…no attempt to implement UNEP recommendations, communities lament
…our men are emotionally down; they can’t satisfy us sexually, woman expresses grief
EMMANUEL BAGUDU, ABUJA
Ogoniland is in danger, inhabitants have once again cried out. This time members of the oil-polluted Communities found their way to the centre of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
They were made up of traditional rulers from Gokana, Bua Baen, Sogho, Ogale, Gbenemene-bangha Communities in Ogoni and a host of other Activists from the Niger Delta. They came to Abuja for a high level policy dialogue on the cleanup of Ogoni land which held last Thursday. It was indeed a high level policy dialogue considering the rage expressed by the “Niger Deltans” on the rising danger caused by the devastating effects of oil spillage that has polluted the oil-rich Communities for over a decade. Looking good on beautiful traditional regalia depicting the fascinating south-south cultures but deep inside the minds of the royal fathers was fury. Women from the region also had their own story to tell on how the menace is affecting them. TNG was on ground to gather facts on the euphoria.
This is not the first time stakeholders are converging to make a case for the oil polluted Niger-Delta. After gaining global prominence of being the source of Nigeria and Africa’s most valuable resource, crude, the coastal Communities are once again on the spotlight but this time for negative reasons.
The entire activity of oil exploration in Nigeria happens in the Niger-Delta, it is easy to understand that the story of Ogoni and the entire south south is the story of oil drilling. It is also the story of the pain that the oil drilling brought to these Communities.
It all began more than a decade ago when Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Nigeria’s then biggest official licensed oil explorer desecrated the oil rich Communities in Ogoni in what was then adjudged to be the most disastrous oil spills in history.
This disaster through waterways spread across other parts of the coastal communities contaminating water sources, land and the entire eco system making the survival of the flora and fauna in the region a mere privilege. With several calls by activists who sacrificed their lives causing a global outcry, interventions like the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report provide a baseline for the Cleanup of the oil Polluted areas with a budget of 1 billion dollars. That was in 2011.
The federal government then in reaction to the UNEP 2011 Report flagged off the cleanup exercise by contracting the Federal Ministry of Environment through what it termed the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in 2016.
UNEP, HYPREP, very powerful acronyms that when mentioned can bring succor to the Niger-Deltans, but the reverse is the case. Despair has set in. The reason is not farfetched; the Oil Polluted Communities can’t access potable water despite promises and commitments from Government and private bodies. Being that oil contributes 8.55% to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Products (NBS 2018 report), one would have thought that the communities where the oil is drilled will by now a home to tourists and investors alike just like it is in some parts of oil producing middle east countries.
The 2011 UNEP Report showed that there is high level of hydrocarbon pollution and Benzene contaminations of ground water, 900 times above World Health Organisation (W.H.O) standard in OGONI and other parts of the polluted south south oil communities. Benzene contamination has a long-term effect that causes decrease in red blood cells that can lead to anemia, a health condition in which one does not have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues and feels tired and weak all the time.
Also prominent are the 8 emergency measures the UNEP Report recommended among which includes provisions of potable drinking water. This forms a major part of the crisis. “Water is heavily contaminated; women are at the receiving end, it is affecting health of women and children…” Nelly Umoren from the Kebefkache Women Development and Resource Centre, Port-harcourt Rivers State said.
From the other parts of Rivers to Bayelsa, to Delta and other parts of the oil rich south-south, the story is the same. Oil exploration has created numerous problems including economic injustice, hazardous consequences of climate change and security challenges. The cleanup exercise is now viewed by locals as a political exercise. “I am one of those people whose houses was burnt 2 people killed by youths who claimed that money was given as compensation to communities without reaching them”, Suanu Baridan a traditional leader bearing the title Gbenemene Bangha II stated. This shows that the cleanup exercise has created a new “breed” of crisis. While the Civil Society Community continues to advocate for the acceleration of the cleanup, the Oil polluted communities keep viewing the moves as mere “academic exercise”. “Non of the UNEP recommendations has been implemented, and stakeholders especially Journalists prefer to stay at the comfort of Hotels to report on Ogoni and other oil polluted communities, no one has ever visited these communities to give a good report”. Naabulobiri Naazigha-Lue, a Lawyer from Portharcourt said. Other traditional rulers raised the concern of non-inclusion. According to Mene Kotex a member of the Ogoni Supreme Council of Traditional Rulers, “…we are not carried along and HYPREP should know that no one can enter any town without the knowledge of the traditional rulers…. “no one will enter Gokana without my permission” he added.
HYPREP’s Project Coordinator, Dr. Marvin Barinem Dekil in response tried to make case for the government. He said HYPREP mobilize contractors for the cleanup exercise base on available funds and resources. “HYPREP is a creation of the Federal Ministry of Environment and can’t do anything without the permission of the Ministry. Another HYPREP team member Peter Medee a member board of Trustees made the attempt of calming the nerves of the aggrieved representatives of the oil polluted communities. Medee said “there is no cause for alarm, we now have an “Ogoni Trust Fund” where money for the cleanup exercise will be deposited and contractors will be given immediately they make demands.”
This according to Medee will curb the excesses of the much talked about delay in the cleanup exercise. Medee’s comments did not lower the pace of complaints coming from aggrieved persons. Ato Alfreder’s account on the effects of oil pollution in the South-South was strange. Alfreder an activist from Bayelsa told TNG that hardships associated with access to food, potable water and even jobs have been tempered immensely with men’s sexual health. “Bring back our men” Alfreder said, “…we want our men to return the way they used to be as men from Niger-Delta.…” She said some women in the Niger- Delta now go as far as seeking sexual satisfaction outside their marriage. “Child bearing is an issue; men can’t get women pregnant any longer, infidelity, adultery and many other forms of sexual immorality is common among married men, we have to say it as it is…. before now it is unheard of for a woman to cheat and brag about it, but now-a-days women in the Niger-Delta come out boldly to say they are dating…. All these are caused by the physical, psychological and economical effects of environmental pollution brought by oil spillage in the Niger-Delta.
CSO Raises alarm over possible lost of Relative Peace in Oil Polluted Communities
For the Centre for Leadership Strategy and Development (Centre LSD) organizers of the Policy Dialogue, the Federal Government must sustain the peace it has restored in the Niger Delta by accelerating the cleanup exercise in Ogoni.
Acting Executive Director of the centre Monday Osasa disclosed this through one of the centre’s senior programme officer Uche Arisukwu. According to Osasah “cleaning the Niger-Delta is social justice, and having achieved relative calm so far, we believe that further tempering with citizens’ expectation by delay in the process will be problematic….” He said. “infact its going to be a big problem…. if we lose the relative peace we have now in the region…, he added.