TONY JOHN, Port Harcourt
Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, has decried the what he called the deliberate neglect of the Niger Delta, despite the fact the region is suffering untold environmental hardship for keeping the country afloat.
Speaking during a courtesy visit by the Minister of Environment, Mr Suleiman Hassan Zarma, at the Government House, Port Harcourt, Governor Wike said that environmental degradation caused by oil exploration is worse than insurgency.
He said: “While we support the fighting against insurgency, nothing is worse than environmental pollution. We suffer because we are allowing Nigeria to survive. We are suffering for Nigeria to survive. It is through our oil that Nigeria is surviving.
“We are dying because we are keeping the country alive. Nobody wants to give us the attention required. These people who are suffering because of the nation’s survival, why not give them priority to survive? “
He urged the Federal government to withdraw funds from the excess crude account to address the environmental challenges in Ogoni-land.
The governor said it should be done in same manner that funds were withdrawn to tackle insurgency.
“They took $1billion from the Excess Crude Accounts to fight insurgency. I say they should take $500 million from the Excess Crude Accounts for the Ogoni Clean up exercise.”
He assured the federal Ministry of Environment of the support of the Rivers State government to achieve the goals of remediation of the Ogoni environment.
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“If you had told me earlier that you were coming, I would have provided a helicopter for you to fly over Ogoni land. You will weep at the level of environmental damage,” the governor said.
The governor regretted that the Ogoni clean up exercise had been politicised, pointing out that the Ministry of Environment was handing over sites to contractors three years after Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, flagged off the exercise, adding that the two activities took place as elections approached.
“Three years ago, the president represented by the vice president, flagged off the clean up during the rerun elections. One month to the general elections, the minister of environment has come to hand over the sites.
“If I tell you I believe sincerely that you people want to clean up Ogoni land, I am telling you lies. Surprise me and prove me wrong,” he said.
He called on the minister of environment to investigate cases of deduction of funds from contracts awarded for the clean-up exercise.
The governor urged the ministry to ensure that the benefiting communities were patronised during the clean-up and all approved steps taken by Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP).
In his remarks, Mr. Zarma assured that the ministry working with HYPREP, would ensure that the clean-up of Ogoni land was carried out.
He said that the ministry would take deliberate steps to address the concerns raised by the Rivers State governor.
He said: “We are here to set the tone to enable the foundation laying of a robust inter-governmental collaboration which you have been doing especially in the environmental sector.”
He informed the state governor that he was in the state to commence the hand-over of sites for the commencement of the clean-up exercise.