01 June 2016, Sweetcrude, Abuja – President Muhammadu Buhari will on Thursday visit the Niger Delta region, rocked by attacks on oil and gas facilities, for the first time since taking office a year ago, an official said on Monday.
The President’s visit was announced as the Niger Delta Avengers militant group, which has claimed a string of recent attacks, issued a warning to oil firms in the southern region that their “facilities and personnel will bear the brunt of our fury,” according to a statement.
During his Democracy day address on Sunday, President Buhari said the government would hold talks with leaders in Nigeria’s main oil-producing region to address their grievances, in a bid to stop a surge in pipeline attacks.
Buhari will visit a Niger Delta area called Ogoniland to launch a much-delayed programme to clean up areas heavily polluted by oil spills, said the government official who asked not to be named.
Residents in the southern swamp areas, where oil giants such as Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron operate, have for years complained about the oil industry’s pollution and about economic marginalisation by the government.
Some have taken up arms, and a surge in attacks on energy installations has cut Nigeria’s oil output to a 20-year low.
The militant group called Niger Delta Avengers, which staged several attacks in recent weeks, has accused Buhari of ignoring local problems by having never visited the region.
“To the international oil companies and indigenous oil companies, it’s going to be bloody this time around,” the group said in a statement late on Monday. It did not elaborate.
Local officials and Western allies such as Britain have told Buhari that moving army reinforcements to the Delta region would not be enough to stop the attacks and that the population’s grievances should be dealt with.
Last week, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu said the amnesty programme for former militants, signed in 2009 to quell a previous insurgency, needed to improve.
The scheme providing cash benefits and job training to those who lay down their arms has had its funding cut by two thirds. Buhari has also upset former militants by ending contracts to protect pipelines, part of a drive to tackle graft.
In a related development, the Minister of Environment, Ms. Amina Mohammed, has assured the people of Ogoniland that President Muhammadu Buhari is fully committed to the clean-up of the oil-rich area as recommended in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report.
She said this yesterday after inspecting a clean-up demonstration site in Bodo, Gokana Local Government of Rivers State, in the company of the Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mrs. Ibim Semenitari.
As a demonstration of his commitment to the clean-up exercise, the minister confirmed that the president would be in Ogoni on June 2 commence the Ogoni clean-up programme.
She said it was fortuitous that Buhari would return to Ogoniland where he had inaugurated a flourishing fish pond in 1984 only to see a fish pond that had been destroyed by oil pollution.
“To come back to see that the fish pond is gone is indeed a tragedy,” she lamented.
Mohammed said it was not just that the fish pond was destroyed but that the livelihood and wealth of a people were equally ruined. She said the president was coming to restore hope.
She stated: “The federal government is coming back to restore the ecosystem to what it used to be and bring back the source of livelihood for the people.”
The minister said further: “We are not just committed to implementing the UNEP report. We are going beyond that to also look at the overall effort to revive the Niger Delta region. We have to get all stakeholders to buy into this project so as to make it sustainable. It is not just a project for the federal government. The states, local governments and communities have a stake.”
According to her, the commencement of the clean-up exercise was only the beginning.
“What is more important is what happens the days after the flag-off. President Buhari is concerned about the issues of security, good governance and the economy,” she maintained.
The NDDC Acting Managing Director, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, also said the clean-up exercise was a big issue for the interventionist agency, adding that cleaning up the Niger Delta environment was of utmost importance to the commission.
Semenitari expressed delight that the president was coming to Ogoni to demonstrate the importance he attached to the welfare of the people of the Niger Delta and the Ogonis in particular. “President Buhari is acting true to his character as one who keeps promises,” she emphasised.
The NDDC boss said Ogonis were united behind the efforts of the federal government to clean up their environment, noting that it would help in ensuring the sustainability of the project. She said that the support of stakeholders was critical for the success of the restoration programme.
The UNEP report, which was released in 2011, advised the Nigerian authorities and multinational oil companies operating in Ogoniland to clean-up the pollution caused by decades of oil exploration activities in the area.
It stated that the environmental clean-up and restoration of Ogoniland could take between 25 and 30 years to achieve.