Last week, an eleven-member leaders' delegation of 350 communities, cutting across Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states affected by the impact of massive crude oil spillage from the Shell/SNEPCO Bonga Fields of 21st December 2011, paid a save-our-soul (SOS) visit to the Ecological Fund Office -EFO, as part of efforts to draw public attention to the failure of Shell company to pay compensation to the affected communities more than two years after the serious incident that generated both national and international concern.
The visit is coming on the heels of outcry by residents of the Niger Delta and civil society of government's inability to implement the extensive United Nations Environment Programmes' (UNEP) report on Ogoniland.
On August 2011, UNEP presented to the Nigerian government environmental assessment of Ogoniland, a report regarded by Mr Ibrahim Thiaw, Director, Division for Environmental Policy Implementation as the most comprehensive and complex assessment ever undertaken by UNEP.
The assessment encompasses contaminated land, water, sediment, vegetation, air quality, public health, industry practices and institutional issues. And, it represents the best available understanding of what has happened to the environment of Ogoniland following 50 years of oil industry operations.
It also provided operational recommendations on how that legacy can be addressed, including priorities for action such as clean-up and remediation.
The report noted that the UNEP project team surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way and visited oil spill sites, oil wells and other oil-related facilities in Ogoniland. These included decommissioned and abandoned facilities based on information provided by the government regulators, Shell Petroleum Development Company and community members in and around Ogoniland.
UNEP also used aerial reconnaissance to observe oil pollution not readily visible from the ground, including artisanal refining sites.
Following its initial investigations, UNEP identified 69 sites for detailed soil and groundwater investigations.
In addition, samples of community drinking water, sediments from creeks, surface water, rainwater, fish and air were collected throughout Ogoniland.
More than 4,000 samples were analysed, including water drawn from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780 boreholes.
Medical records exceeding 5,000 were examined.
The findings in the report underlined that there are, in a significant number of locations, serious threats to human health from contaminated drinking water to concerns over the viability and productivity of ecosystems. In addition, it said that pollution has perhaps gone further and penetrated deeper than many may have previously supposed.
After three years of submitting the report and inability of government to act on it, the Niger Delta delegation, led by Mr. Francis Amoma Monday and Mr. Augustine Etsibetshi, decided to alert the authorities concerned, that the negative impacts, hardships and health implication of the spillage coupled with undue delay in addressing the issue were making the youths in particular, and the community in general, to become restive.
The delegation warned that further delay may lead to unpleasant consequences, advising that the right thing should be done before things get out of hands.
According to the leaders of the delegation, the spill which initially affected 70 kilometres across the three states, has now spread to 100 miles and has destroyed the primary means of livelihood of residents of the affected 250 communities. They also said that several deaths have occurred due to inhaling of thousands of tonnes of harmful chemical dispersant used by Shell.
They frowned at the evasive strategy of Shell which, they noted, rather than taking full responsibility, chose to shy away. They observed that despite the interventions of the National Oil Spill Detection and Responses Agency and NIMASA which after detailed investigation imposed compensation fines of $5 billion and $6.5 billion respectively, the affected communities have still not been compensated, adding that the only relief effort came from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
The delegation requested for the sum of N750 million from the EFO as a palliative measure to cushion the effects of the spillage.
The Permanent Secretary, Ecological Fund Office, Engr. Goni M Sheikh, empathised with the communities concerned, enjoining them not to be tired of channeling their grievances through peaceful means and to refrain from the use of threat or violence. Doing so, he said, could becloud their genuine intentions, adding that it can even be counterproductive.
Sheikh said that the responsibility for the cleaning of oil spills squarely belongs to the polluter, lamenting that oil spills often worsen the pitiable lives of rural dwellers who are the greatest victims.
He, however, informed the delegates that it is not in the purview of EFO to provide services such as water, food or medical facilities to affected persons.