Today marks another milestone in the life of our administration. I recall the time as a Military Head of State when I visited Bodo Town in Ogoniland. During that visit, I commissioned a large fish pond and planted a tree as a sign of the government’s concern for the environment. Unfortunately since then, the degradation of land, water and the air has done huge damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Niger Delta, particularly Ogoniland.
Oil exploration and production have been going on in Nigeria for six decades. Oil has given a boost to the Nigerian economy. But the ecosystem of the Niger Delta has been severely damaged. Fishing and agriculture have been badly affected. There are Acts, enactments, guidelines and regulations to govern the operators of the oil industry. However, either because of lack of will or willful non-compliance with environmental laws and regulations, the environment was put in jeopardy.
The various communities in the Niger Delta region, noting the negative impact of oil production and lack of consideration for best oil field practices, quite rightly commenced the struggle for justice and fair play in the conduct of business by the oil industry operators. This process unfortunately led to the loss of lives and properties. International concerns were raised, while past governments were urged to take decisive steps in addressing the damage.
The administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo engaged the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to undertake an environment assessment study of Ogoniland. The UNEP report detailed a number of issues for consideration while recommendations were made for its implementation. The report was submitted to my predecessor in office in 2011 but the implementation was not accorded the necessary support it needed. The people of Ogoniland continued to suffer from pollution of air, land and water.
On Thursday January 8th, 2015, in the course of our presidential campaign, we made an unscheduled stop in Ogoniland. After listening to the address presented on behalf of the Ogoni people by Senator Magnus Abe, we made a solemn commitment that, if given the opportunity, we shall implement the UNEP report on Ogoniland. We are determined to put right the wrongs of the past, where the people of this land were treated unfairly and their environment unduly degraded and polluted.
Today we are in Ogoniland, in the heart of the Niger Delta, to fulfill our promise to you, and to bring justice and succour to our people. The clean-up of this land will require change on the part of all of those who deal with the Niger Delta environment, particularly the oil companies and our communities. The tempo of activities for this assignment increased when my cabinet was constituted. The Honourable minister of Environment consulted all relevant ministries that could actualise the UNEP Report. Several stakeholders’ meetings and activities were held. We are therefore laying a solid foundation today for the restoration of the fragile ecosystem of Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta. This is an epoch making event in the history of Nigeria. The UNEP Report indicated a timeline of 25-30 years to achieve a full restoration of the environment in the Niger Delta. The first step begins with a solid foundation which will be brought about through consultation, transparency, accountability, investing in people and the environment. There is therefore a serious need for all Nigerians, irrespective of political, ethnic or religious affiliations, to support the great effort of this administration. I have given approval to the constitution of the necessary institutional framework that will drive a hitch free implementation of the UNEP Report. Our lives, socio-economic and political interests depend to a great extent on the quality of our environment.
Let me sieze this opportunity to sound a note of warning. The current illegal oil refining activities and oil theft in the country will no longer be tolerated. The regulators in the oil industry must also live up to expectations. They must ensure that oil companies carry out their operations in line with universal oil field best practices. This administration is laying a foundation for change, therefore the rule of law, good governance, as well as the security of our people are paramount.
The government places high emphasis on the diversification of our economy. The drive is to ensure that the Nigerian economy is strong and capable of supporting her teeming youths through jobs and wealth creation. The clean-up of Ogoniland has embedded in the programme, livelihood and sustainable development components. A Centre of Excellence that will identify the skills gaps and provide the necessary training will be put in place. The methodology for the clean-up will ensure job creation for the youths. The agro-allied industries required for the processing of the agricultural produce will also be put in place in the course of the clean-up project
The host communities, as well as transit communities are enjoined to keep their environment clean, devoid of oil pollution. The reports of oil pollution in the Nigerian environment show that over 70 percent – a significant percentage – are due to sabotage and willful vandalism of oil companies’ facilities. The recent upsurge in the blasting of pipelines in the operation areas of Shell Petroleum Development Company, Chevron Nigeria Limited, and Nigerian Agip Oil Company is a case in point. These incidents brought about drastic reduction in our daily oil production, as well as the quantum of gas that feed power plants for electricity generation.
Inadequate power supply has consequential implications on our economy and wealth creation. The action of these saboteurs of our economy therefore increases the poverty cycle everywhere, including in their own communities. Given the current situation in the Niger Delta, it must be borne in mind that destroying the Niger Delta environment by oil companies, militants, or oil thieves has the same end result. The important thing is that the present government can do justice to all without us destroying our environment. I enjoin the traditional rulers, the elite, opinion leaders, the press, women as well as youths of Ogoniland and the Niger Delta to work conscientiously and to ensure that we put an end to all oil installation vandalism.
I wish to place on record the appreciation of the Federal Government of Nigeria to the United Nations Environment Programme which continues to support the efforts aimed at making our environment a safe place to dwell in. It is my hope that we will all join hands to make this epoch-making event a grand success. I hope to come and inspect progress of this assignment before long and I expect to see visible improvement in the environmental conditions here.
The choice is for you to keep your environment clean and nurture the Niger Delta back to its lost glory. The beginning of this clean-up exercise is clear evidence that Ken Saro Wiwa and other sons of Ogoniland who fought hard for environmental justice did not fight in vain. Let this mark the beginning of the restoration, not just of the environment of Ogoniland, but of peace and prosperity to the great land and people of Ogoniland. May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) is president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
This address was delivered by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari at the launch of the clean up of Ogoniland and Other Oil Impacted Communities In the Niger Delta at Bodo, Rivers State on Thursday, June 2, 2016.