Port Harcourt — The recent visit by the Senate Committee on Environment, led by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, to communities in Ogoni land affected by oil pollution raised hope for relief to hundreds of Ogoni residents affected by the worst oil pollution devastation in Nigeria.
The lawmakers were in Rivers State to carry out oversight function and investigate the progress of work towards the remediation of the communities affected by the age-long oil pollution, resulting from ruptured facilities of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
Some of the communities mostly affected by the oil pollution are Kebari Dere, Ogali, Bomu, Bodo City, Kpean, Buan, B. Dere and Ebubu.
The residents of Kebari Dere, Ogali and Ebubu could not hold their joy on sighting the motorcade that brought the committee members to Ogoni land, as if their presence was all that was needed for the actualization of the cleanup of the polluted land.
The feeling was the same from Ogali to Ebubu in Eleme Local Government Area, Debari Dere in Gokana Local Government Area and Kpite Tai in Tai Local Government Area.
The expression on the faces of the people depicted the communities' desire for urgent intervention and remediation of their environment.
The impact of the oil pollution on residents, their farmlands, forests, vegetation and sources of drinking water has attained unimaginable proportion.
The Senate committee members also felt the impact of an environment polluted with hydrocarbon poison. Tinubu and her team had to have their noses covered with protective masks just as they put on safety boots as they traversed the contaminated sites.
At Ogali, where the clean up demonstration has started, the team witnessed the sampling of contaminated soil by the combined team of HYPREP and a contracting firm.
Mrs Tinubu urged HYPREP to speed up the process of the clean up saying that the people of the affected communities are in dire need of recovering their environment.
A resident of the community, Ollor Oluka, told our reporter that they are exposed to many sicknesses and diseases.
He said: "On a daily basis we spend huge sums of money buying drugs and all kinds of medications. Sicknesses such as malaria, vomiting and body rashes are very rampant here."
"The odour from the sites is very unhealthy. I believe you have visited the site and observed how hot and irritating the place is. The odour is very terrible and one cannot withstand it but that is what we face on a daily basic here."
He called on the Federal Government to speed up actions in the cleaning process.
At Kedari Dere, the areas are also covered with spilled oil. The communities' rivers are polluted and contaminated with hydrocarbon.
Senator Tinubu said the Federal Government has shown serious commitment towards the cleanup of Ogoni communities and commended the affected communities for their peaceful disposition.
"We have heard much on the bureaucracy that is delaying the processes of the cleanup.
"We have also seen unity among the people of Rivers State. Lives have been lost over the Ogoni struggle. Nigeria is facing many challenges and we will make sure that every part of the country is safe," she said.
The president of Ogoni ethnic nationality bloc comprising of four Ogoni local government areas of Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme (KAGOTE), Dr Peter Mede, said, "The bureaucratic process is delaying the implementation of UNEP. We need a waiver that will stop the money for the cleanup being tied down in Treasury Single Account TSA account."
"We want the Senate to exempt the Ogoni cleanup process from unnecessary bureaucratic bottleneck. The level of expectations of our people is very high. We must put in place inclusive programme for the cleanup process.
"We are getting over the process of keeping the account open. We want a foreign bank that will ensure that the money budgeted for the cleanup is in safe custody," Dr Mede, said
He commended the Federal Government's effort made so far and urges for more proactive actions.
The president of the apex Ogoni socio-cultural organisation, Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Legbosi Pyagbara, said the journey for a safe Ogoni environment started several years ago.
"We began the struggle for a safe and better environment several years ago. We lost about 2000 souls in the course of this struggle. We want the Senate committee to look into the UNEP report as it concerns the clean up processes," he said.
"The process is very slow. We cannot address the cleanup without looking at the economy of the Ogoni people. We need the right laws to be put in place. We are proposing a safe account structure in the implementation process. We need peace and peace is the most important thing to sustain the project," he added.
The coordinator of HYPREP, Dr Marvin Dekil, said the cleanup is very important for the people of Ogoni and the government, adding that the organization has the mandate to restore the environment and the people.
He noted that the cleanup process will take a long time and called for patience and understanding.
Dr Peter Irabor, the Director General of NORSRA, who represented the Minister of Environment Ibrahim Usman Jibril called on the people of Ogoni to stop further pollution of their environment, saying that such actions undermined efforts towards the remediation process.
The senator representing Rivers South-east Senatorial District, Senator Magnus Abe, called on the Federal Government to convert the proposed centre of excellence into a university where issues on environment, law and agriculture would be thought.
However, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike is not happy about the slow pace of the exercise. Wike, who spoke when he received the Senate Committee at government house, Port Harcourt, said; "The Federal Government is not serious about the cleanup of Ogoni land. We are tired of telling our people that the project will start next year.
"Let it not be a political project. Look at the north-east, a commission was established and $1 billion released," Wike said.
The governor regretted that as a state that produces the wealth of the nation, Rivers has not a single motorable federal road.