As environmental right groups the world over sadly draw attention to the pains, misery and loss of livelihood in Ogoniland resulting from decades of reckless oil exploitation and massive pollution of their environment by Shell, Social Action working with Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF), Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and other community groups has called for an urgent declaration of a state of emergency on the Ogoni environment.
Addressing thousands of Ogoni people and others who gathered at Bori, the traditional headquarters of Ogoni people to commemorate the second anniversary of the release of UNEP Audit Report on Ogoni environment, Comrade AkpoBari Celestine, an environmental/human rights Campaigner on behalf of the groups condemned what he called a criminal silence of the Nigerian Government and Shell on the implementation of that report (also referred to as a death sentence) two years after its release.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), on the request of the Federal Government of Nigeria carried out an assessment of oil pollution in Ogoniland following over 50 years of petroleum exploitation. UNEP’s Ogoni report, which was released on 4 August 2011 showed massive and widespread pollution of land areas and wetlands of Ogoniland by Shell and the Nigerian government owned NNPC (Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation).
The report showed that Ogoni communities are exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons in outdoor air and drinking water, sometimes at elevated concentrations. Since average lifeexpectancy in Nigeria is less than 50 years, it is a fair assumption that most members of the current Ogoniland community have lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives. Of most immediate concern, community members are drinking water from wells contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline and 1000 times above Nigerian drinking water standards
Benzene was detected in all air samples at concentrations ranging from 0.155 to 48.2 μg/m3. Approximately 10 per cent of detected benzene concentrations in Ogoniland were higher than the concentrations WHO and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) report as corresponding to a 1 in 10,000 cancer risk.
In 49 samples tested, UNEP observed severe contamination with hydrocarbons in soil at depths of at least 5m. In other sites, up to 8 cm layer of refined oil was observed floating on the groundwater, which serves the community wells – their source of drinking water. In at least seven wells examined, the hydrocarbon contamination is at least 1,000 times higher than the Nigerian drinking water standard of 3 μg/l. Surface water throughout the creeks in the area also contains high levels of hydrocarbons.
UNEP also discovered that oil pollution in many intertidal creeks has left mangroves denuded of leaves and stems, leaving roots coated in a bitumen-like substance sometimes 1 cm or more thick. Mangroves are spawning areas for fish and nurseries for juvenile fish and the extensive pollution of these areas is impacting the fish life-cycle. Crops in areas directly impacted by oil spills are damaged, and root crops, such as cassava, become unusable.
The report states that this contamination warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts. Hydrocarbon contamination was found in water taken from 28 wells at 10 communities adjacent to contaminated sites.
UNEP identified that one of the most serious consequences of Shell’s lack of an effective clean up was severe contamination of groundwater, putting communities health at serious risk
What is shocking is that in spite of above life threatening recommendations by UNEP, the government of Nigeria and the Polluter –Shell have both chosen to remain silent while the people are allowed to die in their numbers as a result of hunger and the poisonous environment they find themselves.
Of recent, Shell in a bit to run away from its responsibility has been claiming that illegal activities such as bunkering and sabotage, were the main causes of oil spill in Ogoni and other Niger Delta communities but the company has an obligation to prevent tampering of its facilities and they have all it takes to protect their over aged pipeline and well heads across the delta. Again, the company of late, has been selling off its assets in Nigeria while the mess is left behind.
Since, the release of the UNEP Report on Ogoniland on August 4, 2011, the government of Nigeria has been paying lip-service to the Clean-Up recommended. However, on receiving the report, President Goodluck Jonathan set up a Presidential Implementation Committee (PIC), jointly headed by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke (who is chair of the Board of NNPC and a former executive of Shell) and the Minister of Environment to study the report and advise the federal government on the best pathway. Following the recommendations of the PIC, which was not made known to the Ogoni, The Federal Government set up the “Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP)” on July 24, 2012 to Clean-Up the entire Niger Delta. But HYPREP had not done any work in Ogoni and elsewhere as at January 2013. No provision was made for the work of HYPREP in the 2013 budget of the federal government of Nigeria.
At the event, the people made the following demands:-
-that a state of emergency be declared immediately on the Ogoni environment and the area, tagged a “Disaster Territory”
-Clean up all oil spills to internationally accepted standards, and in consultation with the community, and ensure independent verification of the clean-up.
-that Shell stops ongoing sale of its oil wells until polluted sites are cleaned up and adequate compensation paid to affected persons and families.
-that the Federal Government of Nigeria scraps HYPREP for the establisment of Ogoni Environmental Restoration Agency as recommended by UNEP.
-that the Federal Government of Nigeria immediately make public names of persons already employed by HYPREP.