Thursday, August 13, 2015

Buhari’s commendable steps in Niger Delta

Going by the paltry votes he got in most of the Niger Delta states during the March 28, 2015 presidential election, one can say that President Muhammadu Buhari is very unpopular in the region. Perhaps, if ex-President Goodluck Jonathan were not to be from that region, he would have fared better there at the polls.
Be that as it may, Buhari is demonstrating by his actions in recent time that he is the President of the entire country, including those who did not vote for him. In his about 70 days in office, Buhari has done the following for the Niger Delta region: Appointment of Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas from Cross River State as the new Chief of Naval Staff. This is in spite of the fact that the Inspector-General of Police, Solomon Arase, who is from Edo State, is from the same South-South zone. The appointment of a Niger Delta son from Bayelsa State, Brig. Gen. Paul Boroh (retd.) as the new Coordinator of the Amnesty Programme. Prior to this appointment, thousands of ex-militants were thrown out of their accommodation and training programmes in foreign institutions while allowances of those studying within the country could not be paid. The commencement of operation by the Port Harcourt and Warri refineries after a successful turnaround maintenance is also praiseworthy.
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However, to me, by far the most commendable thing the President has done in the Niger Delta region was the approval for the implementation of the United Nations Environmental Programme Report on Ogoniland despoliation. News filtered out last Wednesday, August 5, that Buhari also approved the compositions of the Governing Council and Board of Trustees of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project which were majorly facilitated by the recommendations of the Executive Director of UNEP, the UNEP Special Representative for Ogoniland, Permanent Secretaries of the Federal Ministries of Environment and Petroleum Resources, and other stakeholders, including the amendment of the Official Gazette establishing the HYPREP to reflect a new governance framework on the project.
The report stated that members of the governing council and their representatives would include one representative each from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Federal Ministry of Environment, Impacted State (Rivers); four representatives from the oil companies and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation; two representatives from Ogoniland; one representative from the United Nations System while the Secretariat would be headed by the Project Manager.
Similarly, the composition of a Board of Trustees for the HYPREP Trust Fund will be made up of the Federal Government, the NNPC, one representative; International Oil Companies, one representative; Ogoniland, one representative and the United Nations System with one representative.
A statement by the presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, stated that “a contribution deposit of $10m will be made by stakeholders within 30 days of the appointment of members of the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund who will be responsible for collecting and managing funds from contributors and donors.” It added that the environmental clean-up of Ogoniland will commence in earnest with the President’s inauguration of the HYPREP Governing Council and the Board of Trustees for the Trust Fund just as a new implementation template has also been evolved at the instance of the President.
For those who may not know why I am joyous about this approval for the implementation of the UNEP report, let me recap, albeit briefly, the decades of agony of Ogoniland for which many lives have been lost including that of the environmental rights activist, poet and playwright, Ken Saro Wiwa. In a February 23, 2012 article published in this newspaper entitled, “Despoliation of Nigerian environment”. I noted, inter alia, that on August 4, 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme submitted the report of its Ogoniland Oil Assessment to President Goodluck Jonathan. The findings of the assessment team are earth-shaking and mind-boggling.
According to UNEP, pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the region has penetrated further and deeper than many may have supposed. Over a 14-month period, 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. Detailed soil and groundwater contamination investigations were conducted at 69 sites. 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.
Some of the key findings of the assessment team included: Some areas, which appeared unaffected at the surface, were 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 was contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health was seriously threatened. In one community, at Nisisioken Ogale, in western Ogoniland, families were drinking water from wells that were contaminated with benzene- a known carcinogen-at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organisation guidelines; Control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland had been and remains inadequate, the Shell Petroleum Development Company’s own procedures had not been applied, creating public health and safety issues.
The impact of oil on mangrove vegetation has been disastrous; when an oil spill occurs on land, fires often break out, killing vegetation and creating a crust over the land, making remediation or re-vegetation difficult; while the impact of individual contaminated land sites tend to be localised, air pollution related to oil industry operations is all pervasive and affecting the quality of life of close to one million people. Artisanal refining (a practice whereby crude oil illegally obtained from oil industry operations is refined in primitive stills), is endangering lives and ultimately causing pockets of environmental devastation in Ogoniland and neighbouring areas.
The expert assessors made the following propositions: Through a combination of approaches, individual contaminated land areas in Ogoniland can be cleaned up within five years, while the restoration of heavily-impacted mangrove stands and swamplands will take up to 30 years. However, all sources of ongoing contamination must be brought to an end before the clean-up of the creeks, sediments and mangroves can begin. The report recommends establishing three new institutions in Nigeria to support a comprehensive environmental restoration exercise. These are the Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority to oversee implementation of the study. The authority’s activities should be funded by an Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, to be set up with an initial capital injection of $1bn contributed by the oil industry and the government, to cover the first five years of the clean-up project.
An Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre, to be built in Ogoniland and supported by potentially hundreds of mini-treatment centres, to treat contaminated soil and provide hundreds of job opportunities. The report recommends creating a Centre of Excellence in Environmental Restoration in Ogoniland to promote learning and benefit other communities impacted by oil contamination in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the world. Lastly, reforms of environmental government regulation, monitoring and enforcement, and improved practices by the oil industry were also recommended.
It is striking that a Niger Deltan was the President when this report was produced in 2011. He did not demonstrate sufficient political will to implement this lifesaving report. It took a President of Northern extraction to dust up and order its implementation. As stated in my 2012 referenced article, “Government must also take stringent measures against oil explorers in Nigeria who have been ‘playing kite’ with the lives of our people through their unprofessional operations in our oil fields. We must save our environment by ensuring that acts of negligence by oil companies are no longer treated with kid gloves.” While I laud Mr. President on his Niger Delta initiatives thus far, I further crave his indulgence to do all he can to stop pipeline vandalism, oil theft as well as complete the East-West road.