EXCLUSIVE: OGONI: UN worried over Jonathan's inaction

Worried about the apparent inaction of the Nigerian Government in implementing its report on Ogoni community, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is seeking a meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan, Premium Times has learnt.

A highly placed source at the world body stated, in confidence, that “we are right now seeking a meeting with the President (Goodluck Jonathan) to see if we can speed up the current rather slow progress.”

Efforts to confirm the meeting with presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, failed as repeated telephone calls and text messages were neither answered nor returned.

The UNEP report

Titled “UNEP Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland” and submitted to the Federal Government in August last year, the report showed how 50 years of crude oil operations in Ogoni land had caused severe environmental pollution  to the Rivers State community.

Part of the observations of the UNEP scientific assessment was the presence of benzene in wells in Nisisioken Ogale area of Ogoni at a level over 900 per cent higher than the accepted World Health Organisation guidelines.

 The report also made recommendations for the immediate clean-up of the community with a takeoff fund termed “Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland,’ with an initial sum of $1billion to be contributed by Shell Petroleum Development Company and the Nigerian Government.

Other recommendations include the establishment of the “Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority” to implement the UNEP report and the construction of an “Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Centre,” to treat contaminated soil in Ogoni community.

Nigeria’s inaction

Eight months after the UNEP report was submitted to the Federal Government, Nigeria has not taken any meaningful step to implement its recommendations. 

Following the submission of the report to the FG on August 4 last year, and the public outcry that followed, the Federal Government set up a committee, headed by Diezani Alison-Madueke, the petroleum minister to review the report. The committee concluded its work and submitted its report to President Jonathan in November last year.

Since the submission of the review committee report however, no action has been taken on the implementation of the UNEP recommendations. A source at the petroleum ministry said it was no longer a petroleum ministry matter but that of the Nigerian Government.

When Premium Times sought to know the reason for the inaction of the Nigerian Government and the content of the Alison-Madueke’s commitee report, spokesman for the Nigerian information minister, Joseph Mutah, declined comment, referring us again to the petroleum ministry.

Mr. Abati, the presidential spokesman would also not respond to our enquiry.

Shell responds

When contacted on why it had not played their part in implementing the UNEP report particularly on the cleanup up fund, Shell referred to a press statement it issued last November in which they said “SPDC is involved in the recommendations of the UNEP report and is involved in extensive, delicate dialogue between SPDC, the other players in the Nigerian oil industry and the Nigerian government how to provide the cleaning fund of $ 1 billion in response to UNEP call.”

The company however confirmed that it was part of an industrial sub-committee set up by the Mrs. Madueke led committee.

“The industrial committee has reported to the Presidential Committee, whose chairman is the Nigerian Petroleum Minister. The Presidential Committee has yet to comment,” said Wendel Broere, the spokesman, Global media relations for Shell International.

Statements from a source at the Shell head office however show that the solution to the cleanup fund might be far off.

According to the source, “discussions are ongoing” on the ratio of contribution of the clean-up fund. One suggestion is that the Nigerian Government contributes 55 per cent of the $1 billion. This is because all the oil wells (operated by Shell) were owned by a joint venture of which Nigeria through the NNPC owns 55 per cent share and thus got 55 per centof whatever amount made from oil in Ogoni land.  Shell owns 30 per cent of most of the joint ventures it operates, while Total and Eni own 10 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

Premium Times learnt that this suggestion has been discountenanced by the Nigerian government. The source however explained that nothing had been agreed.

UNEP is worried

While the inaction of Shell and the Nigerian Government continues, the Ogoni environment remains contaminated, and the UN body remains worried.

“Urgent actions need to be taken as soon as possible, otherwise the pollution will spread further, communities will continue to be exposed to harmful substances through air, water and soil,” Nick Nutall, the UNEP spokesperson said in an email enquiry.

Mr. Nuttal explained that “UNEP has been actively reaching out to the key stakeholders and urging that action begin without delay.”

“As it has now been more than six months after handing over the assessment report, certainly progress has been less rapid than we might have hoped.”




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