Some twenty one years after the murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists, there is some hope that finally, finally, the oil polluted Ogoniland in the Niger Delta will begin to be cleaned up from decades of exploitation.
It was way back in the late fifties that Shell first found oil in the region and since then the communities have been caught in a vortex of oil pollution, spillage, poverty and violence. That violence continues to this day, and only this morning another pipeline was blown up by the newly formed self-styled Niger Delta Avengers.
One of the main issues the communities have complained about over the decades is chronic pollution.
To try and assess how bad the situation was, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was requested to carry out assessment of Ogoniland the area, which was finished in 2011. Over a 14 month period, UNEP visited over 200 locations in Ogoni, surveyed over 122 kilometres of pipes and examined 4,000 pollution samples.
The report was published in August 2011, with seventy six recommendations, saying it would take 20 plus years to clean up the region.
But little has happened in the five years since.
And now finally the Nigerian government has announced that it will allocate $1 billion to a cleaning and regeneration programme. The programme was announced at a ceremony in Bodo in the Delta this month.
One of those to attend the ceremony was UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner who said that “the people of Ogoniland has paid a high price for the success of the Nigerian oil industry.”
It is hoped that the announcement of the cleanup will reduce the violence in the Delta. One of the main militant groups, The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), reacted positively to announcement, praising the administration of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari for showing political will by starting the clean-up.
The Group the attacked the previous President, Goodluck Jonathan, who came from the region, of a “colossal failure” for failing to enact the clean-up sooner.
President Buhari, who was represented at the ceremony by his Vice President, due to security concerns, said: “We are determined to put right the wrongs of the past where the people of the land were treated unfairly and the environment degraded and polluted .. The clean-up of the land will require change on the part of all those who will deal with the Niger Delta environment, particularly the oil companies and our communities.”
The announcement received cautious positive feedback from community and environmental groups. Legborsi Piagbara, the President for Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) argued that the non-violent approach of Ogoni people had finally paid off.
“Ogoni people are on the threshold of history in Nigeria. Without blowing up one pipeline, without kidnapping any white man; we have become the beacon of change for the new Nigeria by stubbornly insisting on what is right. Today, we are the ones lighting the path for the new road which Nigeria should follow.”
The leading environmental group in the country, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) also welcomed the announcement but noted that “no concrete statements” were made as regards time-scales.
ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Godwin Uyi Ojo said: “No doubt, this administration has shown the political will to right the wrongs that the Ogonis have suffered in the last five years but we are discomforted that the president’s representative did not make any revelations that lifted the hope of the people.”
ERA is now calling on the Government to incorporate Nigerian civil society organisations into the Governing Council of the clean-up implementation committee as well as employ local people from the region once the clean-up finally starts.