Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Ogoni Trust Fund escrow agreement was signed on Friday at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
At a meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the agreement was signed by the federal government, the International Oil Companies (IOCs), and representatives of the Ogoni people.
The agreement signing signaled a major landmark in the Ogoni cleanup exercise.
It puts in place all the financial arrangements to start draw down of the first tranche of the funding for the Ogoni Trust Fund.
The total sum expected to be paid by the Nigerian government and IOCs into the fund in the next five years is $1 billion.
Osinbajo said that signing of the escrow agreement “is one that shows clearly that not only are we committed to ensuring that cleanup is done but also that we are committed to ensuring that it’s done transparently.”
He explained that the presence of representatives of the international oil companies and the Ogoni leaders at the signing of the agreement showed that government wanted everyone to be carried along in the process as well as to ensure that the process is one that can be audited.
The Vice President disclosed a number of companies have indicated interest to be involved in the cleanup of Ogoniland, noting that some of them had been identified as likely parties.
“We are certainly looking forward to doing something quickly and seeing that this exercise not only begins but is concluded as expeditiously as possible,” he said.
Osinbajo while admitting that the cleanup exercise would be expensive, he added that the complete cleanup would take between 25 and 30 years, because of the “extent of the damage that has been done over decades in Ogoniland.”
On the consultations between government and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), he said the process began in 2017, and has seen him visit oil-producing communities in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s new vision for the Niger Delta.
Osinbajo said the new vision “is one that we intend to stick with and one that we intend to execute as faithfully as is humanly possible,” and has resulted in the establishment of the Maritime University in Okorinkoko, Delta State.
He said the cleanup of Ogoniland is part of the new vision.
Also speaking, Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jubril, said a complete list of activities has been line up from now to the end of the year for the actual remediation exercise in Ogoniland to begin.
The Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ogoni Trust Fund, Olawale Edun, had earlier in his address, said they were “set for the full roll out of the of the Ogoniland cleanup project.”
He said the sum of US$170 million has already been put in process as the first tranche to begin the drawdown of money into the Ogoni Trust Fund.