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Osinbajo launches clean-up as Buhari cancels Ogoni visit

By Kelvin Ebiri and Karls Tsokar, Abuja
03 June 2016   |   3:59 am
Without any official explanation, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday cancelled his scheduled visit to Rivers State for the commencement of the clean-up of Ogoni. However, the Vice President...
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (left);  Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike; and Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha  during  the launch of the clean-up of Ogoni land by the Vice President…yesterday at Bodo.          PHOTO: GOVERNMENT HOUSE

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (left);  Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike; and Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha during the launch of the clean-up of Ogoni land by the Vice President…yesterday at Bodo.  PHOTO: GOVERNMENT HOUSE

• Saro-Wiwa, others didn’t die in vain, says president
• Govt to clean up 27 oil communities in Delta

Without any official explanation, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday cancelled his scheduled visit to Rivers State for the commencement of the clean-up of Ogoni. However, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, represented Buhari at the event.

Buhari said that the official takeoff 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.

And concerned about the widespread environmental devastation of the Niger Delta, the president warned that his administration would not tolerate oil theft and artisanal refining of stolen petroleum products in the region.

Buhari observed that oil exploration and production had been going on in the country for six decades and had boosted the nation’s economy. He, however, acknowledged that the ecosystem of the Niger Delta had been severely damaged such that fishing and agriculture had been badly affected. He noted that there were acts, enactment, laws, guidelines and regulations to govern the operators of the oil industry, but regrettably, either because of lack of will or wilful non-compliance with environmental laws, the environment was put in jeopardy.

The president stated that the various communities in the Niger Delta region, noting the negative impact of oil production and lack of consideration for best practices, rightly commenced the struggle for justice and fair play in the conduct of business by the oil industry operators. This, according to him, unfortunately, led to loss of lives and property.

“The beginning of this clean-up exercise is key evidence that the likes of Saro-Wiwa and other sons of Ogoniland who fought so hard for environmental justice did not fight in vain. Let this day mark the beginning of the restoration, not just of the Ogoniland, but of peace and prosperity to Ogoniland and the people of the Niger Delta,” Buhari said.

Present at the event were the Minister of Transport and former Governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi, Minister of Budget, Udo Udoma, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ibim Semenitari, the ambassadors of The Netherlands and Norway as well as other dignitaries.

Buhari noted that the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo engaged UNEP to undertake a mission towards the clean-up of Ogoniland while recommendations were made for the implementation. But while the report was submitted to immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011, he failed to accord it the necessary support it required as the people of Ogoniland continued to suffer from pollution of air, land and water.

“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 the Niger Delta to fulfill our promise to you and to bring justice and succour to our people. The clean-up of this land will require change on the path of all those who deal with the Niger Delta environment, particularly the oil companies and our communities. The tempo of this assignment increased when my cabinet was constituted,” he said.

He explained that with the takeoff of the clean-up, the administration was laying a solid foundation for the restoration of the fragile ecosystem of Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta.

According to him, the UNEP report indicated a timeline of 25 to 30 years to achieve a full restoration of the environment of the Niger Delta and the first step begins with a solid foundation, which would be brought about through consultation, transparency, accountability, investing in the people and the environment.

“All Nigerians irrespective of political, ethnic and religious affiliation support the effort of this administration by giving approval for the constitution of the necessary institutional framework that will drive a hitch-free implementation of the UNEP report,” he said.

The president used the occasion to warn that current spates of oil theft and illegal refining would not be tolerated. He tasked the regulators of the oil industry to live up to expectations by ensuring that oil companies carry out their operations in line with universal best practices. According to him, the lives of the people and social economic interest depend to a great extent on the quality of the environment.

“Reports of oil pollution in the Nigerian environment show that a significant percentage is due to sabotage and also vandalism of oil companies facilities. The recent upsurge in the blasting of pipelines in the coast areas of several of the oil companies is a case in point. These incidents brought about drastic reduction in our daily oil production as well as gas that feeds our power plants for electricity generation. Inadequate power supply has consequential implication on our economy and wealth creation. The action of these saboteurs of our economy therefore increases the poverty circle everywhere.

“Given the current situation in the Niger Delta, we need to bear in mind that destroying the Niger Delta environment by oil companies, by militants or oil thieves has the same end result. Importantly, the present government can do justice to all without us destroying our environment,” he added.

On his part, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, said the entire Niger Delta had been subjected to the worst form of environmental degradation ever experienced by mankind in this part of the world.

Wike said millions of barrels of crude oil had been spilled into the environment by oil companies operating in the Niger Delta for decades with severe consequences for the ecosystem. And despite incessant protests by the people of the region, the degradation of the environment has not stopped.

“We believe that only environmental justice will restore sustainable peace, stability and sustained progress in the Niger Delta,” he said.The Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, said the takeoff of the clean-up marked a new dawn for the people of Ogoni and the Niger Delta as the Buhari’s administration had fulfilled the promise to commence the clean- up.

The Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company, Osagie Okunbor, assured that the company and other joint partners would support the clean-up and contribute their counterpart funding for the implementation of the UNEP report.

UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, noted that many including himself had assumed that the implementation of the report would no longer be actualised. According to him, the United Nations remains committed to the struggle of the Ogoni people and will ensure that what is promised at the takeoff is actualised.

The president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Legborsi Pyagbara, lauded President Buhari for fulfilling his promise to implement the UNEP report.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has promised to begin the clean-up of 27 communities in the Itsekiri area of Delta State affected by oil refining activities.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, made this known yesterday in Abuja when he received representatives of the 27 oil-impacted Itsekiri communities who paid him a visit in his office.

But he said that there were procedures that should be followed before the presidential approval would be given to begin the environmental exercise.

A statement by the Assistant Director, Press, Mohammed Nakorji, said the community representatives came to the SGF “to demand the commencement of the second phase of the clean-up of their area in Warri South Local Council Area of Delta State which stemmed from the activities of the Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company.”

The SGF informed the community leaders that the administration pays “serious attention to any community that has genuine complaints.”
Lawal said that “theirs (concern) is an on-going project, the government will definitely classify it as one of its priorities and promised to do everything within the available resources to alleviate the suffering of the people even though such projects will still have to go through procurement procedures and that ecological funds are deployed subject to presidential approval.”

Earlier, the spokesman of the group, Orugboh Emmanuel, said that the “Itsekiri community has been denied their means of livelihood as a result of the unwholesome environmental practices of Warri Refining and Petro-Chemical Company Limited and all efforts to get the previous governments to complete the clean-up of the area have failed.” He praised the government for the prompt response to their request which was barely made a week ago.Also with the SGF during the meeting was the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar and some permanent secretaries.