As president Muhammadu Buhari makes his first official visit to Niger Delta to flag off the clean-up of Ogoniland, an area which has been severely affected by oil spills, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), uses the opportunity to commend the president for taking the bold step to kick-start and accomplish this long awaited role. We recall that in August 2011, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report recommended the clean-up of Ogoniland. Since then, however, previous administration and even those before it have merely made commitments and promises on the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta which were never kept.
It is imperative therefore, to use this opportunity to draw the attention of Mr President to critical issues in the Niger Delta that require urgent attention of the Federal Government before they snowball into full blown crisis.
The Niger Delta is currently facing increasing military operations in response to a new wave of militancy led by the Niger Delta Avengers, which has claimed responsibility for the series of attacks on oil and gas facilities. The renewed militancy has reduced Nigeria’s daily oil production and worsened the already bad situation caused by global crash in the price of crude oil. The people at risk are mostly innocent citizens including children and women especially the elderly and nursing mothers. The impact on this military operation could result in life-threatening situations, damaged property and interruption of businesses and livelihood activities due to displacement. It could further impoverish an already sidelined population.
We are also mindful of the state of critical infrastructure in the region such as the East-West road from Calabar to Lagos and other Federal roads in the Niger Delta, the non take-off of the Maritime University at Okorenkoko among others.
The reduction in allocation to Niger Delta Institutions such as Federal Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, Niger Delta Development Commission, in the 2016 budget is glaring.
We have also noted the intention of the current administration to wind down the amnesty programme by 2018.
There is need for the current administration to carry the people of the South-South along in its priority agenda for national development given decades of oil exploration activities which has left the environment heavily devastated necessitating the Ogoni cleanup. The impoverishment of millions of citizens who have lost their traditional occupations such as fishing, farming, ginning and the value chains which traditionally accompanied these industry have been largely lost over the years.,
In the light of the foregoing, ANEEJ calls on Mr. President to consider the following:
• Extension of the clean-up exercise to other parts of the Niger Delta like the Ndokwa, Urhobo, Isoko and Ijaw communities which have equally been polluted by crude oil spill and other environmental damages.
• Explore the option of dialogue with the militants rather that a military approach as the use of force by the military will only worsen the already bad situation.
• Adopt innovative and scientific ways of protecting crude oil pipelines and other oil and gas facilities and installations to check the obnoxious trend of pipeline vandalism and oil theft. This, in our view would also help protect investments and restore investors’ confidence in the oil and gas industry
• Pay special attention to completing critical infrastructural projects in the Niger Delta such as the East-West road among others and embark on new ones which will have significant impact in the lives of the majority of Niger Delta people. There should be increased funding for the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the Niger Delta Development Commission, to enable them play the role for which they were established.
• Rather than wind down the amnesty programme, we urge the Federal government to rejig the programme to ensure that it is concluded in such a way and such a time that it will not further deepen the crisis in the region. Finally, there is a need to support the NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta to adopt Open Governance Partnership and open Contracting Policy which was recently endorsed by the Federal Government. This is to enable citizens of the Niger Delta to have access to data on public contract and governance to enable citizens hold these institutions accountable.