Clean up exercise commences in Ogoni land

Luqmon Balogun & Taiwo Ojedele, Lagos

President Muhammadu Buhari has flagged off the Ogoni land cleanup exercise in River State, South-south Nigeria.

Speaking at the launching of the project, President Buhari said the move was in fulfilment of his government’s electioneering promise to the people of the Niger Delta.

The President, who was represented by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo said the project would actualise the dream of restoring a productive environment for the people of the Niger Delta.

“The tempo of activities of this assignment increased when my cabinet was constituted, several stakeholders meetings and activities were held. And we are therefore laying a solid foundation today for the restoration of the fragile ecosystem of Ogoni land and the Niger Delta region of the country,”  he said.

Mr President, who lamented on the environmental degradation of the region over the years, particularly after his visit to the land where he inaugurated a fish pond in 1984, however, said that all hands must be on deck to achieve the historic project.

 “The clean-up of this land will require change on the part of all those who will deal with Niger Delta environment, particularly the oil companies and our communities,” he emphasised.

The oil industry has been a key sector of the Nigerian economy for over 50 years, but many Nigerians especially people from the oil rich Niger Delta, including Ogoni land have paid a high price for oil exploration activities for more than half a century.

Environmental setting
Ogoni land is characterised by typically deltaic features: uneven terrain, numerous creeks, shallow brackish water bodies and a variety of vegetation types including swamp forests.

Oil rich Ogoni land made up of four local governments is one of the many communities in the Niger Delta region ravaged by years of environmental degradation due to crude oil exploration.

Consequences of hydrocarbons
Crude oil popularly referred to as black gold consists of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights.

Hydrocarbon pollution of soil can occur in several ways, from natural seepage of hydrocarbons in areas where petroleum is found in shallow reservoirs, to accidental spillage of crude oil on the ground.

Regardless of the source of contamination, once hydrocarbons come into contact with the soil, they alter its physical and chemical properties. The degree of alteration depends on the soil type, the specific composition of the hydrocarbon spilled and the quantity spilled.

Implementing projects
President Buhari disclosed that approval has been given to a frame work that will enhance the implementation of the project.

“I have given approval to the constitution of the necessary institutional frame work that will drive a hitch free implementation of the UNEP report.”

He, however, urged the people to support his administration for the actualisation of the project.

The United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, at the request of the Nigerian government, had conducted an independent assessment of the affected communities and made recommendation for remediation.

The UNEP report released on August 4, 2011 is the most compressive assessment of its kind ever taken in the Niger Delta.

According to the report, there are over two hundred oil impacted locations across Ogoni land and full environment restoration of the community will take between 25 and 30 years.