Port Harcourt — Lawyer, senator, governorship aspirant and Ogoni son, Magnus Abe was in the news again last week, and you are probably thinking it had to do with his unsuccessful bid to govern Rivers State. You will recall that the Supreme Court on April 8 threw out his appeal challenging the outcome of the gubernatorial primaries conducted by his All Progressives Congress in Rivers State. But this is a story for another day.
Three days after the Supreme Court verdict, Magnus resumed his Red Chamber role and addressed the extremely galling issue of environmental pollution in Ogoni land, while speaking with journalists as his bill on the establishment of the University of Environment, Science and Agriculture scaled through the second reading in the Senate.
For those who are wondering why the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for the clean-up and remediation of oil spills in Ogoni land have yet to be implemented since they were made public in 2011, the Senator representing Rivers South East says we may have to wait longer because of insecurity and repeated pollution. His words: “Exactly at least six people are killed in one community or the other in Ogoni land. There is no day they are not killing people. Many residents of the various communities have abandoned homes and ran away due to violence. So, in that kind of atmosphere, it will be difficult for me to say there is any contractor somewhere in the bush alone working.” These comments, coming from a federal lawmaker and a prominent son of Ogoni, represent the truest and bravest assessment of the reality in Ogoni land. They are the truest because they are ungarnished with niceties and typical political double-speak but cut to the heart of the challenge the long-suffering Ogonis face today. And they are the bravest because usually, politicians pander to different interests and different publics, and do not come down on the side of truth and reality this soapbox practitioner has done.
Whichever way one looks at it, the latest alarm bells rung by this prominent Ogoni son should force everyone associated with the clean-up – communities, government at all levels, oil and gas industry operators, civil society organisations – to stop and think again. We’ve recently seen some actions which have been taken in the implementation of the UNEP Report. For a start, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) which is leading the clean-up, was reconstituted in January 2017 with the appointment of Dr. Marvin Dekil, a seasoned environmental professional and Ogoni son as project coordinator on a four-year tenure. HYPREP then mobilised contractors to site for scoping and scientific identification of the impacted sites in Eleme ahead of the commencement of the exercise in Ogoni land. Clean-up was to commence in the last quarter of 2018 with 183 companies penciled down out of a total of 400 that bid for the pre-qualified 26 of the 64 sites investigated by UNEP. To ensure a sound and holistic job, the Federal Government re-engaged UNEP for technical support, and on April 9, inaugurated a Central Advisory Committee to liaise with stakeholders, communities, and HYPREP on the conduct of the clean-up. These steps encouraged the expectation that, a successful restoration of the environment in Ogoni land, will be the touchstone for the remediation of similarly contaminated sites elsewhere in the Niger Delta.
So naturally, these steps, seen against the background of inactivity since 2011, would have led many of us to reach for our champagne glasses or palm wine gourds as the case may be. But distinguished senator Magnus Abe says you can drink if you want to quench your thirst, but not to celebrate a clean-up that will endure. And, sadly, the man is right. If, as he says, people are killed routinely, sometimes as high as six at a time, who and what will be left in Ogoni land? The situation in Ogoni land fits into a pattern that is frighteningly familiar nationwide. Insecurity has become the norm from Yobe to Yenagoa and from Adamawa to Anambra. If it is not kidnapping it is cult clashes, and then the ubiquitous herdsmen, who we blame for all unsolved murderous raids in Nigeria. As I write this piece, I have heard that the House of Representatives, at its sitting on April 11, requested President Muhammdu Buhari to address the nation within 48 hours “on the spate of insecurity across the country.” And Mr. President has “responded” by “ordering” the security forces to deal ruthlessly with bandits. Translation: We don tire!
Senator Abe’s comments on repeated pollution in Ogoni land are no less depressing. Again, his words: “Any clean-up that goes on without first addressing the issue of the continued pollution of the environment is a waste of everybody’s money because as the clean-up is going on, the criminals will be spoiling the exercise.” Truly, the spate of pollution in Ogoni land perpetrated by criminal elements has reached alarming proportions. Well-armed and properly motivated strong men cow the populace, at best into silence, or at worst, into reluctant complicity and ply their nefarious trade in the full view of the public and security personnel. They flaunt their ill-gotten wealth and command insidious influence, deploying the resources to sway decisions and purchase fleeting respectability. As the army of unemployed, disgruntled and retired political thugs head to the creeks, we can only but agree with Magnus, trouble dey!