OGONI: A DISASTER PREDICTED, EMBRACED
TWO things may shock you about the report of the Presidential Committee on Environmental, Survey, and Clean-up of Ogoniland which the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, conducted - Ogoni spokes people are rejecting it as an imposition and the Nigerian government, the senior partner in all oil productions in Nigeria, says it needs help to implement it.
Why would our government, with all the revenue it makes from oil be unable to pay its part of the $1 billion bill the report recommends for repairing Ogoni? How did UNEP decide it would take up to 30 years to clean up the spillage?
'The Ogoni issue is a well known issue but for me, being one from the Niger Delta, the issues are quite clear to me. The case study will also help us not only to redress the Ogoni problem but also to look into other parts of this country where oil exploration and production have been going on over the period. For the Federal Government, we have to thank you for this work and I assure you we will look into the report,' President Goodluck Jonathan said while receiving the report. The reaction is too tepid for an emergency.
'Nigeria is a committed member of the United Nations and we have paid our dues in terms of solving world and regional problems, so, I believe in these days of environmental wars, the UN will come to our aid,' he continued. Suppose the UN decides not to help?
The report confirmed what Nigerian governments and the oil companies refused to accept over the years. The damage done to the environment is extensive and almost eternal. Though the study was on Ogoniland, the same scenario plays out in most places there is oil and gas exploration. In 14 months, the UNEP team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records, and engaged over 23,000 people at local community meetings. The conclusions were the same, a lot of damage has been done.
'Detailed soil and groundwater contamination investigations were conducted at 69 sites, which ranged in size from 1,300 square metres (Barabeedom-K.dere, Gokana local government area (LGA) to 79 hectares (Ajeokpori-Akpajo, Eleme LGA). Altogether more than 4,000 samples were analysed, including water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes,' the report said.
'Some areas, which appear unaffected at the surface, are in reality severely contaminated underground and action to protect human health and reduce the risks to affected communities should occur without delay. In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened.'
Will government and the oil companies apply the haste the report recommends? Why did it take more than 50 years of oil exploration before the government accepted what was so obvious? UNEP said that for a proper clean-up oil operations will have to be shut down in the affected areas. Will government accept this recommendation?
Nigerian governments embraced the despoliation of the environment in the oil producing areas without even minimal efforts to check what goes on there. Its plea of helplessness and call on the UN to lead the rescue of the areas is another indication that Nigeria will not do much about Ogoni or other spillage places.
Hope abound elsewhere. A London court has asked Shell to pay £250m (about N62 billion) to villagers in the Bodo community for damages done to their land. Between government and Shell, the money has to be found. The judgement may be the beginning of another opportunity for individual communities to take our governments to court, especially in Europe where the courts will accept such cases.
The report draws attention to negligence of our governments. Other organisations simply exploit governments' indifference to the peoples' welfare.