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Using non-violence to achieve clean up of Ogoniland

By Cornelius Essen
07 June 2016   |   3:45 am
To many Nigerians, plan to embark on the cleanup of Ogoniland is a global consensus, though processes and activities were local, regional and international in approach.
Cleanup exercise in Ogoniland PHOTO: GOOGLE

Cleanup exercise in Ogoniland PHOTO: GOOGLE

The recent flag-off ceremony of cleanup of Ogoniland has reawakened the hope of the people of the community that their environment could be liveable again.  CORNELIUS ESSEN (Abuja) reports on how the people adopted a peaceful approach that has now paid off.

To many Nigerians, plan to embark on the cleanup of Ogoniland is a global consensus, though processes and activities were local, regional and international in approach. As a result, the United Nations intervened in the conflict, especially in the aspects of environment for which many Ogoni activists, sons, and daughters have died over the years.

However, the federal government was in the forefront by inviting United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP to get the local populace buy into the study process of cleaning exercise of the Niger Delta region. Ogoni project remains an experiment that would create a model or calls it a template for conflict resolution in Nigeria.

As a contemporary Nigerian leader, President Muhammadu Buhari made a firm promise to launch the clean-up scheme. “When I came into office on May 29,2015, one of the first tasks I carried out was to authorize the implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Environmental Programme for the clean-up of Ogoni land.”

Report shows that there are least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons. That is not all; public health is also seriously threatened, according to UNEP assessment. Scientists found 8cm (three inch) layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater that serves their wells in the areas.

In one of the communities, Nisisioken Ogale, in Eleme Local government area of Ogoni kingdom, people are drinking water from well tainted with benzene, known as carcinogen, 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines. Against this background, the UNEP recommends that the contamination warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts.

Speaking at the flag-off of the cleaning exercise, President Muhammadu Buhari said that the official take off of the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP report on Ogoniland was a key evidence that Ken Saro-Wiwa and others who fought hard for environmental justice did not die in vain. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who stood in for Buhari, expressed concerned about the widespread environmental devastation of the Niger Delta region.

“The beginning of this clean-up exercise is key evidence to restore economic, wealth, health of the people. Let this day mark the beginning of the restoration, not just of the Ogoniland, but of peace and prosperity to Ogoni people and that of the Niger Delta region.
“We are determined to put right the wrongs of the past, where the people of this land were treated unfairly and their environment unduly degraded. Today, we are in Ogoniland, at the heart of Niger Delta to fulfil our promise to you and to bring justice and succour to our people.

“A lot is taken from Ogoniland and, relatively, a little is brought back in return. I assure you that an APC-led Federal Government will fulfil all its promises in Ogoniland.”
Osinbajo  said “the cleanup of this land will require change on the path of those who deal with the environment particularly the oil companies and our communities. The administration is laying a solid foundation for the restoration of the fragile ecosystem of Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta.”

Also speaking, the Minister of Environment, Amina  Mohammed said the take off of the scheme marked a new dawn for the people of Ogoni and the entire region. “The event of today is a collective responsibility and Supreme Council of Ogoni Kingdom should see it as a battle fought and won, though it took several decades to achieve the cleanup project.

‘There are issues we will pick up as a follow-up. It is dialogue. Have conversation and appeal to heart and mind. What we have done so far is to set up an Adhoc Committee for people from the communities, young and old, experts, especially those who have involved in the struggle to actualize the cleanup project.”

She stated that a lot has happened since then including reaching out to the UNEP who had done the report, asking them to come and review it; look at the processes that had taken place in the last administration and then visit the area to see what is needed to be done.
“First thing we wanted to do; there will be zero tolerance for sharing money. We are taking money meant for Ogoni people and invest in its clean up and livelihoods thereafter. We have to follow it up with actions.”

Delivering a goodwill message on behalf of the dead and living, President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, MOSOP,
Legborsi Pyagbara showered praises to President Buhari and the Minister of Environment for the strength of character and contribution to the struggle of Ogoniland to clean the contaminated environment.

“We launched Ogoni Arise in 1990 and tagged it “Non-Violence and Peaceful Movement, though, over 2,000 souls perished and thousands fled to exile. We were mocked for using non-violence approach for the cleanup. It has paid off for the Ogoni Kingdom.”
Pyagbara, therefore, thanked the Minister of Environment immensely for the job well done, saying, “Amina Mohammed has done what most men could not do for the past years. History is made. We are urging the government to protect the rights of the people without resorting to violence.”

He called on all to put a legal framework to make the project a sustainable project as well as address the issue of infrastructure of the people of the Ogoniland and Niger Delta region.

Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike regretted that the Ogoniland and other communities have experienced environmental degradation, damage ever experienced by mankind in this part of the world. “They have lived all along with them until now when justice was done.”
According to Wike, only environmental justice will sustain the economic growth of the people through international partners and this should be through advocacies to ensure a just and clean Ogoni and Niger Delta.”

The Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company, Osagie Okunbor, in his goodwill message, gave assurance that other joint partners would support the cleanup project by contributing their counterpart fund for the implementation of the UNEP report.
While announcing his leaving the country, UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner maintained that UN was committed to the struggle of the Ogoni people and would ensure that what was promised at the launch of the project was actualised, including the implementation of the report.
All said and done, it is hoped the good thing that happened in Niger Delta will not be short-lived but will be sustained for the posterity.