The issue of the pollution of many communities in the Niger Delta as a result of oil exploitation and exploration has remained a thorny one. On August 4, 2011, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) submitted an unprecedented, scientiﬁc, ground-breaking environmental assessment report (EAR) on Ogoniland to the Federal Government. It was the outcome of a 14-month intensive evaluation of the extent of pollution. The intention was that UNEP’s recommendations would be implemented to restore the devastated environment on the one hand and counteract the numerous environmental health issues that have for decades plagued Ogoniland on the other.
The implementation of the UNEP report has been mired in controversy. A group of journalists who toured Nsisioken Ogale, one of the communities in Eleme in Rivers State as part of a one-day policy dialogue on the role of stakeholders in the clean-up of the Niger Delta, which is a major activity in the implementation of the report learnt firsthand the hardship and frustration of the people on the delay in the execution of the project.
“I spend N1,000 on ‘pure’ water we drink every week and N600 every two days on water with which we take our bathe. This is too expensive to manage and it is taking its toll on my small provision shop business, but I don’t have any other option because my children and I risk falling sick if we don’t do so,” Mrs Florence Ngerem from Imo State, who has lived over 10 years in Eleme told journalists at Nsisioken Ogale community.
She told the newsmen the profit from her business was quite meagre and instead of channeling it back into the business, she instead spends heavily on water for her health and that of her children.
Ngerem who said buying water in the community was quite expensive explained that attempts to even sink a borehole in the area had failed so far. According to her, the water that comes out tests like oil and indeed oil is often seen floating on top of it. She claimed some years back, the government intervened by digging a borehole for the community but the project was quickly abandoned because the water was tasting like hypo bleach and was good for human consumption.
Similarly, the youth president of Ogale clan in Eleme, Comrade Darlington Nyimeone said he and his family drink bottled water, lamenting, however that they still bathe with water from the community’s borehole said to be contaminated with benzene at levels 900 times above the World Health Organizations (WHO) recommendation.
“I am a welder by profession, I have a workshop, a warehouse but yet when I come back to my house I still go back to bathe with the water. I drink bottled water but when it comes to bathing my family and I still bathe with the same benzyl-contaminated water. You know whatever you bath with will still find its way to get into the body through the pores,” he said.
The youth leader told the newsmen the Chibuike Amaechi-led administration in conjunction with Shell supplied the community with potable borne water directly from Port Harcourt the state capital before the whole scheme packed up forcing the community to either return to drinking and bathing with the contaminated water or source from neighbouring communities that are not affected by the pollution.
Nyimeone unequivocally said the purported 30 per cent remediation claimed to have been achieved in some quarters was untrue, adding no form of clean-up had commenced in Nsisioken community. He also debunked the allegation that the youth frustrate access to polluted sites, pointing out that both indigenes and non-indigenes pray every day for the end of the nightmare.
At the one-day policy dialogue on the role of stakeholders in the clean-up of the Niger Delta region with the theme ‘Achieving a healthy and sustainable environment in the Niger Delta’, organized by the African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD) with support by Cordaid in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the acting executive director of the centre, Mr Monday Osasah said the policy dialogue was put together to re-examine the roles of stakeholders, including government, communities, oil companies, CSOs and the media in the UNEP report to chart and arrive at a more holistic and synergistic approach that could bring better working relationship to speed up the clean-up and ultimately bring a new lease of life to the Niger Delta and the country as a whole.
He said dialogue would not only be diagnostic of the issues and concerns but would also offer a framework that would make stakeholders to work in a more co-ordinated and mutually reinforcing manner to achieve the overall essence of the UNEP report.
In his remarks, the head of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), South South region, Mr Melvin Odobo, raised concerns on the re-pollution of already remediated sites by activities of artisanal oil activities of youths in the region, urging stakeholders to go back and urge the youth to stop such activities. Describing the exercise as a test case for other clean up in other parts of the country, he said if the Ogoni clean-up project failed, it would be very difficult for other sites of the pollution to be cleaned.
Earlier, the president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSAP), Legborsi Pyagbara, commended CentreLSD for supporting the engagement of various stakeholders over a decade now which shows they are genuinely interested in the sustainable clean-up of the polluted sites in Ogoni Land and in the effective implementation of the UNEP report.
He, however, called for a sustainable framework in place to ensure effective implementation of the stakeholders’ engagement at all levels.
“While we are doing the horizontal engagement at the local level, let us also think about the practical engagement at the federal level because I will make no meaning if after sitting down here with robust discussions and ideas, then there are no policies and laws to strengthen these things are not in place. There should be frameworks to implement what we are discussing here on the ground,” he added.
In his remarks, the project coordinator of Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), Dr. Marvin Dekil, said the office saddled with the responsibility of implementing the UNEP report, serves as a midwife to see the deliverance of the dividends of the UNEP report which came about as a result of several years of pollution.
Dekil represented by the HYPREP head of legal services, Mrs Grace Ekanem, thanked CentreLSD for giving the project the opportunity of talking with stakeholders who are a bit articulate and enlightened and globally aware.
“We hope that at the end of this forum the decisions reached in the form of a communique would be able to assist HYPREP the more to deliver on target to assuage the emotions of Ogoni people. To create a framework that would assist in further clean-up of other Niger Delta areas. Apart from hydrocarbon corrosion we still have other areas of inaction which what HYPREP would be able o do in respect to hydrocarbon corrosion to the environment can be replicated for the remediation of other areas in the country which are impacted. I know Ogoni people are very eager to see HYPREP deliver this baby successfully,” he added.