How a promised clean-up is turning into a people’s nightmare [Ogoniland]
You could recall several years of living with a polluted land and spoiled environment, the people of Ogoniland finally breath a sigh of relief when the federal government several months ago announced it would embark on a clean up of their land.
 
Sunday Orji was in Ogoniland but discovered that hope has been turned to rage, by a promise that only left a nightmare untouched.

The Morning after
On an overcast morning of August 2008, Christian Kpandei rushed off to the creeks to survey his fishing net placed all night in the river. His eyes, in memory, blisters with hope. In the past, it was common to visit the shore and find trapped slick black-headed catfishes on the net or the spiny fin of scaly tilapias.
Surprises were scarce.

Routinely, Kpandei would unstrap the cluster of fishes with a craftsman’s expertise and pull them off the net and drift home with a smile hanging on the edge of his lips. But with the Bodo crude oil spill in 2008, and a follow up spill in 2009, nothing ever remained the same, even when the people bury their suffering in pretence.

The spill experience was the defining moment in the life of Kpandei as much as the lives of about 832,000 inhabitants of Ogoni land according to the 2006 National Population Census Figure. Available data reveal that 70 % of the 15,600 Bodo people – traditionally fishers and farmers – live below poverty line and the London High Court claims that about 600,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled over many communities.

Yet, he manages to disremember the details of that day. He only remembers leaving his home hugely optimistic and returning from the water front with depressive pessimism. These were the extremes between his feelings.

His Majesty, the leader of Goi, Tomii S, Tomii, said spills were not new, neither were creek fires uncommon. He downplays any shock and recalls “the destruction of 38 fishing canoes packed in the mangrove by crude fire in the 1970s.” That notwithstanding, he concedes that 2008 and 2009 spills were “terrifying.” Christian said it was “massive.” And Dominic Saanaa, the Acting Youth Leader of Bodo, Rivers state, thinks it was “unprecedented.”

The United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, says that indeed oil industry operations were suspended in Ogoniland in 1993, “widespread environmental contamination remains.”

His Majesty, Tomii… The leader of Goi.
 
After the spills that covered the creeks, stifling, without discretion, every living thing in the coastline of many communities in Ogoni, the people initiated consultations and planned on the next line of actions. They watched the lips of the government and the body language of Shell Petroleum Development Company (Nigeria) Ltd, SDPC, whose facilities triggered the spills. Deciding the means of taking up the case was delicate for some reasons.

For one, dragging Shell to court was ideal and receiving compensation from the polluters – that’s pulling Shell into the Polluter Pays Principle, PPP – could be consoling but payments don’t heal the land; it feeds, rather trivially, the mouth in the interim. The people resolved to approach the court proceeding with two demands. One, demand compensation for damages. Two and vitally, clean up their coastline so as to restore its rich and fading vestige.

Historically, the position of most Ogoni communities, King Tomii claims, has always been on these two premises. In previous instances, receiving compensation was attainable but cleaning up was, ordinarily, far-fetched. In fact, Christian says that “Shell are more willing to pay for compensation in the issue of damages but Shell will never clean up.”

But there was change in 2009. That change was a positive change. Yet the change was not from Shell.

While the call for cleaner Ogoni land dates back to a couple of decades, the Ogoni clean up or to put it more dead-on, the government’s allegiance towards cleaning the region, was aroused by this two major spills.

Prior to the spills, mutual suspicion had grown between the company and the communities. Truce was scarce. And even in the midst of this riff, Christian thought Shell took their “inhumanity to the extreme. For seventy-two days, oil oozed like water. Flying upwards from the leaked pipes and Shell did nothing,” he says about the 2008 spills. “The second spill in 2009 lasted for seventy-eight days before Shell intervened”

The president Olusegun Obasanjo administration seemingly wanted to heal the tortured relationship between the government and the multinational oil companies and Ogoni people. The death of Ken Saro Wiwa. Unpaid compensation. But much more, the clean-up of Ogoni land, fractured the reconciliatory process and UNEP, though relatively alien to the Ogoni people, concedes that “trust” was a major undermining peace between the stakeholders in Ogoni land.
Oil spilled land in Bodo community

Tomii measures the suffering of Ogoni in moments. He said long stories that zeroed down on the people’s fear and betrayal, and the death of Ken Saro Wiwa in 1993 was “a delicate moment of sorrow and resignation” for his people but the relief that came on June 2016 when the Ogoni clean-up was flagged off seemed “special and healing.”

The government pledged itself to two crucial task when it flagged off the Ogoni clean up mid 2016 as well as the 2009 commissioned assessment of Ogoni land; One, to investigate the level of damages done to the Ogoni or what UNEP described as “comprehensive Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.” and “an environmental clean-up to follow, based on the assessment and subsequent planning and decisions.” The bigger task, more narrowly, was the clean-up.

The government deceived us
Accordingly, the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, under government funding, in two years concluded and submitted their assessment of the impact of oil pollution in Ogoni land. With this, the first stage of the government’s bargain was delivered.

The second – remediation based on the impact of the assessment – was adjourned despite warning by UNEP that “restoring the livelihoods and well-being of future Ogoni generations is within reach but timing is vital. “Failure to begin addressing urgent public health concerns and commencing a cleanup will only exacerbate and unnecessarily prolong the Ogoni people’s suffering.”
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