25 August, 2011, Sweetcrude, ABUJA – The Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers has lamented the apparent neglect by the Federal Government, even as it discloses that thousands of children in the community are found to be suffering from cancer and other deadly diseases from exposure to contaminated water and food as a result of oil spill from activities of oil companies in the area.
The Gberemene Gokana Kingdom and Vice President, Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, His Royal Highness, King Barnabas B.P. Bagia revealed this on Thursday when he led a full complement of the Kingdom’s dignitaries and youth leaders on a visit to the Director-General, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), in Abuja.
He said his people are prepared to work for peace in the community, adding that the community should be allowed to nominate contractors for the cleaning up and remediation exercise, to be monitored by NOSDRA to avoid poor performance. He noted that the Ogoni people have “suffered neglect, deprivation and torture amongst other ethnic tribes in Nigeria. We belong to the very few that substantially formed part if the tribes that are owners in possession of the wealth of this nation, but we are robbed of the sweat of our labour by the majority tribes who gained through privileged position as leaders for the oppressed class.”
The Gberemene, who was represented by His Royal Highness, Nene Celestine Nuate, further stated that for over fifty years of operations by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in Ogoniland, the revenue derived from the sales of crude oil are used by the Federal Government to develop major cities in the country while the Ogoni communities remain underdeveloped.
According to him, “Our people are apparently wallowing in abject poverty, with its attendant sicknesses and diseases caused by the oil spilled from Shell Petroleum Development Company’s faulty pipelines in our land, which has destroyed all aquatic lives upon which the livelihood of the poor depend. Gokana Kingdom, made up of about twenty populated villages on whose land the worst oil spillage from SPDC occurred as contained in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, which shows that every child born in Ogoni in the past twenty years is suffering from cancer.”
He noted that apart from oil, Gokana Kingdom is also strategically placed as a strong farming and fishing communities. “From our waterside it takes only one nautical mile to cruise into the Atlantic Ocean but today, economic activities are brought to a halt because of the constant oil spillage from activities of Shell Petroleum, which have polluted the area.”
Bagia added that, “We have no good potable drinking water because of carbon from gas-polluted air and other noxious chemicals which made our water acidic. An Environmental Impact Assessment report, conducted by the Ogoni Environmental Watch shows that parts of Ogoniland will sink in the next twenty years.”
The Council of Chiefs, however, demanded for certain concessions in the clean-up exercise and other remediation programmes planned by the Federal Government, including the nomination of contractors for the clean-up to ensure effective monitoring and on-the-ground assessment by the communities affected.
According to the Gberemene, “We want the Federal Government and NOSDRA to prevail on Shell Petroleum Development Company not to use undue advantages of the clean-up and remediation exercise to embark on vertical/horizontal drilling of our crude oil as that attempt will be frowned at by the Ogoni people. We further demand to be allowed to be in charge of the Local Content of the entire clean-up and remediation exercise in Gokana as a way to remedy the growing unemployment in the Kingdom and create jobs for teeming youth in the area.”
Meanwhile the Director-General of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, Sir Peter Idabor has explained that the government was not ignorant of the state of pollution in the Niger Delta region, especially in Ogoniland, but was constrained due to its search for a responsible and credible organization to undertake the environmental impact assessment.
Government’s weak response
The Chief Executive of NOSDRA further disclosed that the Federal Government’s White Paper on the UNEP Report is expected to come out in the a few weeks; however, questions have persisted over why it has taken the government so long to wake up to its responsibility of protecting its citizens from such man-made catastrophe. Many commentators believe that more culpable in the oil-spill ravage in Ogoniland is government’s lessier-faire attitude towards the state of environment where the oil that powers the economy is sourced from.
According to Idabor, “Remember that for many years, the country was under military rule and we only just began to experience democratic government over the past decade. Remediation efforts were apparently neglected due to the military government’s attitude towards the people of the area, which led to killings and other forms of injustice against the people.
“We did not just wake up from our slumber as has been alluded in some quarters. All along, and since the creation of NOSDRA in 2006, we have been fully engaged in the communities trying to find a solution. However, government had to wait for an internationally recognized agency like UNEP to carry it the study and help it determine the scale of the pollution in the area.”