THE ceremonial flag-off of the long awaited clean-up of Ogoni land on Thursday is a classical example of the victory of the people in their quest to make the government live up to its responsibility to them. As it is said, better late than never. It is, indeed, jubilation galore for the long-suffering Ogoni people and the Niger Delta communities as the President Muhammadu Buhari administration takes the first step in its efforts to restore the Ogoni environment that has been blighted by decades of exploitation of crude oil.
We congratulate President Buhari, the Ogoni people, the entire Niger Delta and Nigeria at large, on this historic development. The journey to this happy event was not an easy one. The people of the Niger Delta had to bear massive environmental pollution and degradation since oil was first struck at Oloibiri in 1957. The people had to endure the criminal neglect of successive governments who were adept at using “divide and rule” tactics to ensure that the people could not come together to demand their right to their natural environment. Many Ogoni indigenes, including the playwright and environmental rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, lost their lives to the battle for a fair deal for the Niger Delta and we are elated that the restoration of the environment and natural livelihood of the people has begun in earnest.
Since the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report was released in 2011, it has been five years of procrastination, but also hard consultations on the part of government and the affected communities to reach an understanding on the way forward.
Although the UNEP report says it may take up to 30 years on water and 10 years on land to clean up the entire Ogoni land, the flag-off today represents a significant milestone in what is expected to be a painstaking and very expensive journey.
For starters, $1 billion has been committed to the clean-up exercise. The International Oil Companies (IOCs), government and other relevant national, regional and international agencies are expected to contribute to the effort to restore the eco-system, economy, culture and essence of the Ogoni people.
But, for this lofty goal to be attained, the people need to work in harmony with the government and keep the peace. Without a peaceful atmosphere, nothing much can be achieved. It will be a big shame if government’s good gesture on this clean-up is scuttled by restiveness in the area.
That is why we join the host Rivers State government in appealing for unity of purpose amongst the various tendencies in Ogoni land. This is the time for them to eschew the animosities of the past. Politicians and jobbers who divide the people and use them to foment trouble should desist from such practices.
The commencement of the clean-up provides a new window of opportunity to navigate the renewed tension and militancy in the region. We appeal to government to wave the olive branch and constructively engage the new militants, no matter the present provocations. As all have come to know, the oil industry will continue to play a crucial role in our attempt to revive and diversify our tottering economy.
President Buhari’s inability to physically attend the flag-off of the clean-up on June 2, though disappointing, should not take away from the significance of this event. We are immensely heartened too, by the passion, commitment and understanding of the issues that Mrs. Amina Mohammed, Minister of the Environment, has demonstrated.
Let government work with all the stakeholders and remain committed to this project. Ultimately, the clean-up should extend to all the affected Niger Delta communities. The region, indeed, deserves some respite.