22 years after killing of Saro-Wiwa, Ogoniland clean-up begins

Twenty-two years after the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa, over his opposition to the pollution of the oil-rich Ogoniland, Nigeria has embarked on the clean-up of the area, the demand of the environmentalist.

Saro-Wiwa was a writer, television producer, activist and winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Kenule Beeson "Ken", a native of Ogoni, was hanged at age 54, by the military regime of late Gen Sani Abacha.

Ogoni in the Niger Delta has been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s and has suffered extreme environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping.

Military tribunal

As President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a campaign against the Royal Dutch Shell for the degradation of the land. He criticised the government for its reluctance to enforce environmental regulations on the foreign petroleum companies operating in the area.

At the peak of his campaign, he was tried by a special military tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting, and was hanged in 1995.

His execution provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria's suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years.

But today, the much talked about Ogoniland is receiving both national and international attention.

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The environmental remediation programme is focusing on the actual clean-up as the sensitisation and soil testing of the affected oil polluted communities hit the peak.

The two steps, combined with data gathering which have been completed, are pre-requisites to the clean-up proper.

Bids have been invited from reputable organisations to compete for the work, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) the agency coordinating the clean-up confirms.

"Under our work plan, the clean-up proper will commence in first quarter of 2018 and all the stakeholders are determined to make this a reality,’’ sources in HYPREP say.

In August 2011, Unep which was commissioned by the Nigerian government, released an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of oil-rich Ogoniland.

Unep made some recommendations requiring of government, the oil and gas industry, the communities and other stakeholders to institute an all-embracing clean-up of Ogoniland.

The report recommended the restoration of all polluted environments and a multi-sector approach to end all forms of on-going oil contamination.

To prioritise

The Unep report also presented an opportunity for new investment, employment, collaboration and improvements in the environment and health in the region.

As a follow-up, President Muhammadu Buhari approved a 13-member Governing Council and a 10-member Board of Trustees to prioritise the Unep Report’s implementation.

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who flagged off the Clean-Up of Ogoniland at Bodo, Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, put the cost of the project at more than $1 billion.

"The project is to be funded by Shell Petroleum Development Company with an initial $1 billion disbursed at $200 million per annum over five years. A $10 million take off grant has been provided,’’ he said.

"Indeed, representatives of the Ogoni communities are present on the Governing Council and the Board of Trustees and have been involved in the decision-making process,’’ he added.

Prof Osinbajo further said that President Buhari’s administration would improve security, good governance and economy of the Niger Delta, in addition to its resolve to implement the Unep Report.

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Similarly, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) said it welcomed the Unep Report on Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland and has released $10 million initial pledge for the project.

An environmentalist, Mr Nnimmo Bassey, said that the clean-up was slow, but expressed hope that the restructuring of HYPREP would speed up the exercise.

Mr Bassey, a member of the Board of Trustee for the Ogoniland clean-up, said that alternative water supply would be provided for communities whose sources of the commodity were contaminated by the oil.

The Chairman of the Ogoni Ex-Artisanal Refiners Forum, Mr Cassidy Nbeera, commended President Buhari for the political will to clean-up Ogoniland and pledged the group’s willingness to join in the campaign to dissuade youths from further polluting the environment.

He urged the federal government to provide the training for the locals on modular refining as well as provide alternative sources of livelihood.

Inevitable calamity

MOSOP Publicity Secretary Fegalo Nsuke said the project "gave hope that our struggles, pains, losses, sacrifices and violations were not all going to be in vain’’.

"I began to see that Ogoni and its environment could possibly be saved from an inevitable calamity.

"It is time to back all the promises and commitment with action. The `Saint' reputation and integrity of Buhari could begin to come under question with the delay in concrete action for the clean-up.’’

He urged President Buhari to visit Ogoni people to deliver a message.

"I am not for Shell, I am not for repression, I am not for death. I am for a healthy environment, I am for Ogoni rights and those of every Nigerian and that is why I am for everybody,'' Mr Nsuke said.

Peace and security

The Zonal Director of the National Oil spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Mr Cyrus Nkangwun, explained that the clean-up was designed to be implemented in phases for effective result and dismissed rumours that the exercise had been halted or abandoned.

"The governing body of HYPREP is working to ensure that the implementation targets at the various stages were met.’’

Mr Nkangwun urged the affected communities to continue in their cooperation with the government by ensuring peace and security, believing that Saro-Wiwa was not dead after all.

Like is the case in most Third World states, Nigerian regulations are weak and rarely enforced, allowing oil companies, in essence, to self-regulate. Consequently, several communities in the late 1980s began raising concerns about international oil company operations in the Niger Delta. The Ogoni soon emerged as the largest and best known anti-oil pollution groups.

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