Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has praised President Muhammadu Buhari for launching the clean-up of oil spill in Ogoniland and other areas in the Niger Delta region.
Mr. Wike, during the flag-off of the exercise by Mr. Buhari on Thursday in Bodo, Ogoni, said, “We commend Mr. President’s determination to close this ugly chapter in our country’s history.”
The president was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
The governor said, “Although this has taken long in coming, it is never too late when it comes to environment.”
Mr. Wike’s speech, which he read from a prepared address, drew applause from Mr. Osinbajo, as well as the crowd.
“For us as a people and the victims of the most abusive form of environmental abuse, today is a watershed in our collective struggles for environmental justice from the Nigerian nation and the world community,” Mr. Wike said.
“We therefore welcome this initiative wholeheartedly. We believe that only environmental justice will restore sustainable peace and economic progress in the Niger Delta.”
The governor appealed to the people to embrace and support the federal government’s effort in cleaning up Ogoniland and other parts of the Niger Delta.
The Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, who also spoke at the ceremony, seized the opportunity to tell how former president Godluck Jonathan refused to clean up Ogoniland.
“We did everything possible as a sitting government to get our brother and our leader, the former president, to implement the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) report,” said Mr. Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers and an arch political rival of Mr. Wike and Mr. Jonathan.
“We did everything necessary, including going to church to pray. The UNEP report was not implemented.”
Mr. Amaechi said it took only an unscheduled meeting between Mr. Buhari and the Ogoni elders, at the height of the 2015 campaign, for Mr. Buhari, then as a presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, to make a promise that he was going to clean up Ogoniland if voted into power.
The former governor’s claim was confirmed by Mr. Buhari, when the president’s address was presented by Mr. Osinbajo.
“We are gathered here today, in keeping with that promise,” Mr. Amaechi said.
The crowd applauded him.
“In keeping with that promise, the economy of Ogoni will change. There is no way they would spend a billion dollar here without creating employment.”
The President, Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, Godwin Gininwa, in similar manner like Mr. Amaechi, spoke of Mr. Jonathan’s failure to clean up Ogoniland.
Mr. Gininwa said, “I have nothing against Jonathan, he is my son, he is a very quiet boy. I love him very much. But in this case, he made a mistake. He couldn’t do what he promised Ogoni people.
“I want to advise Nigerian leaders, when they make promises, they should be able to keep it.”
President Buhari, in his address, said, “We are determined to put right the wrong of the past, where the people Ogoni were treated unfairly, and their environment unduly degraded.”
He said he had already given approval “for the constitution of the necessary frame-work that will drive a hitch-free implementation of UNEP report”.
Such framework, according to the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, would include setting up a governing council and a board of trustees that will handle the funds to be invested in the clean-up.
It is estimated that it would take between 25 to 30 years for the environment of Ogoniland and other parts of the Niger Delta to be fully restored.