BLOOD MONEY I: Did President Buhari lie about the cleanup of Ogoniland?

Last month, YNaija.com launched its Monthly Citizenship Dispatches, which explores in detail, the lives and realities of Nigerian citizens across the country.

This month, the dispatches come from the Niger Delta, where our reporters have spent weeks digging deep into a part of the country oft reported about and sadly still mis-understood.

These are the stories we will share with you daily over the next two weeks – for the voices, the issues, the realities that fellow citizens living in the Delta have dealt with, and continue to deal with every day.

In August 2008, an oil spill that would change the lives of the people of Ogoniland forever began along the banks of the Niger Delta waters, on the Bodo, Bomu and other nearby communities in Rivers State.

Seven years later, Shell, the major culprit in the entire episode reluctantly shelled out (pardon the pun) about $83 million in a landmark out-of-court settlement with 11,000 of the locals after a London court judgement.

Beyond that settlement however, remains a more problematic issue still literally lurking on the surface. Fish and sea birds were left dead; in addition, the trees and shrubs in the mangrove swamp withered away. For years, there were innumerable headlines about deaths from polluted water.

An extensive report in 2013 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) detailed the environmental and public health impacts of the contamination as well as recommendations to the Federal Government on remediation and sustainability.

The report stressed the severity of the environmental impact of oil exploration, pointing to the alarming presence of benzene in wells in the Nisisioken Ogale area at a level more than 900% higher than World Health Organisation guidelines.

Prologue

However, no efforts were made towards the cleanup until the appointment of Amina Mohammed, the Minister of Environment who came to office with a pedigree and a reputation accruing from years of service at the United Nations and also in coordinating the utilization of funds freed up by the $18 billion Paris Club debt relief of 2005.

The UNEP report estimated that the cleanup would take as much as 30-years to conclude so when the federal government announced that it would launch the process on June 2, everyone was expectant. And the launch did happen on June 2.

What did Buhari say?

In his Independence Day speech on October 1, 2016, President Buhari emphatically said: “Our administration is fully sympathetic to the plight of the good people of the Niger Delta and we are in touch with the state governments and leaderships of the region. It is known that the clean-up of the Ogoniland has started.”

So does the launch equate to the start of the cleanup process?

Has the cleanup begun?

The cleanup was launched by Vice-President Yomi Osibanjo on an erected platform that has long been dismantled and discarded. Apart from a billboard at the Patrick Waterside in Bodo welcoming Rotimi Amaechi, the incumbent minister of Transport to the site, there is no other physical evidence of the launch.

“You went there and you saw it yourself”, Chief Mene Kpea, paramount ruler of Mogho, one of the affected communities tells YNaija. “Nothing is happening. I don’t think this government is serious about the cleanup. Even if the minister is serious about the cleanup, can she work without the help of the government she’s serving.”

Also, controversy over the funding of the cleanup is yet to be settled. The FG is to contribute $10m of the total $1.04bn budgeted but there is no mention of the project in the 2016 budget and the International Oil Companies (IOCs) involved are yet to release funds.

At a townhall meeting with stakeholders from Ogoniland and Deputy Governor Ipalibo Harry-Banibo of Rivers State at the Government House on April 28, 2016, Mrs Mohammed said: “I think I’d like to be clear about a few things here. First…the cleanup will happen under this administration’s watch. The timing is always of concern but we are absolutely committed to within this year, begin the cleanup of Ogoniland.”

In a series of tweets on Independence Day 2016 after the president’s speech, the minister insisted that flagging off the cleanup is more than physical processes. “The President doesn’t lie”, she replied someone. “Try to show some respect. Cleaning up Ogoniland is more than shoveling sand to clean. Cleanup requires training, clean water, demo sites which all have to be procured. We must have a process or the money will fail.”

Their claims are backed by Buhari’s inauguration of the governing council and board of trustees of the implementation framework for the cleanup – the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP).

So who then is making false claims? Buhari, his minister or both of them?

Verdict – The President’s claim is misleading

As it stands, both the Presidency and the Ministry of Environment ought to properly differentiate and explain to the general public what the ENTIRE cleanup process entails and the TIMELINE for EXECUTION by every means available to it.

If any document exists with regards to timeline of execution, then it CLEARLY has not been disseminated properly, especially to the President who needs to know before he wrongly addresses the nation or an even larger audience again.

In the case of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the American government showed a deeper sense of transparency in facilitating the cleanup. Within two years after the explosion of the drilling rig, the cleanup was well underway and the major players in the spill had contributed over 700 million personnel hours during the process by the end of 2014.

Have any preliminary Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) been done on the site since the cleanup? When will offshore filtration and other removal processes commence?

As it stands, there is no evidence that concrete work will be done on the affected sites within the first four years of this administration, regardless of the minister’s public resolve or the president’s comments in that regard.

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*The next installment will be published at 10am WAT tomorrow.

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