UNEP: Once upon a report

Niger-Delta-Questionx07 October 2014, Sweetcrude, Port Harcourt – In 1993 the Shell Petroleum Development Company, operator of the Joint Venture Partnership between Nigeria and the oil majors, pulled out of the production fields dotting Ogoniland due to the hostility of the natives. As part of efforts to re-enter the lucrative territory, the federal government commissioned the United Nations Environment Programme to carry out a study of the impact of oil production on Ogoniland. That body carried out a thorough examination of the area and published a damaging report on the 4th of August 2011. The UNEP report detailed the monumental negligence of the SPDC and other IOCs in the process of exploiting crude oil deposits. It recommended, among many other measures, that a cleanup exercise be carried out immediately on the devastated territory, warning that it may take twenty years after the recommended cleanup for the territory to regain its natural integrity.

The territory that is simply referred to as Ogoniland has human populations; men, women and children continue to live on the excoriated land, drinking poisoned water and feeding on unhealthy farm produce. The federal government was so deeply touched by the environmental conditions portrayed by the report, concerned over the dire living conditions of its citizens in the area and just a bit disturbed by the loss of revenue from the area, that it set up the Hydrocarbon Pollution Reformation Project (HYPREP) in July 2012 with a mandate to implement UNEP’s recommendations. Of course, the report was never implemented.

The non-implementation of the UNEP report by the federal government has been the subject of a thousand and one essays but the inept policy makers that supervise the industry paid no attention so that the land continues to waste, the people who live on the land continue to suffer neglect, Nigeria’s loss of revenue deepening. Perhaps in order not to be seen as not presenting her ministry’s arguments for the anticipated second tenure of President Jonathan, Diezani Alison-Madueke and the NNPC made a press release on the 16th of September, 2014. The release, signed by one Ohi Alegbe, Group General Manager in charge of Group Publics Affairs contained more inanities than promises for the implementations of the UNEP report.

For starters, the Petroleum Resources Minister was quoted as confessing that her government “is now fully committed to the implementation of the UNEP report.” The clear implication of that statement is that her government had NOT been fully committed to the implementation of the report. The minister argued that the implementation of the UNEP report had been delayed by the need to “enthrone due process in its execution.” The minister also stated that government will set up “a steering committee” the work scope of which was not stipulated but assured Nigerians that government has to carry out “aggressive work for the next three months.” Permit me to posit that if it takes a ministry three whole years to develop the modalities for implementing a report, that report may never be implemented given that in those three years the supervising minister has fired all the competent hands that could have approached the matter professionally; it should also be noted that while failing to implement the report, one failure among a zillion, the minister has successfully prepared four budgets for her ministry, negotiated for and procured a jet for her office and popularised her signature Ankara shirt and blouse outfits, a project that industry watchers perceive she takes more seriously than the production of oil and gas.

With the inclusion of a “steering committee” to the arrangements and the expectation of “three months of aggressive work” by a ministry that is led by a grossly incompetent official, we now know that the implementation of the UNEP report’s commendations for the cleanup of Ogoniland would continue to exist in the realm of debates, tales and postulations than reality.

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