“We sit on top of water in the Niger Delta, yet we do not have water to drink.”
A National Conference delegate, Edwin Clark, has warned that unless something urgent is done to salvage the Niger Delta environment; the region might soon cease to exist.
Mr. Clark, a former federal commissioner for Information, raised the alarm on Monday while contributing to the debate on the report of the Conference Committee on Environment.
In an emotion laden voice, Mr. Clark, who is at the conference under the category of elder statesman, decried the rate of degradation of oil-producing areas in the Niger Delta.
He drew attention to the untold hardship faced by people living along the coastal lines and called for holistic measures to minimise the hardship as soon as possible.
Mr. Clark argued that there was nothing new in the report of the Conference Committee on Environment.
He said the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, had in 2011 submitted a report which showed that it would take 30 years to clean up the oil spills in the Niger Delta region.
“I would like to say that there is really nothing new in the report compared to the environmental report of 2005. The problem is the implementation of the report. Three years ago, the United Nations
submitted a report to the Federal Government for the cleanup of Ogoni land.
“The report said it was going to take about 20 years to clean the area and that $20 billion was needed. It was only last year that a committee was created to look into it,” Mr. Clark said.
He told delegates to look beyond what the country gets from the region, but ponder on the level of degradation oil exploration has caused the area.
“If we do not do something, one day, we will be wiped out, while the rest of the people will be enjoying the things from the area,” Mr. Clark warned.
“Our environment has been polluted. We sit on top of water in the Niger Delta, yet we do not have water to drink. When I was small, we used to put a calabash outside and fishes will jump in. Now, my people eat ice fish. There are no more farm lands, no fruits. We have lost everything in the Niger Delta.
“Recently, Chevron had their equipment burnt. For three months, it was burning and there was nobody to put it out. Chevron has refused to compensate communities affected.
“The people are suffering. I am pleading. Do not think of what you get. Think of the area where these things are gotten. We need compensation. We need re-greening in our area,” he added.
In a similar note, Nnimo Bassey, a South-South delegate and an environmental activist called for the entrenchment of resource democracy in the country.
He said the Nigerian environment was almost damaged and therefore drew the attention to the failure of the government to clean up Ogoni communities long after the United Nations report was released.
Nduese Essien, one of the elder statesmen at the Conference, drew the attention to page 39 of the report where the committee recommended that the Land Use Act be removed from the Constitution.
He argued that virtually every committee set up by the Federal Government in the past made similar recommendations.
He argued that if every statutory body set up by government offers similar recommendation over time, it was imperative for the Conference to be properly guided when dealing with the issue of Land Use Act and its removal from the Constitution.
On his part, Mike Ahamba raised issues of the proliferation of boreholes in the country with the attendant health hazards they have on the people.
Mr. Ahamba said the absence of public water system accounts for the situation, noting that government at various levels should live up to their responsibilities.
He reminded delegates of the time every city in the country had functional waterworks, saying that Nigerians enjoyed clean and quality water then.
He called for serious effort by the government to restore social services.
Isaac Osuoka, another South-South delegate, had called on the Conference to accept the recommendations of the report of the Committee.
He called for the issue of desertification to be treated as a national emergency, adding that part of the huge funds meant for tree planting are embezzled by some of those who are at the Conference.
Many delegates kicked at Mr. Osuoka’s allegation that some of those who looted funds meant to check desertification were in the hall and made attempts to raise a point of order to no avail.
Continuing, Mr. Osuoka revealed that Niger Delta communities are polluted with benzene levels 900 per cent higher than agreed standards. He blamed the situation on the conspiracy between the oil majors and the NNPC.
Another delegate, Orok Duke, lamented the increasing desertification of some Northern parts of the country and the increasing dislocation of the Niger Delta communities.
He read a poem to demonstrate the suffering of Bakassi people and Niger Delta natives in the face of serious environmental problems.
He said hunters in his area have been arrested and detained for trying to hunt for food in the forest, adding that people who are not provided for are being punished for trying to live on the resources of their areas.
On his part, Hassan Adamu called for the domiciliation of Ecological Fund in the Ministry of Environment instead of the Presidency.