Vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo today launched a $1 billion oil pollution clean-up programme in the Niger Delta. The clean-up programme is meant to restore the region’s grossly damaged ecosystem. Osinbajo stood in for President Buhari who had pulled out of the visit following threats by militant group, Niger Delta Avengers. Experts believe that the project could last for up to 25 years.
In August 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme said Ogoniland may require the world’s biggest-ever environmental clean-up after a succession of oil spills. The Shell-funded assessment publication concluded that most people in Ogoniland “have lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives”. The report recommended that the clean up be financed with initial funding of $1 billion, to be provided by the government and oil companies, including Shell, whose subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC) is the largest onshore producer in the region.
Osinbajo pledged that the government would reverse the damage,
“We are determined to put right the wrongs of the past. The restoration that is going to take place here is not just the restoration of your land but the restoration of fishing…your farming and health.”
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UNEP’s incoming executive director Erik Solheim, said
“The task to clean up Ogoniland will neither be easy nor fast but it needs to be done. If we succeed here, it will demonstrate that degraded environments can be restored, sending a signal to many other communities around the world that peaceful co-operation can lead to positive outcomes.”
Ken Saro-Wiwa, son of the environmentalist and human rights activist whose father, was executed in 1995 by Sani Abacha for his activism said of the project
“This is a good moment for Nigeria. It is another vindication of the Ogoni agitation for a cleaner environment but today is part of a long process that began decades ago.”
Former president, Goodluck Jonathan was criticised by members of the Ogoni community for not pushing ahead with efforts to get the clean up going. Daniel Leader, the lead lawyer of the London law firm handling the suit brought by the affected communities before a Lagos High Court said
“There has been no clean up whatsoever since 2011. Precisely nothing happened except that computers and cars were purchased, a new government institution was created, people were employed then fired and there were multiple allegations of corruption.”
He however said that the communities welcomed the government’s effort now but were nonetheless going to continue with their legal cases until there has been a proper clean up. They were not assured that the clean up would come through unless the oil companies are “pressured with legal action”.
Activists say that this step does not relieve Shell of its responsibilities under Nigerian law, which requires companies operating pipelines to clean up spills regardless of their cause. “That is something Shell has failed to do for decades,” said Joe Westby, an Amnesty International campaigner.