FG Should Clean Up Niger Delta Now – Dr. Ojo

Dr. Ojo

In this interview the Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, speaks about the need to do an environmental clean-up of Niger Delta to avert crisis in the region.

It is about six years now that the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report on the cleanup of Ogoniland was made public. But it seems the government is not doing enough to address the issue.
Based on the UNEP reports, assessment and recommendations that was presented to the Federal Government (FG) on August 4, 2011 it is very surprising that uptil not a drop of oil has been cleaned, not a drop of the polluted oil site has been cleaned in the Niger Delta. Of course, this President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) led government has made some efforts. 

Committees have been set up. But, we want to strongly appeal that 2017 we should see a concerted effort in the cleanup of Ogoniland. The people are in a high expectation that government should match people's expectation by action. So it is highly recommended that the government should commence the clean up of Ogoniland immediately. So, its clean up  now, no more delay. The committees, we have not heard much about them. They have yet to make any public statement. We haven't seen their blueprint or action plans. All these should be presented to the general public.

Can we have a clearer understanding of the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP)?
We strongly believe that the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), which is an administrative agency under the Petroleum Ministry, that has been saddled with the cleanup of Ogoni cannot function properly the way it is. We are happy that the Federal Government has domiciled the clean up in the Federal Ministry of Environment. But the HYPREP gazzete still remains and that allows oil companies to be members of the governing council and the Board of Trustees. 

We strongly say that for Shell and other oil companies to be members of the governing council that has oversight function for the clean up will undermine the process because Shell is there to protect their own interest. It would be doubtful if they are ready for proper cleanup. So, the oil companies should not be part of the Board of Trustees having oversight function, governing council set up by the government. Oil companies should not be part of that otherwise the oversight  function is going to be compromised. Let me just say this in addition. What will happen to the entire Niger Delta. Why are we talking about Ogoni? Simply, the history behind Ogoni, killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the activist. What they were saying was not just about Ogoniland alone. It is about oil bearing Niger Delta and the destruction of their livelihoods, waterways, rivers, swamps and the mangrove. 

This is very important for conflict resolution. To the extent that we should be talking about not only the cleaning up of Ogoniland but the entire Niger Delta. The UNEP report recommends $1billion as the initial take-off grant of the cleanup. Government is not forthcoming and the money is not on the table. It should be announced publicly. Secondly, to cleanup the Niger Delta we need a blueprint. We need some studies. We strongly believe that government should also set aside $100billion for the take-off of the cleanup of the entire Niger Delta. If the Niger Delta is cleaned up and the environment and livelihood of the people is restored then the issues of poverty and violent conflicts is likely going to reduce significantly. 

Because the issues are poverty, lack of employment which are aggravating the conflict. So, we strongly recommend that the destruction that has taken place in terms of livelihood destruction should be restored in ways that allow local communities to survive in their farmlands and fishing occupation. The cleanup of Ogoni is very important. But it is not cleanup alone that is required. People who lost livelihood over the years should be compensated. There is a social aspect to it. The clean up is important but compensation is also important and this aspect should not be neglected.

What is your take on the argument that the Federal Government should stop giving the 13 percent derivation fund to the state but should be handing it over to the host communities?
I think what is important is that the 13percent derivation should be increased no doubt. But there should be provision for host communities to allow for some equity and participation in the use and allocation of oil revenue in ways that allow them to have foundation. This is what is in the earlier Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as proposed. But its very shocking and surprising that the new Petroleum Industry Bill as its been proposed does not have a thing like that. 
It is very important that the local governments and the rural communities are carried along in the management of the oil revenue. That is very crucial. We are very shocked and surprised that the present Petroleum Industry Bill does not make provision for the local communities whereas the former one made provisions for 10percent equity to be devoted to local government for rural development and to make them have a sense of belonging. This is a way to encourage people and to make them have a sense of belonging. To address the poverty situation in Nigeria, we are pleased that the Federal Government has started a Social Investment Programme (SIP) which has already registered 500000 people. 
The focus is on nine states but people from three states are being paid right now. We want to appeal that the programme should cover more than nine States rather it should cover the whole of the federation. Poverty is widespread in Nigeria so the programme should be all encompassing. The issue of selection of some states will make the programme suspect. It should be all embracing and it should be without condition. We want to also say that the Social Investment Programme is not comprehensive enough but as a starting point is commendable. It should include old age pension for old people who are not enjoying any kind of pension. It should include medical/health programme, food for those who are not employed such should be entitled to three square meals a day. 
We may not be able to be doing what the government in Finland is doing for its people where it is paying $600 monthly across board as social security to its citizens who are not gainfully employed but we can copy from that. To say that Nigeria government cannot afford it is not true. What we need to do is to accept the will for social security for the poor people in Nigeria. We can talk about statutory budget allocation; we can talk of additional tax for personal emoluments - people who are earning N500000 and above they would be willing to pay 1percent as tax. In any case, most Nigerians are already doing it, helping people. 
About 63 percent of Nigerians are now dependent population and that is a time bomb. We don't need to over emphasise the security risk that poses to the country. It leads to low morals. The N5000 per head for the SIP is not enough. Our proposal is that N10,000.00 monthly stipend should be paid to all unemployed Nigerians.
It seems there would be no end to the issue of gas flaring in Nigeria?
We hold the oil companies and the World Bank responsible for the continuous gas flaring going on in Nigeria. As a matter-of-fact the oil companies backed by the World Bank continue to shift the goalpost and their efforts to use monetary instrument to cause gas flaring will not work. Gas flaring has become criminal and illegal since 1984.

 It was stipulated that by then there will be an end to gas flaring but gas flaring continues persistently. What you hear government, oil companies and World Bank saying is to shift the goalpost. As we speak, the oil companies are in discussion with the world bank and they are saying that gas flaring will not stop until 2030. That is deceptful because gas flaring needs to stop now. We will continue to complain and bring it to government attention and the attention of oil companies that it is time to end gas flaring. Gas flaring needs to stop in 2017.

With the continuous threat of the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) to cause havoc in the country, do you think there is any hope for peace to return to the region?
We will continue to emphasis on the need for dialogue. All forms of agitations and demands should be channeled properly. I strongly believe that dialogue can lead to resolution of these issues. We should be very conscious not to let grievance to be overtaken by greed.

I want to appeal to the militants to shield their sword while we put up a concerted effort to clean up the entire Niger Delta. When this is done a lot of things will change for the better. Improved allocation based on derivation should also be recommended for the region. It should be increased from 13 percent to around 50. The major issues in the Niger Delta is the degradation of the environment and the destruction of the livelihood. These need to be addressed to build the confidence of the people.

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