Last month, the United Nations Environment Programme released a 262 page report on the nature, extends and impacts of Oil pollution in Ogoniland, Niger delta, Nigeria-one of the most polluted site in the world. The study was conducted at the behest of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
There are three main components of the Environment- Air, Land and Water; Oil pollution in anywhere in the world has severe impacts on the quality of both surface and groundwater as well as rain water, all sources of drinking water for the people of Ogoniland that the report focuses on. As such the Bread of Life Development Foundation a Nigerian NGO working in the Water Supply and Sanitation sector, hereby responds to this report.
The Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland was conducted by a team assembled by the United Nations Environment Programme, an International body with a reputable track record. However, the fact the conduct of the study was financed by the Shell Petroleum Development Corporation, an oil company whose past activities led to Oil pollution of the Ogoniland, raises very serious questions about the independence of the study team, credibility of the report, and seriously compromises the expected impartiality of the report. As the saying goes, He who plays the piper, dictates the tune.
In justifying its decision in requesting Shell Petroleum Development Corporation to finance the study, the report stated that : “All expenses relating to the environmental assessment should be borne by SPDC under the ‘polluter pays’ principle”.
It would have been more acceptable if the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation as a Joint Venture partner financed the study, instead of the SPDC.
The UNEP was no doubt scientific and comprehensive and involved the usage of various methodologies to conduct the assessment which UNEP reported took 12 months of field work. In the spirit of accountability and transparency, we call on the Nigerian Government to disclose the actual amount spend by SPDC and any other bodies to finance this study.
We also find it curious that though the justification for the financing of the cost of conducting the report by Shell Petroleum Development Corporation the ‘Polluter Pay Principle’, which implies (as it is commonly known) that SPDC is majorly responsible for the oil pollution in Ogoniland, no where in the 262 page document was SPDC specifically fingered as being responsible for the Oil pollution in Ogoniland. There was also no specific recommendation placing the responsibility of Environmental remediation of Ogoniland on SDPC in line with this ‘Polluter Pays Principle’
While the report generally treated SPDC with kid gloves, by stating it is not “scientiﬁcally possible to detect the original cause of spills after an unknown time period’, the UNEP team elaborately investigated and highlighted on going ‘artisanal reﬁning’ and ‘illegal bunkerering’ of a few Ogoni people as contributing to oil pollution in Ogoniland. The findings of the report put more blame on the Ogoni people for the Environmental pollution rather that the SPDC whose past Oil exploration, drilling, and transportation through pipelines were responsible for turning the Ogoniland into an environmental waste.
By focussing more on the on going ‘artisanal reﬁning’ and ‘illegal bunkerering’ in its recommendations rather that the activities of SPDC that polluted the environmental over a generation, the report therefore becomes an exercise in intellectual obscurantism, diversionary, deceitful, and in fact fraudulent.
We also believe that the instead of contracting the assessment study to UNEP which flew in several foreign experts that had to rely on Students of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology to know the terrain, local experts should have been contracted to conduct the study. This would have saved foreign exchange as well as boost development of indigenous expertise.
In page 89 of the report for instance, it is stated that ‘The Nigerian Industrial Standard (NIS) 554:2207 deals with standards for drinking water quality nationally’; whereas the appropriate policy framework for drinking water quality is the Nigerian Standard for Drinking Water Quality and not the Nigerian Industrial Standard. This shows the limited knowledge of the foreign experts on local policy, regulatory and legal frameworks and conditions.
We believe that there is a huge pool of local expertise that would have conducted the study
The report recommended the creation of an ‘Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland’, with initial capital of USD 1 billion, and recommended that the Fund should be established with ﬁnancial inputs from the oil industry operators with prevailing interests in Ogoniland (currently SPDC and NNPC) and the Federal Government of Nigeria as a major shareholder in both these entities. While this is a good recommendation, the Bread of Life Development Foundation believes that the major pollutant in this Shell Petroleum Development Corporation should be mainly be responsible for financing this fund instead of being requested to made ‘inputs’. This again is in line with the Polluter Pays Principle. If the Polluter was requested to fund the cost of conducting the Environmental Assessment, it should also be requested to fund the cost of the environmental remediation and restoration.
Lastly, while the report dwelled extensively on environmental impacts of Oil pollution in Ogoniland, vis a vis its impacts on Soil, Water and Air contamination, it failed to highlight the multiplier effects of these environmental impacts on the people of Ogoniland, It failed to deliberate on the social impacts of oil pollution within and beyond Ogoniland. Every environmental impact has social dimensions which is more important.
To the extend that the report did not dwell extensively on how oil pollution has dislocated households and communities, affected livelihoods, pauperised the citizenry, lead to social and political upheavals including the murder of the Ogoni nine, disoriented family and community ties, and led to a culture of fear amongst several other social impacts, they UNEP report is therefore more of an academic exercise as it is not people centered and focussed, defective and fails to meet the expectations of the people of Ogoniland for environmental justice.
Babatope Babalobi, Bread of Life Development Foundation
Executive Director, 08035897435