NIGERIAN President, Muhammadu Buhari, has said his decision to start the process of implementation of the Ogoni clean-up was informed by his determination to right the past wrongs done to the people of the community.
He said this while speaking at the formal flag-off of the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report on the clean-up of Ogoniland and other oil-impacted communities in the Niger Delta, held at Bodo Town in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, on Thursday.
The president, represented by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, also warned that oil theft and illegal oil refining would no longer be tolerated, adding that regulators of the oil industry must be alive to their responsibilities.
Buhari went down the memory lane, as he said he was in Bodo in 1984, then as the Head of State, to commission a large fish pond and planted a tree as a sign for his regime’s concern for the environment.
“Unfortunately, since then, the degradation of land, water and air has done huge damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Niger Delta, especially the Ogoniland.
“Oil exploration and production have been going on in Nigeria for six decades. Oil has given a boost to the Nigerian economy, but the ecosystem of the Niger Delta has been severely damaged. Fishing and agriculture have been badly affected.
“There were acts, enactment, laws, guidelines, regulations to govern the operators of the oil industry. However, either because of lack of will or wilful non-compliance with environmental laws, the environment was put in jeopardy.
“The various communities in the Niger Delta region, noting the negative impact of oil production and lack of consideration for best practices, quite right commenced the struggle for justice and fair play in the conduct of business by the oil industry operators.
“This, unfortunately, led to loss of lives and property. International concern was raised while past government were urged to take decisive steps to address issue.
“The administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo engaged the UNEP to undertake a mission towards the clean-up of Ogoniland while recommendations were made for its implementation.
“The report was submitted to my predecessor in office in 2011, but the implementation was not accorded the necessary support it required. The people of Ogoniland continued to suffer from pollution of air, land and water.
“On Thursday, the 8th of January, 2015, in the course of our presidential campaign, we made an unscheduled stop in Ogoniland. After listening to the address presented on behalf of the Ogoni people by Senator Magnus Abe, we made a solemn commitment that if given the opportunity, we shall implement the UNEP Report on Ogoniland.
“Today, we are in Ogoniland, on the heart of the Niger Delta, to fulfil our promise to you and to bring justice and succour to our people,” he said.
The president, however, admonished that the clean-up exercise would require change on the path of all those who deal with the Niger Delta environment, particularly the oil companies, as well as the communities.
“The tempo of this assignment increased when my cabinet was constituted. The Minister of Environment consulted all relevant ministries to actualise the UNEP Report.
“We are, therefore, laying a solid foundation today, for the restoration of the fragile ecosystem of Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta. This is an epoch-making event in the history of Nigeria,” Buhari said.
The president warned that the current oil theft and illegal refining would not be tolerated, adding that “the regulators of the oil industry must live up to expectations. They must ensure that oil companies carry out their operations in line with universal best practices.”
Also speaking at the event, Rivers State governor, Mr Nyesom Wike, said peace and development could only be sustained where there was environmental justice.
The governor also assured that his administration would provide the required platform for the successful clean-up of Ogoniland the implementation of the UNEP Report.
Also speaking, Minister of Environment, Mrs Amina Muhammed, said the full implementation of the UNEP Report would require trust, transparency, accountability and proper representation of the people of Ogoniland.
“It will require the trust that we have lost over the decades; it will require transparency and accountability and it will require proper representation of the people in what we are doing in investing in their future. It will also require that we do things differently. That is why this administration called for change,” she said.