I Respectfully Disagree With Dr. Naanen On UNEP's Water Recommendations

By Ben Ikari
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In a January 27, 2019 Nigerian Guardian publication titled, "Ogoni: More Issues, Fresh Worries For Cleanup," Dr. Ben Naanen who is a member of HYPREP's governing council and also an Ogoni, was credited with the following comments relative to UNEP's recommendation on emergency water supply to impacted communities:

"$hell and the Rivers State government initially provided water with tankers to some of these communities. That process was not sustainable. And so what we have done at the governing council is to look at the whole water supply situation in Ogoni and work towards providing water in every part of Ogoni, and not use tankers to supply water to the impacted communities. So, we approved a comprehensive water scheme for the whole Ogoni. It includes the rehabilitation of all existing water networks put in place by the state government and other agencies that are not working."

"That, definitely was not in UNEP report. All that the UNEP report said was to provide emergency water. They did not say how we were going to do it," Dr Naanen was reported to have said.

Let me therefore state respectfully that Dr. Naanen and the governing council should have known that UNEP's function was to make recommendations based on field investigations thus couldn't have laid out how a water project it recommended as one of the emergency measures should be delivered. UNEP is of course not a water installation or plumbing business.

It could, however, contract the water project to any of its unit or United Nations agency that could do the job if any. This is assuming Nigeria gave her the job as a matter of interest in best practice and best result to clean, remediate and restore the environment and people. UNEP expects those running the Nigerian government to be able to have common sense yet intelligent people like Dr. Naanen who could see such projects with a humane, smart mind and broad eyes.

For instance, UNEP only recommended HEALTH EVALUATION FOR IMPACTED COMMUNITIES AND FOLLOW-UP WHERE NECESSARY IN THE ENTIRE OGONI. And also did not recommend the establishment of HYPREP. It recommended the creation of OERA/Ogoni Environmental Restoration Authority to strictly localize the Ogoni intervention project, and should be seconded by relevant government agencies.

It did not recommend that HYPREP should treat and grant surgical work to those evaluated. HYPREP nevertheless claimed it treated 20, 000 out of about 2 million Ogonis in all four local government areas and granted surgical work on 400. It did not provide any data open to the public that corroborate this claim and the ailments that were operated. Such imaginative and innovative, humane and strategic move by HYPREP (if true as claimed) is what UNEP expected of the Nigerian state.

Consequently, let me rebuff Dr. Naanen's claim, which states that UNEP did not recommend water project for the entire Ogoni nationality. It should be noted that the report has both short-term and long-term environmental restoration vision and mission for Ogoni. On this note, page 17 of UNEP report states:

Sustainable environmental improvement in Ogoniland can only be achieved with the involvement and cooperation of the entire Ogoni community. In this respect the following elements are of critical importance: 1. The proposals outlined in this report have the potential to bring in substantial new investment, employment opportunities and a new culture of cooperation into Ogoniland. The Ogoni community should take full advantage of the opportunities that will be created by these developments. These projects potentially offer the community an unprecedented opportunity to be at the forefront of a world-class environmental restoration project that will improve their living conditions and livelihoods and provide them with skills that can be exported nationally, regionally and internationally. This is a transformative moment and the Ogoni community should endeavour to seize it in a positive manner.

My question to Dr. Naanen who is an eminent professor, Dr. Marvin Dekil, HYPREP coordinator and others who are also academically sound is, how can Ogonis' living conditions and livelihoods UNEP envisioned improve without clean and safe drinking water, healthcare, good schools, roads and other elements of sustainable socioeconomic improvement? By the way, according to Dr. Naanen, the governing council has approved a water scheme for the entire Ogoni. This is a good thing so laid out by UNEP as part of the sustainable restoration of Ogoni aimed at improving the people's living conditions and livelihoods. What remains to be seen is whether the water scheme will be implemented alongside other key components of this vision---for example, Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Center, Center of Excellence and the Operational Recommendations for $hell and others before cleanup starts.

Lastly, "Restoring the livelihoods and well being of future Ogoni generations is within reach but timing is crucial. Given the dynamic nature of oil pollution and the extent of contamination revealed in UNEP's study, failure to begin addressing urgent public health concerns and commencing a clean up will only exacerbate and unnecessarily prolong the Ogoni people's suffering," the report states.

On page 204 of the report it is stated:
It is clear from UNEP’s field observations and scientific investigations that oil contamination in Ogoniland is widespread and severely impacting many components of the environment. The Ogoni people live with this pollution every minute of every day, 365 days a year. Since average life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 50 years, it is a fair assumption that most members of the current Ogoniland community have lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives. Children born in Ogoniland soon sense oil pollution as the odour of hydrocarbons pervades the air day in, day out. Oil continues to spill from periodic pipeline fractures and the illegal practice of artisanal refining, contaminating creeks and soil, staining and killing vegetation and seeping metres deep into ground, polluting water tables.

I therefore request, or demand humbly and respectfully that Ogoni people and non-Ogonis in HYPREP's management, who are also have solid academic achievements and otherwise should wake to the ordinary and beyond the ordinary content/meaning of UNEP recommendations. UNEP is indeed very clear in its specifications. It will be a serious crime against Ogoni and humanity if HYPREP management which include smart Ogonis misunderstand or are influenced to misinterpret and wrongly apply these recommendations and give anything less than calculated efforts designed as tools for Ogoni intervention.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Ben Ikari and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."