Ogoni Clean-Up Set to Commence after years of Popular Campaigns




Buhari sets up governing council, board of trustees for Ogoni clean-up

Two months after the ceremonial kick-off of the Ogoni clean-up, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the composition of a governing council and board of trustees to oversee the take-off of the actual clean up.

The setting up of the governing council and board of trustees is a key element of the governance structure required for the clean-up of Ogoniland, a statement by the Ministry of Environment stated.


The clean-up of the heavily polluted Ogoni land was recommended by the United Nation Environmental Programme, UNEP, in its report in 2011. According to the UNEP, the clean-up will take 30 years to complete and cost the government and other stakeholders $1 billion.


According to Aisha Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Environment, President Buhari approved the inauguration of a 13-member governing council and a 10-member board of trustees. She added that the constitution of the governing council and board of trustees will ensure that the process of the clean-up in transparent, accountable and sustainable.


“We ask for patience as we lay solid foundations for the clean-up. The context is complex and stakeholders are diverse. All must be taken along. His excellency, President Buhari remains steadfast in his conviction to see Ogoniland and other parts of the Niger Delta cleaned up.


“My team at the federal Ministry of Environment is actively working collaboratively with Ministries of Petroleum Resources, Niger Delta, NDDC and key stakeholders to see that the promise of His Excellency is kept and we stay clean after the clean up,” she said in a statement.


The minister also called on communities in the Niger Delta, especially in Ogoni, to join hands with the government and other stakeholders involved in the clean-up. 




Ogoni clean-up Council, BoT members unveiled

President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed a former commissioner in Lagos State, Wale Edun, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ogoni clean-up project.

Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), is part of the 12-member Ogoni clean-up Board of Trustees. He was picked to represent non-governmental organisations on the BoT

The 12-member BoT was inaugurated last Thursday by Mr. President, alongside a 13-member Governing Council for the clean-up.

Mr. Edun was Commissioner for Finance in Lagos when the leader of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, was governor of the state.

Ibrahim Jibril, the Minister of State for Environment; Kemi Adeosun, the Minister of Finance; and Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources/NNPC chairman are also members of the BoT.

Renowned environmentalist and activist, Nnimmo Bassey, is also a member of the BoT. He was picked to represent non-governmental organisations on the board.

Other trustees are: Peter Medee and Bebe Okpabi, representing Ogoni stakeholders; Nicholas Terraz, Insula Massimo and Osagie Okunbor, representing the multinationals being Shell Petroleum Development Company, Agip and Total; and, Mike Emuh, the National chairman of Host Communities of Nigeria Producing Oil and Gas (HOSCOM), representing other communities in the Niger Delta.

A slot has been reserved for a yet-to-be named United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) observer, while the Secretary and HYPREP (Hydro-Carbon Pollution Restoration Project) Legal Adviser is to be appointed by the Governing Council.

Chaired by Environment Minister, Amina Mohammed, the 13-member Governing Council comprises: Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources/NNPC chairman; Udo Udoma, Minister of Budget and Planning; Usani Usani, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs; Major General Babangida Monguro (Rtd), National Security Adviser; Nisima Ekere, Managing Director (designate), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); and, Osagie Okunbor, Managing Director, Shell Petroleum and Development Company (SPDC).

Others are Anyakwee Nsirimovu (IHRHL), representing non-governmental organisations; Roselyn Konya (a commissioner in River State), representing nine oil producing states; Pyagbara Legborsi, Ben Naneen, Batam Ndegwe and Kammy Ngelala, who are representatives of Ogoni Stakeholders; Timi Agari and Pamela Asiri, who are representatives of other Niger Delta communities; and, a slot for a yet-to-be named UNEP observer.




$1 billion cleanup tab in Nigeria oil mess, UN says

LAGOS, Nigeria — Shell and Nigeria's government contributed to 50 years of pollution in a region of the Niger Delta that could need the world's largest ever oil cleanup, the United Nations said in a report Thursday, adding that the work would take up to 30 years and require an initial tab estimated at $1 billion.

The report came after Shell agreed not to oppose a move by one delta community to have their pollution claims heard by a British court, potentially opening itself up to bigger financial damages.

Daniel Leader, a lawyer for the Bodo people, told msnbc.com that the case was the first of its kind because it would be heard in Britain, where payouts can be higher and cases tend to get wider media coverage.

"What is highly significant is that Shell have agreed to do this through the jurisdiction of English courts," he said.

The United Nations Environment Program analyzed the damage oil pollution has done in Ogoniland, a region in the oil-rich creeks, swamps and waterways of the Niger Delta, the heartland of Africa's largest oil and gas industry.

Shell and the Nigerian state-oil firm own most of the oil infrastructure in Ogoniland, although Shell in 1993 was forced out by communities that said it caused pollution that destroyed their fishing environment.

Shell stopped pumping oil from Ogoniland after a campaign, led by writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was later hanged by the Nigerian military government, provoking international outrage.

"The environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world's most wide-ranging and long term oil cleanup exercise ever undertaken if contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to full, productive health," the UNEP report stated.

"Control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure in Ogoniland has been and remains inadequate: the Shell Petroleum Development Company's own procedures have not been applied, creating public health and safety issues."

The UNEP report said 10 out of the 15 investigated sites which SPDC said had been completely remediated still had pollution exceeding the SPDC and government remediation values.

Shell says most oil spills in the Niger Delta are caused by oil theft and sabotage attacks but says it cleans up whatever the cause.

"Oil spills in the Niger Delta are a tragedy, and SPDC takes them very seriously," SPDC Managing Director Mutiu Sunmonu said in a statement on its website. "Concerted effort is needed on the part of the Nigerian government, working with oil companies and others, to end the blight of illegal refining and oil theft in the Niger Delta. This is the major cause of the environmental damage."

UNEP said Ogoniland communities are exposed to hydrocarbons every day as thick black oil floats around the creeks, while the impact on vegetation and fishing areas has been "disastrous."

In one community, drinking water was contaminated with benzene, a substance known to cause cancer, at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organization guidelines. The site was close to a pipeline owned by Nigeria's state-oil firm NNPC, the report said.

"We will undertake any cleanup. It doesn't mean we are culpable. Pipeline vandalism, by the very communities who are affected, is the major issue," a NNPC spokesman said.

The U.N. also found one area where an oil spill 40 years ago hadn't been cleaned.

"The Ogoni people live with this pollution every minute of every day, 365 days a year," the report said. "Since average life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 50 years, it is a fair assumption that most members of the current Ogoniland community have lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives."

The report also said that children born in Ogoniland are affected by the oil pollution daily, "as the odor of hydrocarbons pervades the air day in, day out."

Some environmentalists say as much as 550 million gallons of oil have poured into the Niger River Delta during 50 years of production — at a rate roughly comparable to one Exxon Valdez disaster per year. Even today, oil laps up in brackish delta creeks in Ogoniland, creating a black ring around the coastlines.

Shell helped fund the U.N. investigation, leading to criticism by some environmentalists that the report wouldn't take on the oil giant many demonize in the region. The report said damage can be caused by failing oil pipelines, as well as by thieves who tap into the lines to steal crude oil — a worsening problem in Ogoniland. The report said U.N. officials saw such theft during the day and suggested there could be "collusion" with government officials.

"It was not within (the U.N.'s) scope to identify the cause of the individual spills, nor is it scientifically possible to detect the original cause of spills after an unknown time period," the report said.

It also remains difficult for companies to operate in the delta, as criminal gangs and militants still operate and take foreign workers hostage for ransom. The U.N. report noted that it had trouble accessing some areas of Ogoniland and found evidence that unknown parties had tampered with some of the U.N.'s equipment.

Asked about the proposed trust fund, a Shell spokeswoman declined to comment. The company issued a statement saying it "will study the contents carefully and will comment further once we have done so."

While Shell does not operate in Ogoniland anymore, its pipelines and other infrastructure remain and still suffer spillages and sabotage attacks.

UNEP's report is the most detailed scientific study on any area in the Niger Delta, UNEP and activist groups said. It was paid for partly by Shell after a request by the government.

The findings were undertaken over a 14-month period, surveyed 76 miles of pipeline rights of way, reviewing more than 5,000 medical records and engaging more than 23,000 people at local meetings.

"What the world did not have on the table is a peer-reviewed scientific assessment that lays out the magnitude of the issue … the depths in which oil has percolated," said UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall. "Basically in some areas the oil has gotten down 5 meters (15 feet) into the drinking supply of tens of thousands of people."

The report recommends that three new institutions be set up to support environmental restoration, which would include a $1 billion fund, contributed to by the oil companies and government for the first five years of the cleanup.

Amnesty International, which is actively involved in Niger Delta environmental issues, said the report proved that Shell was responsible for the pollution.

"This report proves Shell has had a terrible impact in Nigeria, but has got away with denying it for decades, falsely claiming they work to best international standards," said Amnesty International Global Issues Director Audrey Gaughran.

"Shell must put its hands up, and face the fact that it has to deal with the damage it has caused. Trying to hide behind the actions of others, when Shell is the most powerful actor on the scene, simply won't wash," Gaughran added.

Earlier Thursday, it emerged that Shell had accepted that a British court had jurisdiction in villager claims for compensation for damages caused by two oil spills from pipelines controlled by SPDC, in which Shell is the lead but minority partner.

One source close to the case said the cost of cleaning up the spill and compensating those affected has been estimated by some experts as being in the region of 250 million pounds.

Shell has been reducing its focus on onshore Nigeria, selling fields, following difficulties in the delta.

In the court case filed in Britain, Shell conceded liability and agreed to proceed under the jurisdiction of the English courts last month, Leader told msnbc.com.

The two spills in 2008 and 2009 at Bodo, Ogoniland, devastated the 69,000-person community, Leader said.

"The mood music is changing — oil companies are going to have to start no longer employing a double standard for the developing world and apply the same standards for America and Europe," he told msnbc.com.

Protest groups have increasingly tried to seek compensation against western oil companies in the firms' home jurisdictions.

Ben Amunwa of the British group PLATFORM, which monitors international energy companies, said that depending on the compensation that is decided in this case, the agreement could usher in a flood of claims from communities in the region.

"The potential in this decision is that Shell could face a mountain of claims," Amunwa explained.

The British agreement follows decades of damage to the environment in Nigeria, according to rights groups.

The lawyers and rights groups have said the amount of oil in these two spillages alone was approximately 20 percent of the amount that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico following the BP  disaster.

"BP did more in 6-months for the U.S. communities than Shell has done in 50 years for the Ogoniland," said Amnesty International's Gaughran.

A spokesman for Shell's Nigerian arm, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, said in a statement sent to msnbc.com that the firm had "always acknowledged that the two spills which affected the Bodo community, and which are the subject of this legal action, were operational."

"SPDC is committed to cleaning up all spills when they occur, no matter what the cause," he said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.







By Nnimmo Bassey

Five Years after UNEP Report – Will Ogoni Breathe Again?

As the water gushed the smell of petroleum products filled the air. Indeed, one would be right to wonder if he was pumping up petrol. We asked to know what they use the water for. All sanitary needs. Plus, drinking at times. Mind boggling.

August 4, 2016 marks the 5th anniversary of the submission of the report of the assessment of the environment of Ogoniland to former President Jonathan by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The report etched for Nigeria and the world, the damning levels of hydrocarbon and other toxic pollutions in Ogoniland. The report more or less indicated that a state of environmental emergency should have been declared in Ogoniland. Nothing much happened, and each passing year, since the submission of the report, has witnessed more groaning and sighing by the people that have no option but to live in the horrendously polluted environment.

The first inkling of action by government was on the eve of the first anniversary of the UNEP report. That was on 24th July 2012 when the government hurriedly cobbled together what was known as the Hydrocarbons Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP). The name was quite anachronistic, but it was aimed at calming nerves of locals who were getting impatient that a year was rolling by with nothing being done with the report that showed that they were living in an environment that was killing them. The first visible actions of HYPREP included the mounting of huge billboards in Port Harcourt denouncing oil theft and tampering with oil pipelines.

While this was going on, the people were drinking water that has been shown to be laced with hydrocarbon pollutants and at places with carcinogenic benzene. They are still drinking such water. On 26th July 2016, after a monitoring training of a team of Ecological Defenders of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) we decided to visit one of the community leaders at Ogale, Nchia-Eleme, Ogoni. Our host turned on his electricity generator and pumped water up from a borehole he had sunk. As the water gushed the smell of petroleum products filled the air. Indeed, one would be right to wonder if he was pumping up petrol. We asked to know what they use the water for. All sanitary needs. Plus, drinking at times. Mind boggling.

Another sign that the recommendations of the UNEP report have been seen by HYPREP is the ubiquitous sign posts in Ogoniland erected at polluted creeks, streams, rivers and boreholes. They all warn citizens not to drink, fish or swim in the contaminated water. Besides the water trucked in by the Rivers State government at that time, the people have largely been left to cater for themselves as best as they can, or to wallow in the toxic waters.

A meeting of rotten oil facilities, oil spills, third party interferences and oil theft give the best example of how to brew environmental disaster. Visits to Bodo, K-Dere, B-Dere, Ogale, Goi and other polluted in Ogoniland literally leaves one breathless. And angry.

Efforts to commence the clean up of Ogoniland took a more determined turn under the current leadership of the Ministry of Environment. To begin with, HYPREP was decoupled from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, a ministry deeply complicit in the polluting of Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta. The project is now domiciled in the Ministry of Environment which should provide a more credible platform for the tasks that need to be done.

The ceremonial flag off of the clean up of Ogoniland (with expected expansion to other highly polluted parts of the larger Niger Delta in mind) took place on 2nd June 2016 at the Numuu Tekuru Waterside, Bodo. Several questions have trailed the ceremonial flag off. Is the government sincere about the exercise? Is there a budget for the clean up? When would the structures to oversee the clean up be set up? What roles would local people play in the exercise? Will this be another avenue for dispensing political patronage?

One of the best responses to the situation has come by way of a briefing prepared by Social Action, titled Cleaning in a Vacuum: Framework Gaps in the Implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland (July 2016). The Briefing pointed out among other things that HYPREP did not receive the approval of community and civil society groups because what UNEP recommended was the creation of an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority whereas HYPREP had a mandate that covered the entire Niger Delta. The embedding of HYPREP in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources did also not gone well with many. Same with the lack of transparency in the operations of HYPREP. Social Action believes that HYPREP would face serious hiccups unless it has an enabling legislation establishing it, especially because the clean up will be a long drawn process transcending many administrations. The group, and other stakeholders, would also like to see a clear roadmap for the planned clean-up.

Some of the issues flagged by Social Action also emerged at the HOMEF training of 26th July 2016 and we quote:

  • There is need for a comprehensive health impact assessment which should detail the health impacts of pollution on people who reside in pollution impacted sites.
  • The process of consultation and sensitization should be intensified and carried on throughout the stages of the clean-up implementation process to ensure that communities understand what each stage entails and what is expected in order to avoid possible confusion and misunderstanding which could result in conflict.
  • Inclusion of all segments of the society, including consideration for women, youths and people living with disabilities in the clean up processes.
  • Clear and verifiable milestones should be established to ensure an active and healthy feedback cycle with all stakeholders.
  • The training of community members to act in different capacities in the clean-up, must be instituted as a critical means of community inclusion.

As yet another anniversary comes, we note that the much vexed issues of reviewing the structure of HYPREP and the setting up of the structures for the clean up have been done. We hope that Ogoni will one day breathe fresh air again.